If one word typified the 70s, it was unrest. Governments wobbled, industrial relations collapsed, punk snarled and the establishment quaked. Design responded to energy crisis-fuelled uncertainty by sharpening its low-cost capabilities and experimenting. Cue hatchback cars, cushion chairs and cheap digital watches.
The Prize, meanwhile, had its eyes on the next generation, recognising four educational products. It also rewarded ingenuity in varied forms, from a clever picture-framing system to breakthroughs in industrial laser and micro-measurement technology. 1969
MD2 cash dispenser for Chubb Ltd
Chubb narrowly lost out to De La Rue in the race to launch the UK’s (and the world’s) first cash dispenser in 1967.
But their version’s steel-clad good looks and simple controls were enough to ensure that 400 were operating nationwide by the time Howe received his award. The one-time employee of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius was praised for ‘an elegant solution to the problem of security for banks’.
Customers used a card and PIN — also new technology, developed in the UK in 1965 — to withdraw a plastic pack of ten £1 notes. The machine kept the card, which the bank posted back after debiting the customer’s account.1970
Range of toys for Trendon Ltd
Rylands, then the youngest winner of the Prize at 27, was renowned for abstract toy designs that encouraged children to use their imagination and, as he put it, ‘enter into fantasy’.
The best-known of this winning collection was Playplax, a set of coloured transparent polystyrene tubes and squares which interlocked to create any number of different structures. It sold more than one million packs in 30 countries in its first three years and became part of the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Playplax’s success allowed Trendon, a precision moulding specialist, to start a toy division, though it was later made by Galt Toys. 1971
Atomic Physics teaching apparatus for Teltron Ltd
Power founded Teltron to produce this design. It used cathode tubes to help students deduce the latest theories of atomic physics for themselves, based on evidence from a series of experiments, rather than having the information spoon-fed to them. 1972
Frank Thrower (joint winner)
Kitchen and table glassware for Dartington Glass Ltd
Thrower had designed successful glass pieces while sales director at Portmeirion Potteries and took on the same dual role for Dartington when it opened in 1967. Thrower’s designs were, said the judges, ‘a major contribution to re-establishing the English tradition for bold, heavy wine glasses’.
Dr John McArthur (joint winner)
Microscope for the Open University
McArthur developed this low-cost, plastic microscope for OU biology courses, though legions of amateur enthusiasts snapped it up too. It was based on his pre-war portable microscope, which was described on his death in 1996 as ‘the most radical innovation in the field since Galileo’. 1973
Picture framing systems for Design Animations Ltd
Robins described himself as a development engineer and problem solver and his varied track record ranged from a ‘disastrous’ rotating pie stand to failsafe mechanisms for self-service petrol pumps. Robins co-founded Design Animations as a framing service, but his ingenious extruded aluminium systems met a growing demand for DIY frames. 1975
Peter Milne (joint winner)
‘Bullet’ racing dinghy for Chippendale & Milne
The 14-foot Bullet training boat gave 15–18 year-olds a taste of high performance dinghy racing and boat building too, as it came as a kit designed for school-age sailors to be able to assemble easily.
Based on techniques used in the popular Mirror dinghy, the hull’s plywood panels were held together with wire stitching that was removed after they were fastened with epoxy resin and glassfibre tape.
The Bullet had vents in its side tanks, which flooded on capsizing, making the boat less likely to roll back on to the crew as they climbed aboard.
Dr David Dyson (joint winner)
MF400 Industrial Laser System for Ferranti Ltd
The MF400 was just 1.5m long — conventional lasers in its class were then longer than Routemaster buses. And a set of leafsprings meant it could be mounted on moving machinery, making cutting and drilling operations up to five times faster. It took the MF400 under three years to capture half the market in its sector. 1976
Modular Assembly Prosthesis for Chas. A Blatchford Ltd
The judges called the MAP ‘a great advance in a difficult field’. It was the UK’s first modular system, based on component packs that could be chosen to meet each patient’s needs much faster than the old made-to-measure systems. The limbs also improved patients’ bodily alignment. 1977
Mardrive linear transporter
Carroll’s transporter was originally developed for textile works, but it found its way into many different settings, moving cigarettes from rolling to packing machines and cooling shaped bottles as they emerged as hot glass in bottle-making plants. The inventor saw even more possibilities, including crop spraying and watering in the developing world. 1978
Micro 2000 digital micrometer for PA Technology
Only minor improvements had been made to micrometers since their invention 300 years earlier, but this one added electronics and a digital display to transform accuracy and usability, and slash training time from two hours to five minutes. Moving the measuring face with a non-rotating, thumb-driven spindle saved time and minimised wear.