Skoda prototype, regional Hradec Kralove logo awarded national prizes for outstanding design

Jens Manske (right), photo: CTK

The sound of jazz by a skilled trio of musicians greets visitors at one of the most highly regarded events of the season: the awarding on Thursday of the Czech national prize for the year's outstanding design. Traditionally the event, organised by the Design Centre in cooperation with the Quality Council of the Czech Republic and titled Excellent Product of the Year - is held at Prague's Bethlehem Chapel, and it is nothing if not prestigious. It draws hundreds of designers as well as government ministers, manufacturers and business insiders to get a look at, as well as to applaud, the year's best.

The head of the Design Centre Karel Kobosil explains how over the years the competition has changed to reflect major progress in Czech design:

"There's a big difference today. In the early 1990s many companies faced big changes and restructuring and many didn't survive the transition to the free market. But of those that did, many invested in new design. A lot of new materials also arrived and design changed. Today design here is more imaginative and exalted, and new designers themselves have come of age. Today's new generation is the most modern ever, with all the latest technology and a great overview of the newest trends. All that has had an effect."

Photo: CTK
Prizes in the competition are offered in many different categories, the most significant being, in effect, runners-up spots labelled either "good" or "excellent", as well as the two major awards, the National Prizes awarded in two categories: one for best product, the other for best graphic design. In the competition, proposals need not have been manufactured yet, the case with one of this year's overall winners: Skoda Auto's Joyster, a sexy and sporty concept car which first made waves last year at the Motor Show in Paris. On Thursday, Skoda's shiny yellow prototype was parked in the sun and admired by visitors.

The Czech Design Centre's Karel Kobosil once again:

"I think I can say that there was a lot of debate over whom to award the national prize for best product among members of the international jury. I myself was a member and the debate was fierce. There was a lot of support for the closest contender, the Nanospider, a machine which produces non-woven textiles from nanofibres - technology that was developed in the Czech Republic, which we can be proud of But Skoda are great too. It's a great design and I think if it were already on the market it'd be an instant world or at least European hit."

Not surprisingly on Thursday members of Skoda Auto's 60-member design team were delighted with the recognition. Team head Jens Manske:

Jens Manske (right), photo: CTK
"To get this award - especially this award that we received today, the National Prize for Design in the Czech Republic is very, very important for us and it shows us basically that we went in the right direction with the Joyster design concept. We think that there is a need and demand for cars like this, a little bit lower, a little bit more sporty, more emotional and it's really clear that the customer should get enjoyment and fun driving that car."

JV: And has any kind of set date when we could expect an announcement, when we'll find out about the future of the concept?

"No, no, I myself am still waiting for that date! We haven't decided yet."

And in case you're wondering, the hatchback Joyster parked outside Bethlehem's Chapel runs but only just. It is still a question whether the real thing will ever make it into production. A good amount of market research still lies ahead.

"It's still a prototype. We made it possible to drive: it can work up to fifty km per hour but you know the whole thing is made from fibre glass, and the parts are not like a production car. Definitely not."

Jan Kolar, photo: CTK
If that was the main prize for production design, what about the prize for graphic design? In that category this year's National Prize went to Jan Kolar, who created the logo for one of the Czech Republic's regions: Hradec Kralove in eastern Bohemia. The logo - the jury surmised - successfully stylised the shape of the region as seen on the map with the letter "K", representing the region's name. According to the jury the logotype was designed with great professionalism, and had "great communication potential". Ivana Krejcova, the head of the regional office which will use the logo, said the following at Thursday's ceremony:

"Of course we're very pleased and our thanks goes to the designer. The logo, which emphasises the region's shape, will be used to represent us even if we of course also have an historic coat-of-arms. It will be used to represent our region."

The two designs rated most highly of course were only two of many: other items recognised were runners-up in technical fields or sports and leisure, including an innovative hot air balloon basket and burner. Other items included a pram for disabled children, a 125 cc motorbike, a new tram interior, and a visually-striking new tractor from the Czech brand name Zetor.

"The most important thing is that the international jury guarantees at home and abroad that all the designs recognised meet top European parameters."

A success, says the Design Centre's Karel Kobosil, already looking forward to 2008. Now it's on to next year, the start of a long selection process once more that will again boil down to a select few in roughly twelve month's time.