Cooper Hewitt Announces Winners of the 2021 National Design Awards and National Design Month Programming

September 1, 2021
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National Design Awards

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum today announced the winners of the 2021 National Design Awards. The 22nd class of winners were honored for design innovation and impact in nine categories. In October, National Design Month programming will highlight the work of the winners and celebrate the power of design in the everyday world.

This year’s recipients are:

  • Cheryl D. Miller, Design Visionary 
  • InVert Self-Shading Window by Doris Sung, Climate Action
  • Colloqate Design, Emerging Designer
  • Ross Barney Architects, Architecture and Interior Design
  • Imaginary Forces, Communication Design
  • Behnaz Farahi, Digital Design
  • Becca McCharen-Tran, Fashion Design
  • Studio-MLA, Landscape Architecture
  • BioLite, Product Design

First Lady Jill Biden serves as the Honorary Patron for this year’s National Design Awards. Established in 2000 as a project of the White House Millennium Council, the National Design Awards bring national recognition to the ways in which design enriches everyday life.

“The 2021 National Design Award winners challenge the boundaries of their fields—from community and future-focused to socially responsible design, these designers fill us with an optimism for the future by demonstrating the transformative capacity of design,” said Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar, interim director of the museum. “We invite all to join us during Cooper Hewitt’s National Design Month programming to make the most of the rich opportunities to celebrate this amazing cohort of award winners and learn about their paths, passions, processes and bodies of work.”

Held in conjunction with the National Design Awards, National Design Month in October broadens access nationwide to the vision and work of the country’s design leaders through free, virtual programming for design enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels. The programming includes talks, tours, workshops and the premiere of short films on the work and impact of this year’s winners. This year, Cooper Hewitt will also highlight the work of select organizations around the country that share in the museum’s commitment to advancing access to design and the importance of design in our everyday world. In addition to public offerings, Cooper Hewitt will share online resources for educators and those interested in career and education opportunities in design and produce a physical and digital activity book. To register for programs and learn more, visit

The 2021 National Design Award Recipients

Design Visionary: Cheryl D. Miller
The Design Visionary award, recognizing an individual, company or organization who has made a profound contribution to advancing the field, is given to Cheryl D. Miller. A graphic designer, author and theologian, Miller is best known for her advocacy on racial, cultural and gender equity, diversity and inclusion. An accomplished, award-winning designer and businesswoman, Miller established one of the first Black women-owned design firms in New York City in 1984. Cheryl D. Miller Design, Inc. serviced corporate communications to a Fortune 500 clientele, including BET, Chase, Philip Morris USA, Time Inc. and Sports Illustrated, as well as nonprofit African American organizations that grew out of the civil rights movement. Miller’s seminal 1987 article for PRINT magazine, “Black Designers Missing in Action,” laid the groundwork for her advocacy, followed by “Embracing Cultural Diversity in Design” in 1990, “Black Designers: Still Missing In Action?” in 2016, and “Black Designers Forward in Action” in 2020. Miller lectures widely. Her work and archives were acquired by Stanford University Libraries in 2018. Miller is the AIGA Medalist 2021, “Expanding Access.”

Climate Action: InVert Self-Shading Window by Doris Sung
The Climate Action award recognizes a design project for its significant contributions to addressing the global climate crisis. The winner of the award is the InVert Self-Shading Window. Designed by Doris Sung, the InVert Self-Shading Window uses smart thermobimetal pieces inside the cavity of a standard double-glazed window to shade a building in a magical way—with a kaleidoscope of fluttering butterfly-like pieces. By responding to the sun, it dynamically blocks solar radiation from heating the building and thereby reduces air-conditioning usage by 25%, using zero energy and no controls. Given that 40% of all energy used is in buildings, far more than transportation or other industries, and 12% of that energy is spent on cooling interiors, any amount of reduction has a tremendous impact on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Through her work, Sung seeks ways to make building skins sensitive and responsive to the changing environments. She is the founder of Los Angeles-based DOSU Studio Architecture, the director of undergraduate programs at University of Southern California, and the recipient of fellowships from Google’s R+D for the Built Environment, United States Artists and the Rockefeller Foundation at Bellagio, among others.

Emerging Designer: Colloqate Design
The Emerging Designer award is given in recognition of a designer, firm or organization who has demonstrated profound talent in the early stages of their career. The 2021 Emerging Designer award is presented to Colloqate Design. Founded in 2017, Colloqate Design is a multidisciplinary nonprofit design justice practice based in New Orleans with a focus on expanding community access to, and building power through, the design of social, civic and cultural spaces. Its mission is to intentionally organize, advocate and design spaces of racial, social and cultural justice throughout the built environment. Through programming, planning and design projects, Colloqate seeks to dismantle the privilege and power structures that use the design professions to maintain systems of injustice. Colloqate organizes to build knowledge, power and access in the communities it serves through ongoing community gatherings and workshops to share and build collective knowledge around the process of city-building. Its work speaks to the potential for equitable spaces and attempts to visually and physically represent its collective aspirations for the future.

Architecture and Interior Design: Ross Barney Architects
Given to an individual or firm for the design of public, commercial and residential interior and exterior spaces, this year’s National Design Award for Architecture and Interior Design goes to Ross Barney Architects. Founded in Chicago in 1981, Ross Barney Architects’ mission is to create well-designed spaces for everyone. The studio is dedicated to the design of “noble” projects, without the most generous budgets or the most sought-after commissions, but those that are important to daily life and require innovative interventions. Ross Barney Architects’ best work is often for unexpected, compelling projects that go beyond architecture and exist on the edges or in the margins where design thought and consideration might not conventionally come into play. Notable projects include the Chicago Riverwalk, McDonalds’ Flagship Restaurants, CTA Cermak-McCormick Place and Morgan Street Stations, and the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The studio has adopted a holistic approach, engaging the client, user and community to allow a project to grow from its place, history and function.

Communication Design: Imaginary Forces
The Communication Design award recognizes an individual or firm for the design of information and messages. The 2021 recipient is Imaginary Forces. Founded in Los Angeles in 1996, Imaginary Forces is an award-winning studio specializing in design-based visual storytelling. Led by Peter Frankfurt, Chip Houghton, Karin Fong, Tosh Kodama, Alan Williams, Ronnie Koff, Anthony Gibbs and Grant Lau, Imaginary Forces takes its name from the prologue of Shakespeare’s Henry V, where the narrator summons us to imagine the humble stage as a grand battlefield. For 25 years, the studio has created work that dares audiences to conjure up entirely new worlds. Known for designing iconic title sequences including those for Marvel, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and Stranger Things, Imaginary Forces has brought motion design into the worlds of advertising, architecture, gaming and documentary film production. The studio has launched the careers of countless colleagues in the motion design industry. Imaginary Forces’ work has won numerous Emmys and appeared in MoMA, Walker Center, Wexner, SXSW and the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Digital Design: Behnaz Farahi
The Digital Design award, given to an individual or firm for the design of interactive digital products, environments, systems, experiences and services, honors Behnaz Farahi. Based in Los Angeles, Farahi is an award-winning designer whose work is situated at the intersection of digital design, architecture, fashion and interactive design, ranging from the scale of wearables to architectural installations. Farahi explores how materials in the environment can be imbued with artificial intelligence and life-like behaviors, incorporating techniques such as EEG brain imaging, facial and gaze tracking, 3D printing, as well as novel actuator systems, such as smart materials and pneumatics systems. She engages with the latest developments in neuroscience, cognitive philosophy, computational design, artificial intelligence and feminism, in order to spark imagination and foster conversations about the future of design. She is an assistant professor of design at California State University, Long Beach and co-editor of 3D-Printed Body Architecture (2017) and Interactive Futures (forthcoming). Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and her clients include Adidas, Autodesk, Fuksas Studio and 3DSystems / will-i-am.

Fashion Design: Becca McCharen-Tran
The Fashion Design award is given to an individual or firm for the design of apparel, accessory, jewelry, footwear and textiles. The recipient of the 2021 National Design Award for Fashion Design is Becca McCharen-Tran, a fashion designer, cultural worker and the founder of future-forward bodywear line Chromat. In her design practice, McCharen-Tran interrogates the cultural hegemony around representation and inclusion. A Forbes 30 Under 30 pick for “People Who Are Reinventing the World,” McCharen-Tran is creating a world that empowers women, femmes and nonbinary people in fashion and beyond. McCharen-Tran delivered a TED Talk on the urgency of racial, gender and disability justice in fashion and has lectured at SXSW, Parsons, MIT, CFDA, Pratt, FIT and MICA. She also staged the “Queer Joy” exhibition at MoMA PS1, a series of performances and installations celebrating the LGBTQ community. Chromat has been profiled in major publications such as Vogue, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and has collaborated with Intel, Disney, Reebok, MAC Cosmetics, MIT Design Lab and Equinox.

Landscape Architecture: Studio-MLA
The Landscape Architecture award recognizes an individual or firm for the design of outdoor environments and urban planning. This year’s award is presented to Studio-MLA. Studio-MLA integrates landscape architecture, urban design and planning to create places that inspire human connection, unite communities and restore environmental balance. “Advocacy by design” is a foundation of the practice. For more than 25 years, founder and president Mia Lehrer, FASLA, has sparked the team’s inventive thinking to address complex relationships within urban and natural environments. From the master planning of rivers to the design of intimate plazas and gardens, the studio is recognized for creativity, pragmatism and responsibility across a range of scales and geographies. With offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, its 45-person team includes landscape architects, planners, botanists and ecologists from around the world. Diversity and multiple perspectives add meaning to collaborations and value to outcomes. Together, the firm believes in the transformative power of design to recalibrate its shared surroundings for a resilient future.

Product Design: BioLite
The National Design Award for Product Design, given to an individual or firm for the design of goods, furniture, lighting and materials, is awarded to BioLite. BioLite is on a mission to empower people and protect the planet through access to renewable energy. A social enterprise that develops, manufactures and markets advanced energy products for off-grid communities around the world, the company creates novel cooking, charging and lighting solutions that serve both outdoor enthusiasts and rural communities without access to the grid. Headquartered in Brooklyn, New York and Nairobi, Kenya, the company was founded in 2009 by Jonathan Cedar and Alec Drummond. BioLite is a carbon-neutral company and a founding member of Climate Neutral, an independent nonprofit dedicated to helping companies measure, reduce and offset their carbon footprint. To date, BioLite has impacted over 1.7 million people across Africa and Asia and avoided over 400,000 tons of CO2e emissions through its clean energy solutions—equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the road for a year. The company is the recipient of numerous recognitions, including the Red Dot Design Award, Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Award, Core77 Design Award and BusinessWeek’s Most Promising Social Enterprise.

National Design Awards Jury

An interdisciplinary jury of design leaders and educators from across the country selected the winners after reviewing award submissions resulting from nominations solicited from design experts and enthusiasts.

The 2021 National Design Awards jury included Kofi Boone, professor, North Carolina State University; Billy Fleming, Wilks Family Director, McHarg Center, University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design; Joe Gebbia, co-founder, Airbnb; Kristine Johnson, co-founder and chief design strategist, Cognition Studio, Inc.; Grace Jun, assistant professor of graphic design, University of Georgia, and CEO, Open Style Lab; and Patricia Saldaña Natke, principal, Urban Works Ltd.

National Design Awards Cities Programming

As part of the museum’s National Design Awards programming, Cooper Hewitt brings design literacy to communities around the country with professional development opportunities, dynamic panel discussions and activities for the K–12 community.

In September, Cooper Hewitt will present the National Design Awards in Detroit, offering virtual programming and interactive experiences focused on contemporary challenges and opportunities in design, including equity and climate change, as well as the role of collaboration as part of the design process, particularly with local communities. Programs are held as an official part of the Detroit Month of Design, organized by Design Core. To find out about education programs in Detroit and to register, visit


National Design Awards programming is made possible with major support from Facebook, Inc., Shelby and Frederick Gans, Helen and Edward Hintz, the Hirsch Family Foundation, IBM Corporation, and Crystal and Chris Sacca.

Generous support is also provided by Lisa Roberts and David Seltzer.

National Design Award trophies are created by The Corning Museum of Glass.

Design Career Fair is made possible with generous support from Adobe.

About Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Cooper Hewitt is America’s design museum. Inclusive, innovative and experimental, the museum’s dynamic exhibitions, education programs, master’s program, publications and online resources inspire, educate and empower people through design. An integral part of the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum, education and research complex—Cooper Hewitt is located on New York City’s Museum Mile in the historic, landmark Carnegie Mansion. Steward of one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections—over 215,000 objects that range from an ancient Egyptian faience cup dating to about 1100 BC to contemporary 3D-printed objects and digital code—Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design and its power to change the world.

For more information, visit or follow @cooperhewitt on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

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