The Quest to Find the Worst Piece of Design on Earth

So many design awards seek to honor the smartest, the prettiest, the most innovative or responsible or sustainable. The Dead Prize, announced last week, wants to honor the worst—the very, very worst—that design has to offer.

The Dead Prize, which stands for Detrimental Engineering Architecture and Design Prize, is the brainchild of Cameron Sinclair, co-founder the feel-good social design nonprofit Architecture for Humanity. Sinclair, who is now director of Angelina and Brad's Jolie-Pitt Foundation, says the Dead Prize is a provocative way to spark a larger conversation about what makes bad design, and how we can make it better. "Designers are constantly told to find a problem to fix but often these problems have been created by our industry and often ignored," Sinclair told me. "They get labeled as 'not our problem' and 'it's the way things are.' Once we understand the baseline of detrimental impact, we can design against it."

As tongue-in-cheek as the premise sounds, the Dead Prize is serious stuff: It has a formal nomination process as well as official jury members with expertise in North America, Africa and the Middle East who will judge the Dead-ness of the submissions, says Sinclair. "I'm not looking to shame people, but to shine a light on projects that really screwed the pooch," he says. "We will highlight some very serious projects but there are a few that are ridiculous—my personal favorite is the recycled packaging used for the sale of single sale bananas."

The Quest to Find the Worst Piece of Design on Earth


Sinclair would also like to stress that this prize isn't only for bad packaging and buildings—he hopes to use it to challenge the definition of design, as well. "For the Dead Prize we are not only seeking nominations from industrial design and architecture but at the broader definition of design—from the designing of financial systems that forced thousands of families into bankruptcy, to designs of extraction methods such as hydraulic fracking, which is been responsible for man-made earthquakes." Some nominations are actually quite serious and very dark, such as the 1905 Shark Island concentration camp in Namibia, says Sinclair. "It was this camp that led influenced race policies in Germany and influenced the development of the Nazi camps."

One design that would definitely be in the Dead Hall of Fame: The land mine. "When I was in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, thousands of land mines were relocated by the disaster and we ended up spending just as much on mine removal as building schools," he says. "There is debate to who invented the modern-day land mine but most agree that is was the Rains brothers—aka The Bomb Brothers—who designed and used them in the Seminole Wars of 1840."

Originally Sinclair was thinking that nominations could be tweeted to @deadprize, but a number of people asked if they could submit anonymously—"almost design whistleblowers," he says—so you can also email your nominees to info[AT]deadprize.com

Send in your nominations (they're due on November 1, All Souls Day) but please share your ideas here as well: What claims the title as the most despicable, destructive, and/or deadly example of design on the planet? [Dead Prize]