Admittedly, 2021 has turned out differently than most of us expected, with Hot Vax Summer giving way to "continue to social distance and exercise caution" fall. But as we evolve and adjust to the new new normal, Kickstarter's Design and Tech team continues to be inspired by the many creators and innovators who are rising to the challenge and working toward the public benefit through creativity, great design, and plenty of fun. From groups turning waste into opportunity and harnessing the power of the wind to the ascent of water-saving shower tech and the creation of a sunset you can hang on your windowsill, 2021 was filled with surprise, awe, and optimism for the ways design can enhance everyday life.
These were some of the top trends in a year that defied predictions.
Rethinking and reinventing time
The passing of time took on a surreal quality in 2021. We no longer relied on just the minutes, hours, or even days to chart our year, and this shift was reflected in a range of unique projects. The classic clock got some creative upgrades as Author Clock charted each minute in iconic quotes from literature, and OneClock transformed the daily wake up into a less alarming experience thanks to AI-generated music from a Grammy-award-winning composer. Watches also got a reimagining, with Bangle providing open-source programming options for smartwatch users. While the Minimalist Wall Calendar visualized the passing of a year without unnecessary frills, Superlocal went granular, allowing backers to reflect the unique ebbs and flows of life via a clock face.
This past year many of us took up new hobbies, learned a skill or two, or simply tried to finally assemble that IKEA furniture. For the ambitious, 2021 was great for tinkering and experimenting. From kaleidoscope legend Thea Marshall, Kaleidxscape offered backers the option of building their own fantastical 'scopes. The brainchild of two former physics and design students, MotionKit promised tinkerers the chance to create their own Rube Goldberg-style contraptions. And for those looking to make science and tech fun, PocketLab G-Force designed a STEM kit on wheels by way of a mini car packed with sensors that measure speed and motion to help teach engineering and physics, while CircuitMess Batmobile promised to illuminate the dynamics of autonomous driving in a superhero-friendly package.
Bringing the outside world home
Life is far from back-to-normal, and many are looking for ways to recreate "outside world" experiences often enjoyed in public spaces into the home. Inspired by her own maternity leave exercise struggles, creator Anna Samuels launched Boxx, the smart punch bag and app for training from your living room. Nimble offered a robotically applied salon-quality manicure right on your bedside vanity, while Light Pong's interactive ping pong promised all the fun of games night at the local dive.
There also continues to be enthusiasm for virtual reality and the prospect of traveling to wherever you'd like while remaining at home. Lynx launched the latest in AR and VR with its open and versatile headset, beaming wearers into central Paris or simply into their favorite game, while Tundra Tracker promoted its Full Body tracking, cross-compatible with any SteamVR device.
Ebo Smart Robot
They don't shed, need to be walked, or have bathroom emergencies – and for robot pets, 2021 was absolutely their year. Drawing clear inspiration from Boston Dynamics' Spot, MangDang's Mini Pupper is an extremely cute way to learn robotics, while the XGO Mini scampered its way into our hearts. The Ebo Smart Robot's camera and AI-equipped roaming bots utilize a speaker and advanced mobility to provide connectivity and companionship to family members (both two and four-legged), while FerroPet uses electromagnets to make alien goo (aka ferrofluid) dance.
Last year saw many of us embracing the outdoors with new zest, and that trend extends to projects that offer creative ways of capturing and storing green energy. Shine Turbine launched a powerful portable turbine small enough to toss into a backpack; EcoFlow promised energy independence with a portable home battery equipped for smart energy management; Sunne captured the sun's rays during the day to illuminate an elegant window light at night; and Solar Cow's cow-shaped solar panel, equipped with electric udders for charging portable batteries, generated electricity while helping underserved children attend school.
Bringing sustainability into home design, Welli Bins, made from sugarcane, launched a collection of sustainable plant-based storage bins, while SOAPBOTTLE crafted an entirely-sustainable home goods line. In high-end, Ohmie unveiled an elegant lamp made from recycled oranges, Gomi speakers transformed recycled e-waste and ocean plastic into portable sound systems, and Nutshell Cooler upcycled coconut waste into eco-friendly to-go insulation.
Style with a mission
To capture imaginations, designers are focusing on adding positivity to the world. Called to action by her battle with cancer, shoe designer Nelli Kim launched REDEN, a line of kicks created with orthopedic surgeons to ease foot pain; REFRAMD unveiled a series of digitally tailored glasses custom made for Black nose profiles and others underserved by traditional retailers; and EONE Switch's inclusivity-designed watches sought to help vision-impaired wearers tell time by touch. Forgoing fast fashion's environmental waste, La Guapa unveiled clothing from vintage wool blankets, the line also providing Melbourne, Australia's refugee community with work and learning opportunities.
Inclusivity was also key. In 2021, Dynasty George revealed a line of elegant, maternity-friendly dresses; Ponderosa by Alpine Parrot offered female hikers size 14-24 options for hitting the trails; and Victoria Jenkins, a garment technologist who became Disabled in her 20s, Unhidden, unveiled a series of adaptive garments that accommodate mobility challenges.
When desktop 3D printers first emerged a decade ago, they were slow, expensive, routinely failed, and we absolutely loved every second of watching a real object emerge from the digital ether. These days, 3D printing may feel less novel, but the machines themselves are much more capable. Creality's CR-30 filament printer, a follow up to their extremely popular CR-6 SE campaign from 2020, features a conveyer belt, allowing you to print a parade of identical models that would be too long for most printers to create in a single piece. The team at Elegoo were also thinking big with their Jupiter resin printer, bringing the intricate detail of SLA printing to a large format. And the Revopoint POP, a handheld 3D scanner, lets you turn the world around you into 3D models for printing — or maybe showcased on the Looking Glass Portrait, a holographic display that shipped in 2021.
Beyond 3D printing, we saw quite a range of innovative tools for helping you bring your ideas to life. Carvera aims to reduce CNC mills' steep learning curve, YesWelder offers a budget-and-space-friendly entry point into the world of metal fabrication, and xTool's M1 combines laser and blade cutting technologies to let you work with a wide range of materials. For those of us who don't own a giant factory building to house industrial robots, the uFactory Lite 6 robotic arm brings the power of automated manufacturing and testing to a more manageable scale.
Heading into year three of working from home, it's no surprise that we've seen a steady stream of products designed to make the experience of sitting at your computer a little more comfortable. And Kickstarter remains a hub for mechanical keyboard enthusiasts: Keychron launched three new variations on their highly-customizable designs, Mojo68 embraced quirky design and bold color palettes, and the Keyboardio Model 100 — sporting a hardwood enclosure, split keyboard, and open-source firmware — clicked with backers. If QWERTY alone doesn't cover your human-computer interface needs, TourBox offers a versatile controller with mappable dials and buttons to enhance film editing, music production, digital illustration, and more.