AUT student finalists in Global Design Awards

9 months ago by

Late last year we wrote about Lexus partnering with AUT’s school of design to support emerging design talent in Aotearoa. In a follow up to that story we were excited to learn two Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies students – Jessica Vea and Gayle Lee – have been chosen as finalists in the Global Lexus Design Awards competition.

As finalists, Jessica and Gayle will receive USD $25,000 to complete their prototype for Heartfelt and participate virtually in a workshop with one-on-one mentoring from world class design professionals.

Their concept Heartfelt, showcases creativity, innovation, empathy, and design skills that were adapted to a Covid-19 world and developed as part of the local Lexus New Zealand design awards, run in conjunction with AUT’s Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies.

The theme for the 2021 Lexus Design Award is “Design for a Better Tomorrow.” The judges’ decision on the Grand Prix winner will be based on the three key principles of the Lexus brand: Anticipate, Innovate, and Captivate.

The young Kiwi women have been chosen – along with five others – from over 2,000 international entries from 66 countries to compete for the Grand Prix trophy in April. There was also a second kiwi entry that got through by Henry Glogau, who has dual New Zealand and Austrian citizenship and currently resides in Denmark. His entry, Solar Destination Skylight, is a device that uses seawater to create natural diffused light, drinking water and leftover salt for energy creation.

Andrew Davis, Lexus New Zealand General Manager, recognises that having three kiwi designers in the global top 6 is a huge achievement – as well as for aspiring, young Kiwi designers across the country.

“Not only does the presence of clever Kiwi design at the International Lexus Design Award competition inspire up-and-coming talent – it works to raise the profile of New Zealand designers in a competitive market,” he says.

“Across all the finalists you can see an urgency to the problems being addressed by the designers, with a huge focus on humanity in relation to the changing climate and global pandemic.”

At a time when physical human connection is at a historical low, Heartfelt is a product designed to strengthen relational bonds and decrease feelings of loneliness amongst people in self-isolation.

The sudden passing of a close family friend during Level 4 lockdown in March meant Jessica found herself watching the funeral through Zoom, which she described as a moment of huge emotional disconnect. “It was the most distant feeling – not being able to physically connect with people gives a new dimension to grief and suffering.” The concept for Heartfelt was inspired by this feeling of emotional disconnect.

Developed with the idea of a virtual hug in mind, Heartfelt is a product with two individual parts, each designed to be kept by separate people. The small, heart-shaped device acts as a means of wordless communication between two individuals, with the ability to warm up when both are being held at the same time.

The device will also be able to pick up on the heartbeat of the person holding the corresponding piece, enabling them to feel connected, appreciated and seen, even when they cannot be together physically.

Heartfelt’s target audience is broken up into two main categories – the elderly and medical professionals – as they have been identified as the highest risk groups to suffer from grief, isolation and loneliness in Covid-19 times.

Andrew Davis says the business is extremely proud of Jessica and Gayle’s achievements, skills and growth throughout their time participating in the Lexus Design Award competition this year. “The success of Heartfelt in the international Lexus Design Award competition highlights how innovative, adaptive and in-tune with the global climate our young Kiwi designers are.

“Lexus is proud to have supported Jessica Vea and Gayle Lee throughout their time in the localised Lexus Design Award competition and is excited to see their progress in the next several months as they transition their concept into a tangible product.”


Learn more about the awards, heartfelt and the other finalists here.


Lexus Design Award 2021 Finalists *(New Zealand Designers in Bold)

  • CY-BO by Kenji Abe (Japan)
    Sustainable, reusable packaging material that can be assembled like cells.
  • Heartfelt by Gayle Lee and Jessica Vea (New Zealand & Tonga, based in New Zealand)
    A device that enables virtual hugs.
  • InTempo by Alina Holovatiuk (Ukraine)
    Mitts that may help distract from stressful situations by novel usage of rhythm and music.
  • KnitX by Irmandy Wicaksono (Indonesia, based in USA)
    Digital 3D knitting of functional, electronic textiles for multi-modal visual, auditory, and tactile material interaction.
  • Solar Desalination Skylight by Henry Glogau (Dual New Zealand & Austria, based in Denmark)
    Device that uses seawater to create natural diffused light, drinking water, and leftover salt for energy creation.
  • Terracotta Valley Wind by Intsui Design (China, based in Japan)
    A terracotta evaporative cooling system for subway stations utilizing train-induced wind to function.


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