The Royal College of Art has been collaborating with the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts for four consecutive years since 2018. In November 2020, as part of SAFA’s annual ‘study abroad’ course, the RCA ran two workshops in Design Innovation and Practice-Led Research. These took an entirely new format, with the RCA’s academics delivering workshops online from London to participants gathered in-person at the academy in Shanghai.
“The course has built a learning platform for students to absorb advanced international knowledge while taking root in Shanghai culture.”Associate Professor and Project Coordinator, SAFA
In previous years, academics had travelled to China, during the pandemic this new blended course delivery model was created to enable Chinese students to learn about Design Innovation and Practice-Led Research, with access to lectures, group tutorials and student project presentations from the world's leading university of art and design. The RCA used a variety of digital teaching tools to create a high-intensity practical teaching environment. The workshops ran for five days over two weeks and students worked in teams of 10.
Design Innovation Workshop, School of Design
The design innovation workshop titled ‘Designs for the City’, was led by Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad (Tutor on MA Design Products) and delivered in collaboration with SAFA design class teachers.
This workshop was divided into two parts:
- Part one: participants were guided through fieldwork, and the submission of research gathered via observation, interviews and interventions.
- Part two the creation and presentation of the design report and feedback. The final presentations abandoned the traditional PowerPoint format, participants were invited to utilise creative methods and communicate their research through stage performances, assessed by RCA tutors.
Hashemi-Nezhad is part of Theatrum Mundi/Global Street, an international research project from London School of Economics which brings architects, designers and artists together to re-imagine public space. Participants were divided into ten groups, each selecting a specific research location in Shanghai city and creating a design report for this location. One group, for example, considered how, in the transformation of a derelict city to a brand-new community, it would be possible to bridge the gap between past and future, so that the old could live on in the new.
The Social Design Teaching Model at the Royal College of Art: An Interview with Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad 2021
Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad conducted an interview for Public Art Magazine (China) 2021.
"Designing for societal needs is an important element in contemporary higher education and exists across many academic disciplines at the RCA, be it art, architecture, craft, design. Within the school design, we have seen a great shift away from products for the ‘market’ towards services, systems, and experiences. This re-positioning of design in the twenty-first century has brought a strong focus on social design, which has gathered momentum into a global phenomenon."
"Design is changing, and changing fast. In order for design to be innovative and bring positive impact to societal sectors such as education, healthcare, public life, transport or the ageing population, it needs to develop at a rate that is least the same speed, if not faster than that of complex societal systems. For this we need to remember that product design or any design discipline for that matter needs to constantly and critically question and evaluate its ethical and political position and the tools and methods it uses to collaborate, ideate and deliver creative responses with those affected by the issues at hand."
Practice-Led Research Workshop, School of Arts & Humanities
The practice-led research workshop titled ‘The Fictional Museum of the Self’, was led by Chantal Faust (Head of the RCA’s MA Contemporary Art Practice and Senior Research Tutor) and Jesse Ash (Tutor on MA Painting MA).
The workshop began with a lecture on ‘Practice and Method’ and considered the contemporary and future experience of museums, guiding participants through the curatorial process and the making of a ‘Virtual Museum’.
Each of the workshop’s ten groups chose a keyword, expanding its possibilities as an exhibition theme, before realising their theoretical discussions into presentations assessed by the RCA tutors. Faust also gave a writing workshop, highlighting the importance of exhibition texts in the communication of curatorial ideas.
Students said that they felt connected to their course leaders, they discovered a new joy in learning about art and design and this mode of delivery proved highly successful, effective and efficient. SAFA in-person teaching faculty staff said that the teaching model from the RCA was hugely beneficial. It not only improved the students’ artistic attainments, but also helped them expand their teaching ideas.