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Design Products' Global Perspective for Design Innovation in North Wales

Four Royal College of Art postgraduate Design Products students have recently completed a six-week internship programme at the Arloesi Pontio Innovation Centre, at Bangor University, North Wales. 

The students hail from an array of backgrounds and expertise: Kawther Alsaffar (Kuwait), product manufacture; Tomomi Ogata (Japan), industrial design; Kyungmin Han (South Korea), spatial design, Nada Tayeb (Middle East-based), architecture. As a team, advised by senior tutor James Tooze and RCA graduate and guest tutor David Amar, the group worked to create a detailed vision for the innovation hub’s CoLAB facility. The team’s designs combined a playful, hands-on approach to making with inspiration from aspects of the local Welsh landscape and culture, and an aim to reflect the immersive and interactive nature of CoLAB’s space, located within the soon-to-be-opened API building.

CoLAB, one of API’s four innovation spaces, has been designed as a creative learning environment that will play host to resident designers and makers, as well as talks, workshops and demonstrations. The RCA team’s work investigated the manner in which the functionality and flow of a space that requires rapid reconfiguration and flexibility for its diverse occupants might be improved to act as a catalyst for innovation. The space will include moving walls, tables and chairs devised to facilitate smooth changes in layout and purpose; it will also house scanning, printing and large screen display, as well as craft and modelling tools for immediate representation of working ideas.

The RCA team enjoyed working within the context of API, whose vision they found to be broad and unique in its commitment to access to innovation. Pontio, which means ‘bridge’, is intended to act as a conduit between the city and the university, and academics, students and businesses alike. The building unites aspects of art, design and philosophy, and aims to provide an innovation space that embraces interdisciplinary exchange.

At API, the students observed a fundamental interest in collaboration with design; they used their particular knowledge and experience to translate CoLAB’s aims into a space creatively geared towards a variety of practitioners and uses, with an emphasis on both fluidity and longevity. As Kyuangmin Han noted, ‘collaboration on design at an early stage is important and can lead ultimately to a better product… It’s not about the building, but how it is used. It’s also not about just the product, but how that product is experienced.’

James Tooze, who witnessed the growth and development of the students over the duration of the internship, observed the experience to be rewarding for all involved – the immediate embedding of a design team with those developing a space, as well as the generation of thoughtful and engaged proposals for the CoLAB space. He describes the ‘prototype’ programme as ‘a fantastic opportunity for our future design professionals to understand how important culture is as a fundamental part of designing for people’.

Dr Andy Goodman, Design Director of Pontio, highlights the centre as at the forefront of innovation in the UK, one of the country’s finest ‘maker spaces’. He welcomes the RCA team and their design contributions at such an early, critical juncture, ‘the students are collaborating with us as a team to help improve our learning and understanding… we hope our unique space will house the people and technology for rapid prototyping of commercial products and bring innovation centre stage’.