RCA's Experimental and Critical Design at Global Grad Show, Dubai Design Week

The RCA has taken a leading role in the Global Grad Show, an exhibition that brings together, for the first time, recent degree shows of 10 of the most innovative university design programmes worldwide, as part of Dubai Design Week

World-leading design universities – including Eindhoven University of Technology, ECAL (Lausanne), Hong Kong PolyU, KMD Keio (Kanagawa), MIT, National University of Singapore, Pratt, Tsinghua (Beijing), and the Royal College of Art – selected student projects related to the theme of innovation, across a wide range of sectors, from health, sustainable materials and energy sources, to industry and digital footprint management.

The exhibition is curated by international acclaimed designer and writer, Brendan McGetrick, under six categories: Health, Home, Work, Play, Construction, Memory. In his selection, McGetrick focuses on design that has the potential to shape our future, in order to offer visitors a glimpse of the possible world of tomorrow. Projects exhibited reflect both the social issues and technological possibilities that surround the current generation of emerging designers, with an interest in the resolution of personal and societal problems, rather than the purely aesthetic aspects of design. Amongst the projects featured, the curator recognised a variety of valuable approaches to technology:

McGetrick explains, ‘One of the interesting things about student design work is the more experimental and critical position students take towards technology. Some fully embrace it and use their projects to push technology beyond the obvious applications. Others use their designs to counteract the effects of technology… I think of many of the projects featured in Global Grad Show as canaries in the coal mine. They are works that foresee technological and social changes and respond by enhancing, altering or counteracting their possible effects.’

The Royal College of Art is represented by a number of recent graduates, each of who exemplifies the College’s commitment to exchange and innovation, responding to global cultural and economic stimuli to produce innovation in real-world contexts.

Sheana Yu has designed Aura, a personal air purifier that utilises airflow to generate a stream of filtered air for its users, while simultaneously producing a live feed of the level of pollution, with the goal to raise awareness.

Happaratus, by Morten Grønning Nielsen, is a power glove that can be used to sculpt hard materials like stone and wood by hand. The glove is mounted with hydraulic, motor-powered abrasive pads that oscillate in opposite directions, at controlled speeds, to carve away sections of material when touched by the fingers. The pads are interchangeable, varying in shape and material depending on the surface at hand, to ensure that the glove is flexible, an agile and maneuverable tool.

Ted Wiles explores technology as a way to positively boost human emotions. Involuntary Pleasures is a series of day-to-day electronic products that require physical interaction from the user in order to function, aiming to bring touch, emotion and humanity back to a human-centred technology. ‘Victory Alarm Clock’ requires that the user take a victory pose (hands up in the air above the head) for two minutes in order to turn off the alarm; ‘Hugging Toaster’ must be embraced in order to heat up; and ‘Smile Telephone’ allows incoming and outgoing calls only if the user is smiling at his or her own reflection. The physical interaction entailed by each object is specifically designed to create chemical changes within the user’s brain, triggering feelings of confidence, comfort, happiness, and delight.

Cal Craven’s Orion’s Belt is a Luxury Exploration Yacht that focuses on ethical design. The 68-metre watercraft arose as a response to the statistic that the average super yacht owner uses his or her ship for just one month a year. Craven was interested in how the same yacht could be used to benefit society for the remaining 11 months of the year. The environmentally conscious watercraft is an ‘environmental explorer’, designed to help tackle the excess of plastic refuse and pollution across the world’s waterways: Orion’s Belt features a hangar bay that conducts research and cleans the ocean, simultaneously: as the ship passes floating debris, two large arms funnel plastic into the rear of the hull for recycling that occurs on board using a 3D printer, or is stored for processing at an offsite plant. Central to the design is an interest in the possibility of a new form of luxury that is interwoven with sustainability, an example of how designers of tomorrow are generating products that are both beautiful and enriching.

Conceived and managed by the Art Dubai Group in partnership with Dubai Design District (d3), Dubai Design Week is an annual event that encompasses culture, education and entertainment across multiple disciplines of design, celebrating the best achievements both regionally and internationally. With design-dedicated events, activities and projects taking place across the city, the programme attracts a global audience of professionals who are engaged in the future of innovative design.

Global Grad Show takes place in d3, home for the region’s growing community of creative thinkers. Over 11 buildings constitute the site of a vibrant and creative workplace, which seeks to promote an innovation-led economy. Phase 1 is currently being completed by Foster + Partners, and is expected to host more than 10,000 creatives by the time it is completed in 2018. Lindsay Miller, Managing Director of d3, describes the unprecedented exhibition as a ‘unique platform that will provide a level field for emerging designers and creative in a way that traditional design centres with established institutions and agendas, such as London or New York, simply couldn’t’.

Rector Dr Paul Thompson says, ‘At the RCA, we believe that collaboration lies at the heart of transformative design, and that a global approach is essential to remaining agile and responsible to changes on an international scale. The Global Grad Show is the perfect model for working across border to bring change and improvement in society; Dubai — with its investment in future creativity — is the ideal location. This is why we have been pleased to take the leading role in this inaugural Dubai Design Week initiative from the very beginning, and why we are represented by so many of our recent graduates.’


Global Grad Show is part of Dubai Design Week, 26–31 October. The exhibition is held in Building 6 of d3, Dubai Design District. For information on admittance and opening hours visit the Dubai Design Week website.