Global Innovation Design Demonstrates Value of International Design Education

Students from the RCA’s Global Innovation Design (GID) programme, whose first cohort of students will graduate in 2015, are already beginning to show their potential to influence the global design world.

The past few months have seen current GID students successfully compete for major design prizes in the UK and China, with winning and shortlisted projects showing how cutting-edge design can provide solutions to the widest range of real-world issues. 

Notably, students have brought together innovative design thinking, scientific developments and emerging technologies to reflect GID’s status as a double Master’s programme between the RCA and Imperial College London. Reiterating the truly global nature of the programme, GID students also work across three of the world’s leading cities, honing the global perspectives that are imperative in today’s design world. In addition to time spent in London, students spend significant study periods in their first year in Tokyo – at Keio University – and in New York – at the Pratt Institute.

In October 2014, GID students, Alexander Kitching and Sheana Yu, won gold and the top prize in the Best Intelligent Design category at the LotusPrize Industrial Design and Innovation Competition 2014. Now in its sixth year, the LotusPrize is awarded biannually by the Provincial Government of Hunan, China.

Exemplifying how design can tackle real and current needs in industry and society, the competition is framed as a series of design topics, developed in association with leading international companies, including LG, Intel and Microsoft.  Kitching and Yu’s project Hamon won first prize in the Closer to Your Heart category, devised with world-leading telecommunications company Huawei.

Hamon, which means ‘ripple’ in Japanese, explores new ways of using interactive technologies to make people who are geographically distant feel closer together. In moving beyond words, whether spoken or written, it tracks the outlines of everyday objects placed on an interactive surface composed of networked ‘Hamon boards’, as integrated into a desk or table, with subtle changes in the position of objects allowing users to experience the presence of their loved ones, however faraway.

The technology underpinning Hamon facilitates this new form of responsive, interactive communication. The boards, made from OLED displays, most commonly used in curved television screens, are lightweight, flexible and have a faster response rate than conventional LCD screens.

Alexander Kitching, one of Hamon’s designers, described the thinking behind the concept, ‘When you’re physically with someone your mood is shown through your actions and movements and can be sensed by others around you without you having to articulate your feelings. These subtleties tend to be missed in telephone calls, emails or text messages, which rely upon written or spoken words. We wanted to create a new kind of long-distance interaction that would allow users to feel closer to someone without having to constantly think of things to say.’

As winners in their category, Kitching and Yu will also take part in the LotusPrize’s incubation programme. The 24 teams selected will spend a week with mentors in Hunan Province, China, to further develop their product ideas.

Bruise was one of 20 projects shortlisted for the prestigious James Dyson Award for innovative student products in October 2014. Its team was composed of GID student Dan Garrett, working alongside Elena Dieckmann, Lucy Jung and Adam Kong from the Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) programme, which is also run jointly with Imperial College London.

Like Hamon, Bruise provides an elegant, designed solution to a real-world problem: in this instance, the needs of disabled athletes engaged in high-performance, high-adrenaline, high-impact sports.

Starting from a conversation with Paralympic sit-skier Talan Skeels-Piggins, the project addressed the struggle to detect injury experienced by athletes with reduced or no sensation in parts of their bodies. Poor circulation can also mean the visual symptoms of injury, such as bruising, are slow to appear in people with paralysis. Consequently, injury can remain unnoticed, with delays in treatment becoming performance hindering or, in the most serious cases, life threatening. Conversely, athletes with minor injuries can waste valuable training time making unnecessary trips to the hospital.

Bruise is framed explicitly to respond to these circumstances, providing a crucial tool for elite athletes to differentiate between levels of injury. A smart injury-detection system, it uses pressure-sensitive ink embedded in a wearable suit, to identify and monitor injuries.

To develop the suit, the team looked at the different pressures and impacts needed to cause injury, and repurposed a recyclable pressure-sensitive film to visualise those forces, which range from causing bruises to bone fractures, through a range of colour intensities.

In allowing athletes to monitor their injury levels, Bruise also enhances sporting performance. As the team behind the suit’s development elaborated, ‘There are many added hurdles and complications facing disabled athletes. We saw an opportunity to address a major issue, and allow athletes to keep 100% of their focus on training, competing and winning.’

In combination, Bruise and Hamon show how RCA students, armed with the most innovative technologies, are developing creative products and design solutions with the potential to make the world better for everybody.