- 19 August 2022
- 9 minutes
Tackling subjects from self-healing materials to flooding in Venice through to reimagining the smoke alarm, these are the designers transforming our futures – buoyed by a global outlook cultivated at the RCA.
Marco Da Re (2022)
“The RCA first gave me the credibility to collaborate with government institutions.”
What are you working on at the moment, and how did studying at the RCA help to set you up on this path?
I am currently working with the government of Venice to improve flood preparedness – looking for innovative, transdisciplinary approaches that increase the resilience of communities at risk from environmental disasters. Venice has always lived with high tide phenomena but exceptionally high tide events are increasing. The last disastrous one in 2019 generated considerable damage – no one would have expected something like that.
So far I am designing communication tools with and for citizens, such as apps, physical products in the city system, language and tone of voice of newspaper articles – basically, systems to alert citizens correctly, preparing them in advance and putting them in control of the situation.
The RCA first gave me the credibility to collaborate with government institutions, introducing design methodologies that were not used. On the GID programme we learned new design, technology and leadership skills with a deep understanding of contexts and culture, with the ultimate purpose of having a long-term positive impact on people and the planet.
Where did you study as part of the GID programme – can you tell us a bit more about what you did there and what was the best thing about studying in an international environment?
I spent a semester at Pratt Institute in New York, one of the world's leading design universities. I shared my journey with talented industrial design students, acquiring new ways of thinking about design and evolving my design methodology.
In the context of NYC I designed a modular table (called Nuova York) in collaboration with Italian-American families and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a tool to help caregivers manage post-trauma family members (Building Care), in collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Vedika Lall (2021–present)
“GID is a melting pot of cultures – being here, I now look beyond my personal experiences and appreciate the views of peers from diverse backgrounds.”
What were you doing before you began studying at the RCA?
I pursued design to make a difference, empower and advocate for those who are left behind, graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Information Design from Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, India. In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, I founded School Ki Ghanti (SKG), a design-led social project to provide children aged 6 to 12 without access to the Internet with audio-based learning via phone calls. SKG has impacted more than 700 lives across India since its inception. The project was acknowledged by TED in 2020 and by the Beijing Institute of Technology in their 2021 Practical Design Innovation Awards (PDIA). Soon after, I joined IBM as a UX designer and researcher, working with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India on dashboard development to visualise forthcoming trends and technologies.
I'm now pursuing GID to advance as a design engineer and explore systems with innovation and impact as key drivers. I am honoured to have received the Royal Commission of the Exhibition of 1851 Industrial Design Studentship and to be a part of the traditional bedrock of diversity alongside my peers. Now, I want to be measured by the difference that I make in the lives of others by thinking of newer and better strategies for bringing about social change.
At the RCA, I have learned to work and iterate on fast-paced projects, draw connections between seemingly diverse disciplines, and quickly adapt and learn from unknown situations. The GID programme has taught me to validate my design concepts in context and critically evaluate them for real-world impact. GID is a melting pot of cultures – being here, I now look beyond my personal experiences and appreciate the views of peers from diverse backgrounds.
Tell us about the international aspect of your programme – what's been the most exciting part of studying in an international environment?
For term three on the GID programme, I was selected to pursue a three-month-long module at Design Lab X (DLX) at the University of Tokyo to learn more about the confluence of science, technology and design thinking. I am grateful to have been accepted into the Turing Scheme, a UK-wide initiative that provides international placements funds to help fund this exchange semester.
Being at DLX has been one of the most rewarding experiences on the GID programme. Holding co-design workshops with scientists and researchers has allowed me to look at how science and design can collaborate in the service of a sustainable and equitable future. We're in a space where design thinking helps scientists explore possibilities outside the lab. To find new areas of intervention, alongside other GID students, I am learning strategies such as treasure hunting and conducting co-design workshops with diverse research laboratories. During our time at DLX, we collaborated with the Yoshie Lab (which researches polymers), the Kikomoto Lab (airflow simulation), and the Yamakawa Lab (high-speed robotics) at the university’s Institute of Industrial Science.
My work on the Polytile project alongside the Yoshie and Tachi labs investigates the confluence of self-healing polymers – materials that can repair damages to themselves without intervention – and kirigami, a type of origami. It's been a pleasure meeting new people, making friends, finding our corner of the DLX studio and experiencing another culture.
Malvika Bhasin (2020)
“What once would have felt daunting to me came incredibly easily thanks to my experiences in GID.”UX designer, JP Morgan Chase
What are you doing now, and how did studying at the RCA help to set you up for success on this career path?
I currently work as a UX designer at JP Morgan Chase. Studying Global Innovation Design at the RCA was a deep dive into uncertain and uncharted terrains, both personally and as a designer. This inevitably helped me develop tools to consciously respond to uncertainty — which I find an invaluable skill in today's day and age.
Being in a boiling pot with individuals from different cultures and educational backgrounds and travelling constantly made me see the gift in not feeling comfortable in one place or identity. Instead, I was constantly questioning my own thought process and way of being in order to evolve.
At JP Morgan, there was a time when my manager and design lead moved to another project and it took months to hire a replacement. Suddenly, I found myself acting as the design lead on my project for three months – having conversations with stakeholders who are VPs, executive directors and managing directors and being the sole representative of design in that space. Despite only three years of work experience, I was voicing my design concerns and opinions to leaders in a corporate firm with over ten years’ experience. What once would have felt daunting to me came incredibly easily thanks to my experiences in GID. It was only because GID made me so comfortable and confident with handling uncertainty that I could rise to the challenge with ease and grace.
Where did you study as part of the GID programme and what was the best thing about studying in an international environment?
I travelled to Beijing and Singapore as a part of GID. Living in another country and immersing myself in the culture was crucial in understanding our commonalities and differences as humans and how design can mould itself accordingly.
The best thing for me was the opportunity to break and rebuild myself as a designer.
In Beijing, I experienced the strongest culture shock of my life. Firstly, language was a major barrier. Secondly, the governance, rules, technology, expectations from design, people and subtle ways of thinking and being were very different from what I had experienced before. Singapore was not as dramatically different, though the amalgamation of cultures was very interesting to witness.
Being able to witness life in different countries through a design lens is the highest practice of empathy and inclusion for a designer. Life and design are deeply intertwined and it was the travel that made me realise that everything I had learned about life so far was not good enough.
Difference can be a strength if we learn to include all the perspectives that differ from us, as a part of us. I believe we can only design a better world if we learn to see it from as many perspectives as we possibly can.
Arnau Donate (2022)
“The interdisciplinarity among us created a network of knowledge that has been and will be extremely helpful in the years after graduating, especially for those of us working on start-ups.”Co-founder, Phare Labs
What are you doing now, and how did studying at the RCA help to set you up for success on this career path?
Right now, I am working full-time on Phare Labs with my co-founder Daniel. We are developing the next-generation smart smoke alarm which thinks beyond fires, protecting us also from short- and long-term threats to our health and wellbeing through the air we breathe. We can no longer accept being surrounded by faulty, annoying, cheap devices that continuously miss real fires, ring when they shouldn't and overlook all pollutants other than smoke. We are challenging the status quo and re-defining what a smoke alarm could and should be.
My time at RCA provoked me to think beyond the product and the concept. Coming from an industrial design engineering background, GID was very intellectually engaging and challenged me to think about vision rather than execution. The multidisciplinarity of my cohort definitely pushed me to work harder on every single aspect of my work. There would always be someone specialised in every aspect – whether it was the narrative, the communication, the aesthetics or the engineering, there was always someone excelling at it, and it pushed the rest to thrive to be at the same level. GID created a space where I learned to appreciate and get comfortable with navigating uncertainty.
Did you build good relationships with peers – how have these working relationships continued to benefit you throughout your career?
The people in the cohort were the most influential part on my GID journey, where I found both great professional relationships and friendships. The interdisciplinarity among us created a network of knowledge that has been and will be extremely helpful in the years after graduating, especially for those of us working on start-ups which greatly benefit from having a network that can advise, outsource and help speed up the learning curve. I'm sure the people I've met on the GID programme, and at the RCA in general, will be key for the rest of my professional career.
Savio Mukachirayil (2021–present)
“On the GID programme my design process has matured – it is less rigid and more fluid in nature, taking the form that is necessary for the cultural context.”
What drew you to the GID programme at the RCA and how has it supported your practice as a designer?
MA/MSc Global Innovation Design was suggested to me by my tutor during my time at the Loughborough School of Design and Creative Arts. After looking into it, I realised how unique this programme was and wanted to do it so badly, I didn't have a backup option – I only applied to this because there was no other programme like it! I wanted to ‘be a design leader’ and think on a global scale – experiencing different cultures and figuring out how to translate design for different contexts.
On the GID programme my design process has matured – it is less rigid and more fluid in nature, taking the form that is necessary for the cultural context. And when I let it be fluid, I become open to new possibilities. I want to design to bring the future closer to our present. I allow myself to ask more ‘what if’ questions that may not be feasible given current limitations and that has been very fun. This way of thinking creates room for new aesthetics, combinations of materials, textures and ways of working – and diving into different cultures creates additional pools of knowledge.
Tell us about the international aspect of your programme – where have you visited so far?
In GID there are two available routes, you either go to Keio University in Tokyo and then the Pratt Institute in New York or Tsinghua University in Beijing and then Nanyang Technological University in Singapore which is what I was on – the China-Singapore route. These cultural exchanges are a third of your time on the programme, so they’re really important! Including London, you're able to study design in three different cultures. Immersing yourself in different cultures broadens your perspective and ways of thinking; it opens up to new possibilities and you become less linear in thinking. This creates opportunities to reflect, to see your own design practice through a different lens.
We couldn’t travel to China as they hadn’t reopened their borders, so Tsinghua provided online classes. But instead of missing out on our cultural exchange, I looked into other possibilities – contacting universities and organisations in India and Korea who all responded positively to me. I informed the rest of my peers and those who were interested joined.
First, seven of us went to Maharashtra Institute of Design (MIT), Pune, India. We joined their classes, visited a cultural design museum and an organic farm and took part in many projects, including one on how people from different backgrounds perceive metaphors differently. In Pune, my favourite experience was meeting the students – they were so open and keen on welcoming us. Six of us then travelled to Uravu Indigenous Science & Technology Study Centre in Wayanad, Kerala – Uravu is a non-profit organisation that focuses on cultivating and preserving bamboo and educating about its benefits as a sustainable material. Alongside artisans, we learned a range of skills including weaving, hand cutting, bending, thinning, sanding and joining with bamboo. During this period, there were mandatory online classes from Tsinghua University also so our days were very busy but rewarding.
Three of us then travelled to Seoul where we led a speculative design sprint with students from Samsung Art & Design Institute, Seoul Women's University and the Korea University of Science and Technology. We were able to create a space for collaboration and imagination between these three institutions in which students speculated on the future of creative learning in Korea.
Every place was a very different learning experience and I feel that I have grown in so many ways – developing a lot of soft skills! I encountered so many new things – the food, the people, the cities, the climate and the most exciting aspect of these is how I can find points of intersection. If innovation is based on your experiences, I've now experienced so many different things and can access these as pools of resources for my work.