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Innovating Future Solutions: Design Work-in-progress 2018

The work-in-progress on display from the School of Design demonstrates how technology, engineering and design can combine to produce truly innovative results. From the formation and application of new materials, to rethinking whole systems of manufacturing and services, students in the School of Design are striving to solve pressing global challenges.

The product of the Design Products programme at the RCA is diverse – from systems and processes, to applications for new technology and smart materials – fundamentally what the programme produces is better designers.  The Work-in-progress Show provides the opportunity to see the research, user testing and experimentation behind students’ developing projects, revealing that the programme is about impact not just aesthetics.

Angela Oklim Lee is developing a Parkinson’s empathy toolkit, to enable people to better understand what it feels like to suffer from the disease. She has made a pen which emulates what it feel like trying to write with tremors, and she is currently working on other interventions, such as a voice amplifier that will help people with Parkinson’s to continue to live social lives. Ashley Scarborough is researching ways to improve children’s approach to sustainability, acknowledging that the best opportunity to improve sustainability is to empower the next generation with the tools to make a difference.

Working with new materials is a core element of Design Products, as demonstrated by Francisco Rojas Miranda and Felix Pottinger’s bike helmet. Sponsored by DuPont, they have been working with new material Hytrel to create a helmet that offers advanced protection, is recyclable and stylish. Nakeisha Nelson has been looking at how to improve swimming performance with a wearable device that can track stroke rate and physical movement invisible to the human eye.

The Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) programme takes advanced technology and finds engaging applications that are relevant to industry. An exemplary project is Finite, a new composite building material made primarily of sand. Finite is as strong as concrete but can also be melted down and remoulded for multiple lifecycles, and safely biodegrades over time. Developed by Carolyn Tam, Hamza Oza, Matteo Maccario and Saki Maruyama, this new material has been developed within the context of the middle east where huge construction projects take place, currently predominantly using beach sand, rather than the more locally abundant desert sand.

Other projects apply technology to create innovative products for the individual. Andrew Butt, David Leonard, Dongyuan Li and Yikun Wang have developed Flowcus – a device that measures and logs brain activity to help users understand their personal relationship with ‘flow’ – a psychological state that brings happiness, fulfilment and focus. In response to the challenges of global societies and working across cultures Mathew Rice, Dougie Mann, Yang Gao and Wila Crolius have developed Voice Blox. This tool embodies pronunciation as a physical form, helping users to improve their accent when learning Mandarin through engaging touch.

Global Innovation Design (GID) provides innovative solutions to social and cultural issues. On the programme students spend time in different global locations, understanding how design innovation can impact on international challenges. Enni-Kukka Tuomala is working towards a toolkit of interventions to help people better understand each other through empathy. Influenced by her time studying in Tokyo and New York, she is developing ways to reduce racial barriers using empathy, considering the physical space between people as one that could be used to promote understanding.

Melisa Leñero has been working on a project to improve awareness of unconscious cognitive biases. Through giving a repertoire of cognitive biases different personas and using machine learning, she hopes to transforms biases into forms that are easier to recognise, to reduce the capacity to be manipulated through your biases.

Using technology to change the way we access knowledge Alexander Davies, Johannes Mutter and Jeffrey Pickett are working on a project combining the processing power of the machine with human thinking. They have created a database of all GID work in the show, providing visitors with a way to navigate the show and make new discoveries. They have ambitions to create a tool through which to break down research silos and open up collaboration, knowledge sharing and cross-disciplinary working. By improving access to knowledge, they are exploring how technology can better equip designers to generate new ideas.

Dr Stephen Wang, Head of Programme for IDE and GID, sums up the programmes: ‘The overall goal of IDE and GID is to explore and identify the contribution of design to innovation. From a wide spectrum of stages of expression, GID and IDE students are evidence of how design can contribute as the interface between social needs and STEAM development.’

This year the personality and character of the Textiles students is palpable in their work. Among the cohort there is an innovative mix of approaches and conceptual thinking, demonstrated in the diversity of the work in flux on display.

Soft Systems has been introduced as a new specialism of the programme, considering applications of new technologies and smart fabrics. Carley Mullally and Winnie Wing Yu Yeung are showing a collaborative jumper, which draws on traditional Scottish elements and combines them with polymeric optical fibres to produce a garment that can be illuminated. The show also features an interactive digital installation by Ciaran Moore, which may seem removed from what is traditionally thought of as textiles, but is driven by a concern with colour, pattern and playfulness, which are all core components and approaches of the discipline.

Much of the Textiles work blurs boundaries between art, design and craft, and ultimately reflects the personal values of the students. This is demonstrated in Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s Tension Birds, which explore the value of the tactile object but also of the process of knitting for health and wellbeing.

Head of Programme Anne Toomey commented: ‘The Textiles programme is materials led, therefore practical skills are vital. A fluency of the language of making is needed to express the complexity of thinking and ideas of our students. We truly value thinking through making and doing.’ The students have collaboratively curated a space in the show, which demonstrates visually the ethos of the programme. Each student was invited to contribute a drawing, an object that is a part of their making process as well as a sketchbook; offering visitors rich insights into the processes behind their work.

Students on the Service Design programme work with industry partners to find solutions to pressing problems through improved services. A prime example is Judah Armani’s project In-house Records, a functioning record label that has been launched in HMP Elmley and HMP Rochester. Collaborating with partners including Fender Guitars, Island Records and the BBC, the scheme is an innovative way to reduce violence in prisons and provides prisoners with the chance to gain transferable skills, improved employment opportunities and a sense of pride.

The Work-in-progress Show also features six group projects that have emerged from an innovative collaboration with CERN. The students worked with scientists to develop practical propositions to tackle problems of sustainability, based on the UN Sustainability Goals. The collaboration opened up new approaches for the students and inspired them to realise that big science is accessible and relevant.

Examples of the applications proposed include an earthquake detection using muons – which are elementary particles – to scan the earth’s crust. In Chile the team looked at how muons could be used to detect seismic activity much earlier to give better warnings. Groups also considered how non-visible plastics, which can enter the food chain, could be removed through micron filtration and how the ‘Coldscape’, which includes air conditioning and refrigerated food transportation, can apply the technology from CERN to provide cooling without using environmentally damaging HFCs.

Intelligent Mobility is a newly launched 15-month MA programme that succeeds the Vehicle Design programme to position the RCA at the vanguard of the third wave of automotive design. The programme comprises two distinct specialisms: Automotive Transitions and Urban Mobility.

The Work-in-progress Show offers an opportunity to see the first stages in the developments of new mobility solutions for future scenarios. Automotive Transitions students have begun focusing on how design thinking can be put to use to develop innovative forms of transportation, such as autonomous vehicles. Whereas Urban Mobility students are designing the wider systems and frameworks that enable people to move through hyper-connected cities.

Fashion students have created a bold and dynamic display. Second-year students are presenting their personal projects in their workspaces, offering tantalising glimpses of what may be in store from their final collections. Henry Stanford has presented a particularly intriguing proposition, with the initial outcomes of machines he has created to find original forms. Rather than focusing on the finished garment, he is interested in working with chance to create the skeletal structure of garments for a future scenario illustrated through his accompanying sketches for a graphic novel.

First-year work is presented in four cross-specialism platforms that they have been working under, posing important questions about fashion and the future. Surprising and intriguing experiments are on display from the bio platform, which explores making biomaterials. As an alternative to plastic, Yang Niu has created an intricate bag from sweet potato. Others have explored working with living materials, such as Max Wells Gray’s garment with live silk worms and Zhe Yin’s cress garment that will organically grow and transform.

Future Systems questions and dismantles the infrastructure of the fashion system. Chelsea Franklin, whose group explored ideas of agency, ownership and making together, explained that at first it was a challenge to move away from the perspective of individual creation, but the results were both rewarding and exciting. Groups tackled ideas of intellectual property and the impossibility of claiming ownership to original ideas as well as co-design and the possibilities for incorporating other voices into fashion.

The Sport as Identity students have been considering sportswear from the perspective of optimised performance. Margot Vaaderpass has looked at how new materials can be used to tackle footwear waste. She has designed a sports shoe that can be easily dismantled to be recycled as it is made from natural and synthetic materials that are held together with a yarn that dissolves at 95 degrees. Others have used sportswear as a starting point to consider new ways of protecting and enhancing the human body. Rebecca Marsden has created inflatable garments that explore ideas of comfort by creating a cushioned barrier to maintain personal space for the wearer.

The final group have been thinking of the future through the context of virtual realities, raising questions about what is important about reality, communication and physical connections. Using VR technology each student has made a film to visualise future scenarios – examining issues such as the future of commerce, gender and politics. In his film Ben Osborne considered an environment where there would be no fixed positions, such as gravity, and how the body might exist in that kind of space. He has designed a genderless garment, responding to the idea that in future virtual worlds there may not be a need to express of identify a gender.

The Royal College of Art School of Design Work-in-progress Show 
RCA Kensington Campus
Open to the public Friday 19, Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 January, 12 midday to 6pm 

Find out more about programmes in the School of Design and how to apply.