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Innovation, Enterprise and Critical Thinking Hallmark School of Design Work-in-progress Show

Innovation, enterprise, critical thinking and experimentation best describe this year’s School of Design Work-in-progress show at the Royal College of Art. The established programmes of Design Products, Design Interactions and Innovation Design Engineering offer an exciting insight into students’ latest group and individual prototype projects and processes, while the first graduating cohort from Service Design live up to every expectation.

Typically reputed for its focus on social enterprise and design for the developing world, this year Innovation Design Engineering takes a somewhat surprising step in the direction of electronics engineering and technology interfacing.

The electronics expertise of this cohort is evident across second-year group projects. Notable works include an ‘emotional intelligence’-based technology interface (Rapport), an impressive augmented reality 3D-drawing device and software (Gravity), a home systems automation device (Eddy), and a wearable headpiece and software system that takes online content personalisation to the next level by detecting subtle bodily responses (Amoeba).

Naturally, there are also a number of projects concerned with social and environmental issues, such as Kumo Homes, a modular housing system intended for cash-strapped students, and Murni, a sustainable social enterprise that garners washed up plastic to grow pearl oysters in Jakarta Bay.

The presence of Global Innovation Design – the School’s new joint transnational Master's programme with Imperial College London – is marked by a wall-mounted montage of the people, places and projects that the programme has encountered in its first six months.

Across Service Design, the first graduating cohort of students impressively show how systems thinking, prototyping and visualisation can solve issues and create tangible new propositions for real stakeholders and clients as diverse as the Crown Prosecution Service and the Royal College of Music.

Foodprint, by Anna Pöyry and Iban Benzal, is one such well-considered system that poses how food waste can be both reduced and transformed into a new green energy source using an anaerobic digester. Sainsbury’s Active Values, which opens up Sainsbury’s internal sustainability data, proposes how a value-based, consumer choice system can drive improvements in the supply chain and work towards more ethical food stock.

Design Interactions offers fascinating, imagined futures around the implications of progressing technology, science and politics, drawing on model-making, storytelling and prototyping skills.

Projects such as Smile, The Fiction Has Already Begun by Zöe Hough and Sleepworkers by Anna Luis Lorenz are foreboding tales of the ultimate utility of life – the genetic, physical or mental modification of humans to become more economically ‘productive’. Other works such as Lost Cause Inc by Lana Z Porter and Channing Ritter, explore how rather than catalysing protest, social media has, in fact, led to apathy. Lost Cause Inc trawls through old tweets, reviving what was once an impassioned outburst to realise new opportunities for civil action.

Visitors to Design Products, meanwhile, can expect a vast array of approaches to design, from new materials that fuse science and nature to playful, interactive gizmos. Echoing their IDE counterparts, a great number of projects explore electronic devices and interfaces that bridge the gap between the physical and the digital.

Across Platform 18, the study group that focuses on new models of production and processes, there’s a marked interest in approaches to textiles, colours and dyes. Avantika Agarwal’s Dreaming in CMYK considers the over-stimulation of the colour spectrum, and asks how we might use technology to reinstate the value of colour in the world, while Cindy Strobach’s Electro Colour uses dyes and electrolysis of water to visualise  circuit boards and the inside of electronic objects. 

Sensor-based gizmos respond in light, sound and movement to touch, breath and substance, while ‘hack’ projects re-appropriate a cheap toaster to become a leather mould, and an iron into a five-minute cooking device.

Alexandra Theunissen’s Dyssonance is a noteworthy piece aimed at music annotation for dyslexic people. She translates traditional musical annotation into a more intuitive and physical form, drawing on blocks of different colours, shapes and sizes to build rhythm and melody.

Vehicle Design showcases students’ major project for Fiat, with stunning drawings and concepts spanning high-rise living, cars for slums, sensorial experiences, modular car sharing and more commercially appealing vehicles.

The School of Design Work-in-progress Show 2014 runs until Sunday 9 February. Open daily, 10am – 5.30pm.