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Student Showcase Archive

The RCA Grand Challenge 2020/21 Winners

Three projects have been announced as winners of the RCA Grand Challenge 2020/21: Design for Safety. 

Each project proposes an innovative solution to a specific aspect of design for safety, from a holistic life-long approach to equipping the next generation with better tools for mental health, to a scheme to help women commute safely on buses in Lima, Peru, and a multi-layered design solution that integrates celebration into the healthcare journey.

In November 2020, 388 postgraduate designers across all disciplines in the School of Design were set the challenge of improving the practice, culture, principles and ethics of Design for Safety.

Working in interdisciplinary teams, globally dispersed in 50 countries the students were given just over four weeks to develop design concepts. A shortlist was then created across seven sub-themes: Leadership, Care, Next Generation Interaction, Futures, Truth, Health and Resilience.

These finalists had the opportunity to further develop their ideas, before presenting them to a panel of judges, which was chaired by Professor Paul Anderson, Dean of the School of Design. They were joined by special guests Dame Ellen MacArthur Founder & Chair of Trustees, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Dr Paul Thompson, Vice-Chancellor, RCA.

The panel included:

  • Alastair Curtis, Chief Design Officer, Logitech
  • Peter Russell-Clarke, Industrial Designer, Apple
  • Deborah Dawton, Chief Executive, Design Business Association
  • Louise Kiesling, Creative Director and Owner, Backhausen
  • Joe Iles, Circular Design Programme Lead, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Three prizes of £2,500 were awarded to the projects that best met the following criteria: ‘Is there magic?’, ‘Smartest Innovation’ and ‘Biggest potential impact’.

The winning projects were:

The Yellow Box

screenshot of team working on Zoom
Team The Yellow Box
Alicia (Lissy) Hatfield (MA Textiles), Louise Skajem (MA/MSc Global Innovation Design), Cheng Chang (MA Design Products), Joe Pacal (MA/MSc Global Innovation Design), Swathi Muralidharan (MA Service Design).

Poster outlining the concept for The Yellow Box
The Yellow Box
The Yellow Box is a unified, universal public mental health safety infrastructure which includes education, signage, behavioural nudges, digital experiences and crisis response. It provides a set of tools to deal with mental and emotional challenges that can be learnt as a child and put to use throughout life.

On behalf of the judging panel, Alastair Curtis commented:

‘The project was incredibly well presented and incredibly simple. They did a fantastic job of identifying the problem but also providing a really compelling, simple solution. What resonated the most was that it was a solution that could be global.’

An additional prize of £1,000 for best narrative was also awarded to The Yellow Box.


screenshot of team working on Zoom
Zhuyin Xu (MA Textiles), Kelly Holder (MA Intelligent Mobility), Georgia Mackenzie (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering), Ilayda Kal (MA/MSc Global Innovation Design), Kaelan O'Neill (MA Fashion)

Through the combination of an app, female drivers and ticketing regulation MOWO aims to make buses a safer environment for women travelling to and from their jobs in Lima, Peru, where a high proportion of women experience sexual assault on public transport.

visualisation of a MOWO bus stop in Lima, Peru
MOWO, Zhuyin Xu, Kelly Holder, Georgia Mackenzie, Ilayda Kal, Kaelan O'Neill
On behalf of the judging panel, Alastair Curtis commented:

‘They articulated the problem incredibly well, and it hit home with all of us on such a deep level. The team did a phenomenal job of providing meaningful solutions that can be implemented straight away.’


screenshot of 5 people on zoom
Team Inaya
Suzanna James (MA Textiles), Célia Marchessaux (MA Design Products), Emre Kayganacı (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering), Shruti Agerwala (MA Service Design), Justin Tsang (MA Intelligent Mobility)

Inaya introduces celebration as a fundamental part of care systems by integrating it into the medical journey of the patient. Through a not for profit or charity model, the multi-layered design solution incorporates celebration into care through a range of products and services. 

Inaya booklets
On behalf of the judging panel, Alastair Curtis commented:

‘Celebrating steps on the road to recovery is extremely important. It can be the smallest things that make a huge difference. Tackling this in the way that they did, was really incredible. You look at it and think - we could start this now, this could be done today.’

Professor Paul Anderson, Dean of the School of Design, commented on this year’s Grand Challenge:

‘The RCA Grand Challenge is an important strategic project in the School of Design focussing on multidisciplinary approaches to new design thinking. It encourages interdisciplinary collaboration, challenges students to think beyond their current methods, and inspires innovative and tangible responses to large scale global issues.

The students had just four weeks to come together remotely, get to know one another for the first time, and creatively come up with ways to exchange ideas. As a creative process it’s logistically challenging right from day one, which makes what they achieved extremely impressive. Going into the future, a lot of the teams will want to continue working together across disciplines. In the School of design students developing these types of networks, skillsets and experience are all vital attributes to becoming a truly innovative designer in a global context.’ 

For the second year, the main sponsor for the RCA Grand Challenge is Logitech, who are recognised amongst the most innovative design brands in the industry. Through this partnership, Logitech are inspired by the next generation of designers, and in return, students draw on the experience of Logitech through mentorship and critiques. 

Alastair Curtis, Chief Design Officer, Logitech and RCA alumnus (MA Industrial Design Engineering), commented on this year’s RCA Grand Challenge:

‘The RCA Grand Challenge is such an important project for me personally, but also for Logitech. The fact that we get students from so many different disciplines working together, collaborating and learning from each other’s ways of thinking is so important.

This year, it was interesting to see how team dynamics differed, because they weren’t working together physically. A new hybridised way of working is coming, so learning from how teams come together, is vital to how we will work better as individuals and teams in the future.

There were some real stand out projects, not necessarily because of the proposed solution, but in terms of the depth of research and thinking behind them. A strong learning curve for any designer is realising that the quality of your research and your thinking is critical, because you can then find multiple solutions around that.’ 

Find out more about the MA, MRes and Research programmes in the School of Design.