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School of Design Work in Progress 2017: Passion and Dynamism in Design

This year’s School of Design show presents a range of socially aware and conscientious projects that address pertinent global and individual issues in a diversity of ways. Each programme demonstrates that the School of Design is a place where passion and dynamism combine with in-depth exploration of design processes. 

The School of Design engages with design on a cultural and societal level, while developing innovative ways of delivering new services, products and ways of running, creating and doing business. 2016/17 Work in Progress from Design Products, Global Innovation Design, Innovation Design Engineering, Vehicle Design and Service Design explores a multiplicity of opinions and ideologies, combined with keen design experimentation, with an emphasis on finding solutions to emotional, material, technological issues that impact on health, wellbeing and the environment. 

First-year Design Products students have tackled this emphasis under the themes of ‘New Notion and Actions from New Technology – Code Food’, ‘Designing Things Better – Urban Mining’, and ‘Networked Design – Community Production’. Mathias Kok has responded to the call for design solutions concerning UK food production by emphasising the need for simplicity, convenience and trust for low-income groups; the notion of ‘urban mining’ has resulted in Hristiyan Pavlov’s Nulla, an open-source repository of biological components to empower designers to make their own sustainable materials. ‘Empowering Autism’ is Stephen Curtis’s response to ‘Community Production’, using the model of maker spaces to provide autistic teenagers with confidence and independence.

Local community empowerment is also important to second-year students Katrine Hesseldahl and Victor Strimfors. As part of the ‘Exploring Emergent Futures’ platform, they propose a future where retailers learn the ‘pace’ of each component of a product, how long they last before being discarded, allowing consumers to renew their home without compromising the environment.

The ‘Design through Making’ platform for second-year students, examines making in energetic, inquisitive ways, embracing design as a process of iteration. An interest in tools and material is pervasive in this section, with students like Philip Crewe looking at vernacular creativity in the form of foraging props, a means to exploration while fostering a healthier relationship with nature – the tool moderates how much the forager takes.

‘Design for Manufacture’ partnership Michael Chen and Martin Ding have considered environmental supply and ideas of waste by rethinking shoe production, proposing a modular system for footwear that allows individual pieces to be replaced. They question how products make it into the hands of the end user with design intent fully intact, considering the validity of their product in terms of usability, efficiency, sustainability and aesthetics.

In acknowledgement of a profound revolution in product design in the past 50 years, students from the ‘Object Mediated Interactions’ platform work in dialogue with the shifting boundaries of objects revealed to us by the digital world. This is epitomised Dani Clode’s Third Thumb Project: through the addition of a prosthetic third thumb, robotics and prosthetics can be explored on a biological level, aiming to expand the positive perception of this field via real experience.

The theme of challenging assumptions is also central to the ‘Design as Catalyst’ platform, where students explore ideas of design as an intervention to an existing domain to solve problems and make improvements. Mahetzi Hernandez takes the idea of eating insects, advocated as a cleaner alternative to protein, and tries to create new, palatable methods of delivery that confront human sensory and emotional responses – if a bug is dressed as a delicious chocolate protein ball, will we eat it?

The Design Interactions pathway is concerned with the complex relationships between people and technologies, thinking in a speculative and critical way. Kataro Abe’s project Under the Sun involved taking a holiday from sunlight, travelling to Iceland on the darkest day of the year, and re-thinking sunlight as a commodity. Ruiheng Sun tries to imagine a perfect world with three key elements: environment, creator, and material. Both projects illustrate the pathway’s emphasis on research, storytelling and looking at futures in order to understand the present.

Creative responses to world and individual issues are also addressed with thoughtfulness in the work presented by first- and second-year Global Innovation Design students. The programme aims to develop change in the world, encouraging individual students to be guided by their passion and vision rather than responding to a set brief and developing the skills to deliver their vision. Head of Programme Dr Jonathan Edelman explains, ‘our programme is truly about the poetics of engagement’.

Student visions are delivered though projects that often focus on changing paradigms. Visibility and communication are important features: Liwa Soosuk's proposed vehicles are mobile versions of air purifiers, moving along streets of cities. Also making environmental conditions visible, Jessica Gregory has created a groundbreaking means of cultivating lichen that further utilises its abilities as a bioindicator. With a more mystical approach to this interest in making the invisible visible, Alejandro Ramos Saavedra has turned the data of non-believers into 3D amulets that fulfil our instinctive need for faith.

Enni-Kukka Tuomala has created a new Monopoly board to deal with the empathy deficit around the refugee crisis. Using tiny water bottles, a backpack or life vest, players must migrate around the board, choosing devastating Community Chest and Chance cards based on real events – the choice between giving up all your money or being thrown into the sea mid-passage on a smuggler’s boat, or being unexpectedly given £2 by a stranger after losing your possessions. The game uses real currency and the winning amount goes to charity.

Team Engage, made up of second-year students Dan Coppen, Florencia Sepulveda, Hermione Townsend and Ralf Josef have collaborated to tackle stigma in mental health. Their project encapsulates the essence of Global Innovation Design: they have created a model for enabling discussion around depression, exploring how to adapt and translate it in order to cross social or educational sectors, and global boundaries.

Innovation Design Engineering focuses on students as agents of change, showing the process behind their work as a form of continuous knowledge generation. Their projects bring together science, engineering and technology with the creative aspects of design.

POP by Theresa Ohm and Daljinder Sanghera is a new media platform that shows the history of changes and contributions made to an online article. Readers can tackle the idea of truth by exposing who has added which part of the text, enabling their understanding of certain sentiments and opinions. The students are aiming to address the very current concern of social media echo chambers and ‘pop the filter bubble’.

Students from the programme may move on to professions in commerce, social and political issues, sustainability, manufacturing, urban living, healthcare, communications or other journeys that use their skills. These are honed in a collaborative culture that expands between Imperial College London and the RCA. One project, Moth, is sensitive sleep monitoring system that helps you create your desired sleeping cycles through non-invasive technology. Creators Sabina Weiss, Mafalda Sobral, Elena Larriba and Aaron Koshy hope it will be a tool for jetlag as well as for hospitals and care homes.

Intelligent technology as a means to improve everyday experience is also explored by Service Design students. Working in collaboration, Amit Kalra, Min Kyung Cho, Daria Kwiatkowska and Jia Xiang Chua have created an intelligent personal assistant that can adapt in more nuanced, responsive ways than current well-known models such as Siri. They have developed this specifically for new mums, trying to support a never-ending negotiation of tasks and needs with a smart to-do list that responds to time and GPS location in order to assist.

With 80 postgraduate students and researchers, Service Design at the RCA is the largest and most influential programme of its kind in the world. Project partners extend from leading professional services companies, to governments to multinational corporations seeking to transform their customers’ experience. This year the show is being visited by a plethora of government, professional, industrial and design companies, ranging from Samsung to Jaguar and The Cabinet Office.

Projects on display include working in collaboration with Transport for London to address the issue of air pollution in London, with NASA on the future of exploration, and with Samsung, bringing together mobile devices. Students Ruko Kuga and Anne Schön have created a sustainable street market, Lewisham Community Trade, where local communities can work collectively through a series of partnerships, a new management strategy and sustainable supply of street traders. Students are also working with Lambeth Council on youth and community services and Hotel Icon in Hong Kong on the future of Hospitality.

In Vehicle Design, the ‘Inside Out’ pathway addresses new opportunities in artificial intelligence, autonomy, sustainability, advanced manufacturing techniques and ways of using sound and touch in interiors to engage the user’s senses and psyche. In this show the students’ work addresses health and wellbeing in Humans, reducing pollution while creating a better world for living things.

Joachim Beirens has designed HAIE, a Holistic Automative Interior User Experience that addresses the adaptability of space and interiors to a user and their lifestyle needs. He questions the relationship between ambience and material form, light and space in 2035 cars. Kalle Keituri, sponsored by Form3 Design, proposes the Supersonic Submarine to deal with efficient freight transport of the future.

In response to the world of hyper-connected mobility, Armin Peters has designed an ‘untraceable car’. Sponsored by IONDESIGN and Volkswagen, this vehicle answers the needs of digital privacy, for those who ‘need to get away’ or for ‘high-net-worth individuals for whom privacy is a luxury’. Armin’s project is part of the ‘Urban Flow Pathway’, which looks at the leading edge of transportation design and trends. The ‘Automark’ pathway focuses on end-user relationships, thinking about individual expression and brand loyalty in the context of new consume markets. In this context, Inigo Onieva Molas, sponsored by Seat, designs for a future where all transport in cities will be automated and cars will become driver-centric vehicles made only for pleasure, exploring the country roads as urban entertainment.

Considering the nuanced needs of the future driver is a theme throughout the Vehicle Design show. Sehoon Kon deals with ageing mobility; Sam Philpott questions the car’s role in relation to improving mental health; Pontus Merkel looks at the needs of cities in the developing world, taking into consideration the crucial need for easy and cheap maintenance; whilst Jian Charn considers how designers can keep the car elegant with the increased need to crowd it with function and technologies. 

Read more about Design InteractionsDesign ProductsGlobal Innovation DesignInnovation Design EngineeringService Design and Vehicle Design, and how to Apply

The Work-in-progress Show is open Friday 20 January 12–7pm, and Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 January 12–5pm.

Accompanying Events:

Saturday 21 January: Pecha Kucha by 'Design as Catalyst' Platform, 4–5pm, 4th Floor, Design Products Studio, Darwin Building

Saturday 21 January: Pecha Kucha: Urban Mining Presentations, 3pm, Design Products Studio, Darwin Building