7 Design Practices that began at the RCA
The RCA fosters an interdisciplinary and collaborative practice that has allowed many design partnerships and collectives to grow. These are just a few examples from our recent alumni.
London-based label Arnar Már Jónsson draws on the fashion sensibility of Icelanders to create practical and weather adaptable menswear for city dwellers. ‘Coming from Iceland, you have to dress for the weather – it’s just something you have to think about,’ says Arnar. The label is run by Arnar along with his design partner Luke Stevens who he met on MA Fashion. ‘We soon realised after a few nights in the Art Bar that we had a lot of common interests, especially in functional clothing that would fit into our wardrobe for the city.’
Their unique pieces are designed to maximise usage – cotton chevron stripes on waterproof tops and jackets provide breathability while reversible jackets are designed to be packed away into hidden pockets. Their work has recently been featured in Vogue and i-D magazine with their more fluid approach to the functional trend in menswear noted as fitting in well with how many men now want to dress.
Power Out of Restriction (POoR) Collective is an architectural design social enterprise started by three MA Architecture graduates Shawn Adams, Larry Botchway and Ben Spry along with Alpha Barry and Matt Harvey. Having experienced first-hand the struggles that working-class youth face in the design industry, the members of POoR came together to bridge the gaps between the privileged and disadvantaged.
From youth workshops, to graphic design projects on the structural violence of corporations, their initiatives promote diversity in the architectural industry. The team is currently working on a mini-series for young people aged 14–19 years. These short films will include award-winning organisations, world-renowned institutions and leading practitioners including curator, Meneesha Kellay.
Having raised over £1 million in equity, London-based start-up Notpla have come a long way from their beginnings as an MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering group project aiming to create a manufacturable packaging that would act like a fruit rind. Their launch product, Oohos, are biodegradable and edible capsules made from seaweed, which can contain liquids and have been trialled successfully by brands including PepsiCo and Pernod Ricard.
Notpla began as Skipping Rocks Lab, founded by Pierre Paslier and Rodrigo García Gonzalez who met at the RCA in 2013. As Notpla, they have expanded their seaweed packaging into a range of products including a lining for takeaway boxes developed with Just Eat that could potentially prevent this sector from producing 500 million plastic boxes a year, most of which end up in landfills.
MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering students Cameron Brookhouse and Lorenzo Spreafico launched Quell this August. The new product combines ‘the excitement of gaming with real, effective exercise.’ Users move through an immersive world in which they fight enemies and gain skills. A wearable gauntlet harness gives the feeling of real resistance replicating the impact of a blow to their opponents. Users can expect to burn more calories per hour than in circuit training, spin or on a running machine.
Cameron and Lorenzo met on their first day at the RCA. They were both recipients of the 1851 Industrial Design Studentship with shared interests in exercise and gaming. When Cameron came up with the original idea for Quell, they decided to turn it into a start-up right away with co-founders Martin and Doug: ‘we just feel extremely grateful to have met at the RCA – without working together in this thriving environment, Quell may never have been born!’
MA Animation graduates Emily Downe and Kathrin Steinbacher founded co-directing partnership Studio Desk in 2019. Their films have been screened at festivals around the world including Annecy, Slamdance, Ann Arbor, Cinanima, LIAF and Tricky Women Festival. Kathrin's graduation film In Her Boots was recently nominated for a BAFTA. As Studio Desk they have worked on briefs for the School of Life and co-directed a music video for Tom Rosenthal.
During the Covid-19 lockdown they collaborated with animators around the world for #FlattentheCurve, a film exploring the shared experience of quarantine through the work of over 90 animators. Most recently, they have collaborated with Brain Scientist Matt Walker on a series of films for TED called Sleeping with Science which explores the secrets of sleep.
Studio ThusThat make objects from the overlooked and invisible byproducts of industry, collaborating with manufacturers and scientists to explore how waste products can be used in production. For a recent project, This is Copper, they worked with copper recycler Metallo alongside scientists from KU Leuven to produce a series of objects from the copper byproduct, slag.
The studio began when Kevin Rouff, Paco Böckelmann and Guillermo Whittembury collaborated on a MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering group project, exploring the design uses of red mud, a hazardous byproduct of the aluminium industry. The group said of their time at the RCA: ‘Observation of the wizards in the workshop – the technicians of resin, metal, wood, ceramics and jewellery – taught us a resourcefulness that still defines our approach today, whether we are making things in a scrap yard, a scientific lab or a garden shed.’
Design duo Sarah Willemart and Matthieu Muller met in 2018 while studying MA Design Products. In October 2019, they collaborated on a contact lenses pop case for Vision Direct’s Visionaries Design Competition winning 2nd Prize. Realising they shared a similar vision of solution driven design, they partnered to develop their 2020 graduation projects ‘Animate’, an electronic kit designed to stimulate childrens’ creativity and ‘Familia’, a collection of inclusive designs restoring dignity to seniors.
Sarah and Matthieu recently won $10,000 for Best Design in the Dezeen x Samsung Out of the Box competition for their cardboard animal toys ‘Endangered Animals’. Beyond graduation, they are looking to bring their products to market and continue providing design solutions in their signature playful style.