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Show 2019 School of Design: Human-centred Solutions to Real-world Challenges

This year’s graduate work by the School of Design places a real emphasis on tackling pressing, real-world issues. Using their considerable range of expertise and imagination, students offer solutions and strategies to address subjects that include sustainability, healthcare and the environment, the scope of which ranges from the here and now to projected, global futures. In the words of Professor Paul Andersen, Dean, ‘the School of Design seeks to challenge and develop new design futures that are not solely technology based or leading edge, but are human-centred, transparent, responsible and ethical, and place equal value on the process of design and the impact on global communities.’

Innovation Design Engineering

Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) students combine a rigorous, evidence-based approach with an experimental and often playful creativity to address challenging real-world issues. Stephen Wang, Head of Programme, describes IDE as ‘cutting-edge’, with ‘aims to create novel applications based not only on engineering and technological breakthroughs, but on contextualising human needs alongside social and environmental challenges.’ There is also a focus on the philosophical discussions that surround technology and its potential impacts on society. As such, the themes on display in this year’s Show touch on areas such as new biomaterials, recycling and sustainability.

For example, Insiya Jafferjee’s Biological Factory provides a tool for rapidly prototyping materials made from living organisms such as fungi and bacteria as an alternative to traditional materials. To help foster the creation of such materials, Biological Factory facilitates the control of light, heat, air flow, nutrients and sterility, providing the tools to create custom biomaterials with near total control.

Insiya Jafferjee
Biological Factory, Insiya Jafferjee (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering, 2019)

On the other end of the IDE spectrum, Ryo Tada has developed a fingernail-mounted device that allows the user to experience the sensation of touch in the virtual world. Countering the dominance of audio-visual communication online, Fulu allows touch to be sent and received at great distance, bringing the most physical of our senses into the digital world. 

FULU, Ryo Tada (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering, 2019)
Interaction design, video and 3D printing
W12mm x L20mm x t7mm

Global Innovation Design

Global Innovation Design (GID) challenges its students to not only travel across the world, but to embed themselves in often unfamiliar cultures, equipping them with what Stephen Wang, Head of Programme, describes as a ‘globalised perspective, a sharpened cultural sensitivity and a contextualised understanding of human needs, allowing them to provide real localised innovative solutions.’ The transformative programme creates global leaders who can tackle complex problems at global scale. 

Spending half of their time abroad, either at Keio University in Tokyo and Pratt Institute in New York, or Tsinghua University in Beijing and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, GID students undertake solid research-based investigation into cultural and social comparisons. The resulting work often has a specific place or culture in mind, while still maintaining the possibility of broader application.

One such project belongs to Michael Cheung, who has created a system that provides comprehensive, AI-supported services for dementia care. Having been deeply embedded in Hong Kong, Michael investigated the needs of local dementia care and developed an AI monitoring system with CCTV and software working in tandem to better care for the patient’s individual needs. The CCTV cameras look for physical manifestations of symptoms, while soft robotics help detect physical behaviour that is too subtle for the camera to detect. Together, these systems gather information to help improve the care at existing dementia facilities and services in Hong Kong.

Michael Cheung
Michael Cheung (MA Global Innovation Design, 2019)

The work of Laurenz Reichl deals with a more ephemeral and often elusive subject: social decision making. Laurenz has developed a system that can contain and gather information and represent it in a visual way to help governments and organisations come to better, more informed decisions. Rather than giving all uncontextualised opinions equal footing, Laurenz’s system shows the connectivities between often differing opinions, bringing together fractured information and helping to make sense of it.

Laurenz Reichl, WHYs
From simple decisions to debates as complex as Brexit, WHYS structures information, Laurenz Reichl (MA/MSc Global Innovation Design, 2019)


The work from this year’s Textiles programme combines the mastery of traditional methods and materials with an experimental and future-focused concept of what textiles can do and be. ‘The quality of the work this year has been outstanding,’ says Head of Programme Anne Toomey. ‘There’s a real diversity of interests and work and what we try to do is create an environment to disrupt and agitate things to help create fresh thinking.’ Chief among the themes of the Show is a consideration of sustainability and wellbeing, from weighted fabrics that can help to improve posture, to utilising the microbial qualities of materials such as yarn and bamboo to package food, as a sustainable alternative to plastic.

Continuing this theme, Rui Xu has developed a natural pH sensitive ink to monitor food freshness. As an alternative to the ‘best before’ system, FreshTag proposes a dynamic, colour-based monitoring system, offering real-time information about the condition of a particular foodstuff.

FreshTag, Rui Xu 2019
pH sensitive biofilm

Ciaran Moore, on the other hand, has created interactive, multi-sensory experiences in virtual reality for fashion customisation and co-creation, highlighting that, even with a move towards digital technologies, the process is still concerned with material, as the material informs the immaterial. 

B34, Cairan Moore
B34, Ciaran Moore (MA Textiles, 2019)

Design Products

Design Products embraces a diverse, investigative approach to design, emphasising social and technological innovation in addition to the more traditional, hands-on focus on making. Again, a major theme in the Design Products Show is sustainability and the idea of a circular economy where resources are used and then regenerated to be used again. ‘Design Products,’ says Head of Programme Saeema Ahmed-Kristensen, ‘is educating students to be design thinkers who can address real-world challenges through balancing high levels of creativity and technical capability with contextual insight and empathy.’

A great example of this is the work of Jihee Moon, who has visualised the dangers of air pollution in a range of soaps created with pollutants found in her native South Korea. Jihee has also developed a range of low-cost air purifiers to combat air pollution in a form of democratic design, providing a cheaper alternative for tackling poor air quality – in the process highlighting and providing a solution to a serious, global issue.

Jihee Moon
PM2.5 Pollutant Soap, Jihee Moon (MA Design Products, 2019)

Sustainability is at the heart of Tomi Laukkanen’s project Worthy, a series of modular products with individual components that can be repaired or replaced as necessary. This approach aims to reduce the user’s carbon footprint and increase the life cycle of the products, in a great example of a circular economy. Tomi feels that if the user better understands the product, they will be more likely to repair it themselves, so items arrive unassembled.

Tomi Laukkanen, Worthy
Worthy, Tomi Laukkanen 2019

MRes Healthcare & Design

The MRes Healthcare & Design programme promotes a hands-on approach to research through designing, making, building and testing. In collaboration with Imperial College and the HELIX Centre at St Mary’s Hospital, students at the RCA embrace new technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, bio- and nanotechnology to address current challenges in healthcare. ‘There are a really interesting set of influences shared between the medical school at Imperial and the RCA,’ says Head of Programme Ashley Hall. ‘Students often hybridise quite hardcore medical research methods such as statistical analysis or clinical trials with things like speculative design. The aim is to open a space between the two institutions for the students to fill and find their own unusual and interesting methods.’

The programme is, for the most part, at the very practical and tangible end of design research. For example, William Wang has designed and built a mental health emergency unit in Charing Cross Hospital. One of the major challenges for people with major mental healthcare conditions is that the symptoms are often exacerbated by a lack of connection to daylight and other daily rhythms. In response to this, William has very carefully developed a series of colours, movements and projections that change over the day and night to help reinforce temporal rhythms and help to reduce symptoms and stabilise patients faster.

William Wang
William Wang, 2019

At the other end of the scale, Stephanie Pau’s research looks at future healthcare possibilities in space, in order to help understand and design for varied and unusual conditions. The project, titled XHealth Lab, appears as an interactive set for visitors to experience co-speculative design.

Mars Cup Game Staged
Mars Cup Game Staged, Stephanie Pau (MRes Healthcare & Design, 2019)

Service Design

Every project undertaken by the students of Service Design has involved a partnership with leading figures from industry and the public sector, allowing students to engage with real-life issues and deliver solutions to positively impact society. Head of Programme Nick de Leon says that the work in this year’s Show ‘examines complex systemic issues facing businesses and government, and creates new services that transform customer and citizen experience.’

The programme is characterised by an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach, allowing students to work with multiple perspectives and areas of expertise. In this spirit, Bianca Benvenuto and Isabelle Ohlson have developed Good Talk in partnership with Barnardo’s Children’s Charity: a community-driven service and digital platform that enables young people to discuss mental health issues in a safe, supportive environment. The service helps foster a learning ecosystem that generates up-to-date information to inform mental health professionals and services.

As part of the School-wide interest in sustainability, Julia Rajnak has developed a means for businesses to navigate and ultimately improve their models of sustainability. Through system mapping, Systemability allows businesses to dynamically manage and understand their various structures and outputs in order to holistically and continuously assess their impact on society and the environment, helping them make sustainable choices.

On a more immediately personal topic, Ali Maggioncalda, Beibei Sun and Min Huang have created Eros, a digital service that stimulates reflection, conversation and new experiences, harnessing technology to help users live happier and healthier lives together. Eros uses digital touchpoints to enable meaningful connection offline between partners, utilising routine disruption and questions that spark curiosity and learning. At its heart, Eros aims to provide richer experiences and, ultimately, help people grow in love.

Eros, Ali Maggioncalda, Beibei Sun and Min Huang (MA Service Design, 2019)
Eros, Ali Maggioncalda, Beibei Sun and Min Huang (MA Service Design, 2019)

Show 2019

All work from the School of Design is on display at Show Battersea, part of Show 2019.

29 June – 7 July
12–6pm daily
(closed 3 July)

Darwin Building
Royal College of Art
Kensington Gore
London SW7 2EU

View the Show 2019 digital catalogue, featuring all exhibiting students.