Student Story: Kate Strudwick, MA Innovation Design Engineering, 2017–
Why did you decide to study MA Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) at the RCA?
The collaboration with Imperial College London was a massive element that appealed about the Programme. I’ve always felt I had to decide whether I wanted to do science or a more creative subject. For my undergraduate degree I was going to study marine biology, but I changed my mind last minute to do graphic design at Kingston University instead.
I’ve always missed the science part of my interests and wanted to get that back into my practice. The close link IDE has with Imperial was such a good way to do that, because we can collaborate with scientists over there pretty freely.
Was it a big leap from graphic design to IDE?
I thought it was going to be bigger than it was. There have been quite a few challenges, particularly on projects that are more skills based. When we did a machine learning module, I was suddenly having to use maths again, having not done any since I was 16. But in terms of the way of thinking, my old course encouraged open design thinking and looking at other disciplines. So I was already doing that, but IDE is really forcing me to work with people from different disciplines.
Can you describe a typical day at the RCA?
It can be completely crazy! In general, we always work in the studio. People are in pretty early and don’t leave until about 9 or 10 in the evening, with maybe a stop to the Art Bar at some point. In the studio you’re never working alone for more than about 10 minutes before someone comes up to ask a question or for help with something.
How has that studio environment impacted on your work?
The studio environment gives you the confidence to try out new things in your projects, because you’re surrounded by people from such diverse backgrounds. During portfolio season, I tend to have a queue of people coming up to check their graphic design skills. But then I’m constantly going to the electrical engineers because I’m trying to learn to program and code. You’ve got this source of knowledge just there, constantly around you.
How has your work developed over your time at the College?
It’s developed by collaborating with people that really know their stuff. My group project exhibited in the WIP Show was very focused on synthetic biology; it used bacteria as a way to remedy air pollution. We went to Imperial to speak with biologists to fact-check everything we were doing. This was eye-opening. We would think we’d understood the science, but when we spoke to them they would think we were crazy. This would then make us reign-in our ideas; there was a real push and pull between us.
I also did a project that was a follow on from AcrossRCA with the RCA-ISS Tokyo Design Lab, which focused on synthetic neurons made out of stem cells. Again there was a lot of back and forth. You realise that you have completely different languages, aside from speaking English and Japanese, the difference between science and design meant we had to find a way to communicate.
What did you get from that process of trying to communicate?
We gained some confidence that we knew more than we’d realised. It’s always quite intimidating going to experts – worrying that they’ll think you, as a designer, won’t ever catch on. It was good learning that you have skills as well, and that they want to understand what you do as much as you want to understand their expertise.
Is studying at the RCA what you expected?
I thought it would be much more structured and rigid – that there would be a science or engineering academic culture – but it’s been much more like my old art school in that we are very free and left to our own devices. There’s also quite a lot of self-learning and learning from each other, but because of that it has been more fun than I expected, a lot more open and playful.
Also, I hadn’t fully realised how interdisciplinary all the other programmes at the College are. It seems to be something that’s very ingrained in the culture on every single Programme; it doesn’t really matter what you did before, what’s important is you as an individual and what you can do. Disciplines don’t seem to be rigid at all here, you can really push the boundaries of what your Programme is doing.What are your plans for this year?
We’ve just started our solo projects, which will take up the next six months until I leave. I’m currently looking into the future of forensic science. It’s still very early days, but it’s an area that I’ve always been quite fascinated by and it seems there’s a rich space for innovation.
Find out more about MA Innovation Design Engineering and how to apply.