The Grand Challenge 2021/22 tasked students with designing innovative solutions towards a New Economic Model for the Oceans, in partnership with Logitech and supported by Extreme E and Sustainable Ventures.
At a glance
- The Grand Challenge is a unique and innovative learning experience for MA students in the School of Design.
- 2021/22 saw the RCA’s School of Design continue their partnership with Logitech, one of the most innovative design companies in their industry, with support from Extreme E, a radical new off-road electric motorsport series, and Sustainable Ventures.
- The Grand Challenge 2021/22: New Economic Model for the Oceans invited students to investigate global topics including environmental sustainability, plastic pollution, loss of marine habitat and new ocean economies.
“The Grand Challenge 2021/22 showcases an amazing range of design solutions, informed by the interdisciplinary thinking of our world-class students who have sensitively and creatively questioned our knowledge about the world’s oceans.”Dean of the School of Design
Logitech is a Swiss manufacturer of computer peripherals and software, and is working with the RCA and other partners to explore the future of human capability and performance.
Logitech’s CEO, Bracken Darrell, describes the company as ‘a "third-generation" design company, which sees design in every aspect of the company, changing everything constantly with the goal of improving the user’s experience’.
Extreme E is a radical new off-road electric motorsport series which sees eSUVs compete in the most remote corners of the planet impacted by climate change.
Sustainable Ventures provide multi-disciplinary design support to help climate-tech founders, teams and businesses grow and successfully bring their ideas to market, creating lasting change. Sustainable Ventures is founded by alumni of RCA MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering.
In 2021, academics from the RCA installed data-gathering equipment built by Sustainable Ventures on Extreme E’s floating operations hub, the St Helena ship, giving RCA students access to real world data to inform their design solutions, gathered as the St Helena travelled the North Atlantic from Greenland to the UK.
The 2021/22 Grand Challenge
Oceanic processes underpin life on Earth, producing over half of the world’s oxygen and regulating our climate and weather patterns. As the largest ecosystem on Earth, oceans host 80% of the planet’s biodiversity, and provide opportunities for renewable energy. Overfishing, habitat destruction, climate change and pollution are threatening and disrupting these ecosystems and processes.
The RCA Grand Challenge 2021/22: New Economic Model for the Oceans encouraged students to design solutions for problems affecting oceans, including environmental sustainability, plastic pollution and loss of marine habitat.
- In November 2021, 350 students from across the School of Design were set the challenge of designing solutions towards a New Economic Model for the Oceans.
- Working in 70 interdisciplinary teams, postgraduate designers came together online and in person, using real-world data facilitated by Extreme E and Sustainable Ventures to inform their design solutions.
- From 70 teams, 12 were shortlisted as finalists in February 2022, with the shortlisted projects proposing design solutions to a range of problems – from sound technologies that protect marine mammals, to community-based projects that boost carbon sequestration, and unusual ways to safeguard coral reef ecosystems. Each shortlisted team further developed their projects before presenting them to a judging panel in March 2022.
The winning projects
Three winning projects were selected by a panel of judges which brought together industry and scientific expertise, including renowned Apple designer Peter Russell-Clarke; Alastair Curtis, Chief Design Officer at Logitech and RCA alumnus; Professor Lucy Woodall, Associate Professor at the University of Oxford and Ocean Scientist with Extreme E; and Dr Jiayu Wu, Reader in Intelligent Mobility Design at the Intelligent Mobility Design Centre (IMDC). The panel was chaired by Professor Paul Anderson, Dean of the School of Design.
Three prizes of £2,500 were awarded based on the innovative design and emotional resonance underpinning the solution.
The winning projects were:
Reef Bells are analogue instruments designed to be played by the ocean current on coral reefs. Tuned to mimic the percussive crackling sound of a healthy reef, Reef Bells act as an aural navigation tool for baby reef fish which spawn in open water and navigate to coral reefs by listening for the sounds made by the animals which inhabit them. Reef Bells provide an energy-free toolkit for acoustic enrichment without using speakers and are designed for longevity – once they stop making useful sound, the bio-composite ceramic which they’re made from provides ample substrate for the growth of new life.
After Life is a revolutionary ocean memorial reef and funeral company that allows people to continue the legacy of their loved ones underwater. Combining sustainable materials, innovative technology and humane services, After Life reefs help coral ecosystems and reduce the heavy carbon emissions from traditional funerals while allowing people to remember their loved ones more meaningfully.
Designed by Cody Kullman (MA Textiles), Felix Ke Chen (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering), Haoyue Lin (MA Design Products), Yuhan Liu (MA Fashion) and Yalena Yang Sun (MA Service Design).
Decibel is a nature-based solution for noise pollution – an invisible pollutant that is a major and often deadly threat to marine life. Decibel provides a structure on which kelp and oysters can be grown, acting as a natural sound barrier between shipping highways while creating a regenerative marine permaculture system. This paves the way for a circular economy where oysters, fish, and kelp can be harvested while mitigating sound pollution.
Designed by Haochen Zhou (MA Service Design), Khanh Nguyen (MA Design Products) Rhea Thomas (MA/MSc Global Innovation Design), Richard Newman (MA Intelligent Mobility) and Yihan Dong (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering).
Why did Logitech work with the RCA?
With both parties noting clear streams of alignment in both their ethos and their strategic goals, Logitech have been working in partnership with the RCA since 2018 – including being a major donor to the College’s GenerationRCA campaign.
A number of RCA alumni work in Logitech’s design teams – including the company’s Chief Design Officer, Alastair Curtis, who also formed part of the judging panel for the 2021/22 Grand Challenge.
“The RCA Grand Challenge 2021/22 blew me away as far as the complexity of some of the solutions the teams were trying to tackle. It was also really telling how a number of the presentations were incredibly emotional and incredibly powerful.”Chief Design Officer, Logitech and RCA alumnus (MA Industrial Design Engineering)
“It is wonderful to see our student design teams responding both emotionally and innovatively to this planet’s vital ecosystem for the Grand Challenge 2021/22. Their solutions clearly demonstrate that there is enormous potential to further protect and encourage our marine environment to prosper.”Dean of the School of Design