The Grand Challenge 2022/23 tasked students with exploring how design can leverage and stimulate citizen science-led practices for increasing the health and productivity of the world’s oceans.
At a glance
- The RCA Grand Challenge is the biggest single-institution postgraduate design project in the world, and a unique and innovative learning experience for MA students in the School of Design.
- 2022/23 saw the RCA’s School of Design partnered with RNLI volunteers.
- The Grand Challenge 2022/23 aligns with the goals of the UNESCO Ocean Decade (2021–30) to support efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health.
- Devised solutions address a range of topics including increasing sea grass growth, reducing the erosion of seabeds, and upcycling abandoned boats.
“The RNLI is pleased to partner with the RCA and be involved in this project to help create a more sustainable future so that we can all enjoy the water safely.”Chief Information Officer at the RNLI
The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea. The charity was set up in 1824 after its founder, Sir William Hillary, decided to take action to try and stop the loss of life to shipwreck around our coasts. Since then, over 143,000 lives have been saved. Powered primarily by donations, the RNLI's search and rescue service has been saving lives for nearly 200 years.
Volunteers make up 95% of the organisation - ordinary people doing extraordinary things - supported by expert staff, all working together to help communities at home and abroad save lives.
The 2022/23 Grand Challenge
In the largest Grand Challenge to date, students across the RCA’s School of Design explored way design can leverage and stimulate citizen science-led practices for increasing the health and productivity of the world’s oceans. The theme is a progression from last year’s ocean-based challenge, with more focus on community-centred knowledge and solutions, and aligns with the goals of the UNESCO Ocean Decade (2021–30) to support efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health.
In January, 97 student groups partnered with RNLI volunteers across the UK, with the RNLI’s integration within these diverse coastline communities providing a valuable network to connect the student groups to the local populations and the ocean. The resulting design solutions are all aiming at increasing the resilience of UK coastal communities.
The student groups submitted video presentations of their designs, and 12 projects were selected for the shortlist.
From 10–14 March 2023, the shortlisted projects were displayed to the public in the Grand Challenge exhibition at the new RCA Battersea campus designed by Herzog & de Meuron. These creative innovations demonstrated the effectiveness of a community-centred approach to design whilst revealing intriguing qualitative data about ocean-based economies in the UK.
The devised solutions address a range of topics including increasing sea grass growth, reducing the erosion of seabeds, and upcycling abandoned boats.
The winning projects
The three winning projects were chosen by a judging panel including representatives from the RCA, the RNLI and the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The winning projects were:
First Place: Sea Seeds
Hugo Garcia (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering), Shenyang Xi (MA Design Products), Shanice Palmer (MA Fashion), Xiaoxu Cheng (MA Textiles), Sam Royle (MA Service Design).
Sea Seeds is a circular eco-hobbying concept developed from Oban, Scotland that enables kayakers, sailors and other water enthusiasts to give back to the environment by planting new seagrass while enjoying the ocean. It incorporates a brand new biodegradable seed casing made from seaweed algae and crushed oyster shell to make planting more efficient.
"The overall winner 'Sea Seeds' could help to protect future marine environments and generate significant carbon capture."
– Claire Deuchar, Chief Information Officer at the RNLI
Second Place: GoWater
Tarika Kumar (MA/MSc Global Innovation Design), Hanbo Zhan (MA Design Products), Danyi Zhang (MA Service Design), Jialin Feng (MA Fashion), and Emily Trenton (MA Textiles).
GoWater is an integrated system consisting of a wearable sensor, a virtual map, and a data distribution system which empowers locals and visitors to contribute water quality data to charitable organisations through water sports activities in the Gower Peninsula in Wales.
Third Place: Pollenwave
Abigail Hoover (MA/MSc Global Innovation Design), Zijin Ling (MA Design Products), Yipeng Wang (MA Service Design), Richard Alexandre (MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering).
Inspired by the severe decline of wild Atlantic salmon in Stranocum, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Pollenwave is a biodegradable sensor system that monitors the temperature, pH, and oxygen levels in remote ocean locations. Spread in the ocean through underwater autonomous vehicles the sensors provide a more granular understanding of the environmental changes that affect marine life.
Runner Up: Insoluble Solutions
Xiaoyi Ye (MA Design Products), Xinyu Liu (MA Fashion), Ziwen Niu (MA Textiles), Tegan Mills (MA Service Design).
Insoluble Solutions is a filtration system that attracts and captures jellyfish from the estuary at Marchwood, Hampshire, extracting their mucus and collecting microplastics from the water.
Runner Up: The Great Boat Upcycling Challenge
Bhushan Deshmukh (MA Intelligent Mobility), Jiayi Wang (MA Design Products), Jiyun Xia (MA Fashion), Jacob Monk (MA Textiles), Isha Ghaisas (MA Service Design).
The Great Boat Upcycling Challenge is a TV show concept which would see teams express their creativity by upcycling abandoned boats from along the Truro River in a Creative Reality Show format. The work would be displayed and judged at an exhibition in Truro, called ‘The Boat Graveyard’.
“This year’s Grand Challenge, working in partnership with the RNLI, has provided fascinating insights into understanding coastal communities, their interactions and connections between shoreline and the sea around the UK. Our designers have been investigating and developing new innovative solutions and approaches towards developing New Economic Models for the Ocean (NEMO) and therefore it is hugely impactful to gather data that allows deeper understanding towards developing solutions that protect the environment, protect species and support human activity.”Dean, School of Design
“As a charity the RNLI is here to save lives at sea and promote safety in and around the water in communities around the UK and Ireland. The collaboration with the RCA has enabled our people to share personal insights into their local coastal sustainability challenges. We look forward to learning from those insights and the students' ideas, enabling the RNLI to deliver more climate-resilient lifesaving services and contribute to more sustainable coastal communities.”RNLI Sustainability Manager