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Bilal Raja

MA Global Innovation Design, 2014 –

Before I started on the Global Innovation Design programme, I was working primarily as an industrial designer in various locations around the world, including the Netherlands, Singapore and most recently at Mizzi Studios, here in London. The jobs were varied and I had the chance to work with a bunch of great artists and designers. When I started out however, I found the job market in London, in general, to be in a dire state. I was one of the lucky ones to have a job as a designer, so the decision to leave a secure job that I enjoyed to undertake a Master’s, wasn’t a light one by any means.

I have always dreamt about creating a big impact on the world around me. Although we were creating amazing work during my time working with a number of start-ups, I got to a point where I felt that my ambitions were larger than those of the companies I was working for. While I had gained valuable skills and experiences, I felt I was missing something important: the skill to truly innovate. To really push myself, I was looking to do something on my own and saw the two-year Master’s as a really good opportunity to up-skill and learn as much as I could while developing my own projects and potential business ideas for the future. The benefits of doing this at the Royal College of Art are the amazing resources and expert advice that’s available. After the first year of GID, I can confidently say that I couldn’t have spent the year in a better way.

Choosing to study at the Royal College of Art was a simple choice; it has always been on my radar, not only due to its reputation, but also because I am always blown away by the consistently high quality work produced by the graduates each year. There are few schools around the world that can deliver such world-class graduates year after year.

In 2011, I visited the RCA for an Innovation Design Engineering open day. When I spoke to Miles Pennington about placements abroad, he mentioned the new GID programme, which would involve two exchange semesters, in the first year, to renowned schools in New York and Tokyo. The only problem was that it wasn’t due to launch until the following year. In the end, I applied for IDE, but wasn’t offered a place. A couple of years later, with some more experience under my belt, I decided I was ready to apply to the RCA again. Having previously studied abroad, I understood the value of being exposed to different cultures and learning through different perspectives, so I knew GID was the course that I would benefit from the most.

Having never visited either New York or Tokyo, I was excited to experience first-hand, what it is like to live and, through our studio visits, work in these cities. I have enjoyed the diverse range of food and the creativity and ingenuity I’ve encountered when it comes to the culinary arts. This has inspired my solo project for the second year, which will most likely be based around the topic of food.

One of the most memorable parts of the year was a trip to Kochi, in the southern part of Japan, as a cultural immersion exercise. It was really valuable to see rural Japan in stark contrast to the frenzy of Tokyo. We gained insight into how people manage to live with a level of normalcy even under constant threat of tsunamis wiping away their small town at a moment’s notice.

My time at the RCA has really shaped the way I approach projects. Now it isn’t just about creating a good product or service, but also considering everything it would take to establish a project in the real world, from securing financing and having a solid business plan to setting up an effective team.

If I had any advice to future students, it would be to aim for an equal balance between school and the unique opportunity to explore the cities we visit. There is just as much to be learnt from discovery and play as there is from classes. It is important to champion your own development and to focus on what you’re really interested in. A good understanding of what you hope to achieve is useful, as you can direct your learning towards that, however it is also vital to be open to new things. I have had the opportunity to try things completely outside of my field of expertise, and that, I have found, considerably increases the chances of encountering ‘happy accidents’.

"Choosing to study at the RCA was a simple choice... I am always blown away by the consistently high quality work produced by the graduates each year"
Bilal Raja
Bilal Raja