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Ruby Steel

MA Innovation Design Engineering, 2010-12

My Dad was at the Royal College of Art in the 70s, so as a kid I’d been round many of the end of year shows. These were magical. A friend of mine had also been on Visual Communication.

I did graphic design at Kingston, graduating in 2008 and then spent a year working in the service design industry but because I didn’t have enough experience, it was difficult for me to get a full-time position.

Eventually, I got a position as a project manager for an online branding and experiential agency, dealing with clients and budgets but it wasn’t creative at all. Needing to be more creative was the main reason for me applying to IDE.

To non-engineers, the programme seems pretty intimidating but I was assured there were others like me. It’s a challenge dealing with an engineering environment when you don't have that training But I was excited to be working in a team. You have lectures at Imperial to teach you the basics but you learn the most from your fellow students on projects.

The solo mechanical engineering project was one of the hardest things I’ve ever worked on. The brief was to design a gizmo with six or more mechanical parts. I didn’t pass as my gizmo just broke. It felt like someone had asked me to speak Japanese and then write a poem, but to survive on IDE you have to take everything that’s thrown at you.

My confidence at the end of the first year was low but second year was much more my territory. I was able to decide on projects that related to my strengths and I could choose what I wanted to do.

Being on IDE has taught me the language of engineers and I know how to communicate with them – from how to prototype a concept to actually making it.

You learn design enterprise skills that consider how an entire system works, who the stakeholders are, who’s paying to turn it around, and for the benefits of whom.

Living at home helped me get through the programme financially. I got a bursary from the College, which paid half my fees. I also saved when I was working, which I spent on my show, and I got extra money towards living expenses each term. Imperial College also gave £500 toward a group project. There’s no time for a job and I would strongly advise not doing work outside of the course.

My ultimate goal is to take my own project, Dial Log, which won a Helen Hamlyn Design Award, into a design enterprise and to take it to market. I want to be part of a social project that is effecting real change.

You can’t underestimate how tough IDE is but the rewards are also the greatest.

"The tutors are brilliant at pushing you to communicate your project in the right way. You have to be able to pitch. Visualisation is also really important."
Ruby Steel Receiving The Age UK Award At The Helen Hamlyn Awards 2012
Ruby Steel Receiving The Age UK Award At The Helen Hamlyn Awards 2012