A nasty workshop accident, in which he almost lost three fingers, led to Tomek Rygalik joining the RCA. Recuperation was long and painful and during the weeks that followed Rygalik, who had been working for a design consultancy in New York, reassessed his life.
'I had a hard time focusing on anything but a friend brought me a picture book about 100 prominent designers. The text was mostly bullet points – easy to take in – and what I noticed was that in most of the profiles, the RCA was mentioned. I felt there must be something in the school that is so special, something that turns designers into their own designers. I wanted to explore this.'
Rygalik, who studied architecture in his native Poland before moving to the United States’ Pratt Institute, where his interest shifted to industrial design, had been working 60–70 hour weeks for several years with design consultancies. 'It’s a great experience because you work on a variety of projects. It’s a good opportunity to build up skills but there were a few things missing, and selling hours in a consultancy uses you up so that you don’t have the time to think about your own projects. I was looking for a way to start my own practice, but I didn’t consider going back to school until my accident.'
Rygalik had offers from design companies in London but decided to try the RCA. If it did not work out he could always find work. Almost as soon as he walked through the College doors, however, he was hooked.
'It’s so complex with so many people from different backgrounds. Every day they bring something fresh and new. It was totally clear after one month that I wanted to be in this environment, it would boost my thought and development.'
'My work in consultancy I saw had become somewhat formulaic, efficient but not necessarily experimental.'
On the Design Products course Rygalik found 'I could break all the boundaries I was afraid of breaking in my professional life.'
His first year was very intensive, involving 17 projects as he tried to discard some of his preconceptions of what design is and what it should be. In his second year with different tutors he looked more at refining projects.
'The RCA gives you confidence in your own work but also quality… it is a creative filter. Some things go through the filter and some don’t. The College is all about tightening up that filter, so now if I do anything it has to be a special project, raising the bar of what’s good and bad in design,' he said.
Rygalik did an extra project for his graduation show in 2005, a leather chair that was picked up by an Italian company and launched his new career, which has since included several design awards.
Three years as a Royal College of Art Helen Hamlyn Centre research associate helped the transition into his own studio. During those years he designed storage for Heals and worked on a bathroom project with Ideal Standard. This involved looking at 'extreme' users of products, such as older people or the disabled who might have different needs and 'filtering these insights from extreme users into design solutions for everyone'.
Rygalik, who has a design portfolio from lighting to medical equipment and electronics to tableware, works partly in Lodz in Poland, where he has a workshop, and partly from a studio in London.
"The RCA is so complex with so many people from different backgrounds. Every day they bring something fresh and new. It was totally clear after one month that I wanted to be in this environment, it would boost my thought and development."Tomek Rygalik
MA Design Products, 2003–5