The Big Idea: Using new technologies to bring manufacturing and making into the public sphere.
“We are at an exciting moment in the history of ‘making’. New approaches to manufacturing are set to take hold over the coming decade. Technologies like CNC Routing and Cutting & Drilling have been around for decades in industry but it’s only now that young people, creative start-ups and ‘ordinary’ people are getting access to these technologies.
These technologies have been steadily transferring from centralised industry to the garden shed with a burgeoning tech shop scene in the United States and the development of a making culture through hackspaces, fablabs and other institutions dedicated to nurturing making in the UK. The emergence of affordable 3D printers offer the prospect of mass customisation and potentially the democratisation of design that breaks free from traditional assumptions of designer and client and perhaps introduces new ethical dilemmas about design responsibility and originators.
The technologies however are only the platform on which this paradigm shift is based on.
A new generation of small makers promises to bring these sophisticated means of production into the home, applying it to everything from making furniture to printing jewellery; from making toys to ‘printing’ whole houses.
It is this sophisticated networked ‘making culture’ that is at the heart of the change. This is a culture sustained through social media networking, swapping, sharing, co-operating and collaborating. Their practices and techniques are embedded in the powerful concept of a global village of local makers, an aspect of the circular economy that is increasingly attracting interest from government and educators.
Notions of intellectual property are being challenged through approaches such as the ‘open source’ movement, where you can build on someone else’s work in return for publishing your work under the same license and sharing back any changes. ‘Hacking’ clubs that encourage people to dismantle, understand and ‘mod’ existing products with new and additive functions offer shared environments for innovation. These are ideas that suit the nimbleness of being innovative and small, of embracing the power of a network whilst demonstrating a healthy ‘autodidactism’ that challenges our current linear economies. They offer opportunities for technology to be taken in new directions, as different makers in different contexts find different ways of utilising the resources available to them.
MAKLab is Scotland’s first open access digital fabrication workshop looking to address some of these issues. We are open to the public and designers alike to access these technologies and for them to be trained on how to use them to turn their ideas and concepts into reality. We were recently awarded £100,000 by Google in their Global Impact Challenge that will enable us to expand this concept to other UK cities in partnership with others.
We’re excited by the prospect of developing a decentralised network of fabrication facilities that with the assistance of local creative networks will provide the platform to explore 21st century entrepreneurialism with tangible local and global community benefits. Learning from this decentralised experience of making and doing will have value for the future of collaborative working, helping to create vibrant innovative communities finding solutions to shared challenges.”
MAKLab are working closely with RSA Scotland, and the wider RSA, to develop and deliver a programme of events and projects around the topics of manufacturing and making. Details for the events, which will hopefully include a programme around support young people into enterprise and work connecting older people to new technologies, will be shared with Fellows in Scotland in the near future. If you are outside Scotland and would like to know more, please contact Jamie Cooke.
At its core, MAKLab is about open access to the technology and skills, so if you are in Glasgow take the chance to visit their facility at the Lighthouse, meet the team and see the equipment in action! It is open to the public, with specific activities available at the weekend, and they will be delighted to see you. MAKLab are also exploring opportunities to develop bases in other parts of the country, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Fellows to engage with this innovative work.
Tog Studio host ‘live-build’ events. This means that people who are usually excluded from the construction process take an active role in building their own project. In doing so participants are empowered to learn practical skills and teamwork to deliver a valuable community asset.
This is made possible by the architects and engineers behind Tog Studio designing buildings which are consciously low-tech to build. This allows participants to be fully involved in the process after a brief introduction to a few key skills (such as measuring timber, sawing, clamping and screwing).
About the project
“(working on the Sitooterie) gives me a purpose to get up in the morning and gives me the self-satisfaction to do a decent days work and see what comes from your hard work”.
Tog Studio recently collaborated with the Salvation Army (TSA) to build a ‘sitooterie’ (Scots slang for an outdoor seating area) with the service users of a TSA LifeHouse in Edinburgh; a project which was funded by an RSA Catalyst Grant. Tog Studio hosted a number of design workshops with the participants to agree how the Sitooterie would be used, where it would be sited and what it would look like. The team then spent three days building the project in April 2013.
The innovative structure was partially prefabricated at MAKLab, an open-source digital fabrication facility. MAKLab, which is also part of the RSA Scotland network, makes access to tools and equipment available to anyone who wants to make things; from jewellers to electrical engineers and school children. MAKLab helped Tog Studio deliver the Sitooterie by pre-fabricating the ply-box portal frame structure. MAKLab, who are based in Glasgow but plan to roll out their service across the country, were invaluable supporters of the project and warmly welcomed the TSA service users to tour their facilities and watch the frames be cut on the high-tech CNC router.
Delivering the Sitooterie increased the confidence and motivation of those involved. Kev Kelly, a TSA service user who had been involved in the project since its inception, commented that “(working on the Sitooterie) gives me a purpose to get up in the morning and gives me the self-satisfaction to do a decent days work and see what comes from your hard work”. Micheal Holliday, FRSA and architect at Tog Studio, commented that ” delivering the Sitooterie was an emotional project. It’s been a really intense build and we’ve made new friends along the way. We’ve learnt from each other and worked as a team; which is incredible given the short amount of time we had together.”
Tog Studio also recently hosted their inaugural summer school on the Isle of Tiree, off the west coast of Scotland. This event was attended by architecture students from across the country who wanted a hands-on alternative to their classroom-based education. The team delivered a 5m-high temporary timber ‘lighthouse’. The project was a huge success, winning national architecture awards, was published internationally and featured at the New York Architecture Film Festival. A further summer school is planned for June 2013 where the team plan to build a permanent community-owned boathouse on Tiree with a boat-building local charity.
“delivering the Sitooterie was an emotional project. It’s been a really intense build and we’ve made new friends along the way. We’ve learnt from each other and worked as a team; which is incredible given the short amount of time we had together.”
How you can get involved
Tog Studio are looking to bring their expertise to a greater number of projects across the country. Fellows who are looking to deliver innovative buildings through an inclusive construction process should get in touch; the team have experience of working at a range of scales and on a variety of building types. Tog Studio are currently working on proposals for affordable, self-build accommodation and work-space would be interested to collaborate with like-minded organisations looking to commission such projects.
Fellows who work in the construction industry supply-chain and can donate time, materials or equipment in exchange for sponsorship of projects like the Sitooterie should also get in touch.
Tog Studio would like to thank the RSA Catalyst Grant for their funding towards the Sitooterie, without which the project wouldn’t have happened.
There is more information about Tog Studio, including a short film about the making of the Sitooterie, at www.togstudio.co.uk
Today I had the pleasure and the privilege of being a judge at this year’s RSA Student Design Awards (SDA). The competition issues briefs to young designers to demonstrate how the insights and processes of design can solve 21st century problems. The brief I was on the jury for, created in partnership with Yorkshire Water, was to design innovative solutions to help individuals and communities value water more. There were quite a few amazing entries, which made the shortlisting process challenging, but in the end we arrived at a very strong list (congratulations to my colleague Sevra Davis who heads the SDA programme, and to Robin Levien RDI who did a great job in facilitating the discussion).
The main themes of the entries were metering, and how to make better use of rainwater or grey water. Apart from some genuine insights I gained from going through the folders (how much water goes to waste only to heat up the shower!), I was delighted to also see entries from Hong Kong, the Czech Republic and Cyprus. In fact, SDA is becoming more international every year. Last year, with Eva Besenreuther for the first time one of the winners came from abroad.
As I am writing this post, the first ever RSA-US Student Design Awards are about to stage their annual lecture in New York at the Cooper Union this Friday (congratulations to David Turner FRSA and the whole team on this terrific Fellow-led initiative). The keynote will be delivered by Kevin Owens, Design Principal of the highly successful London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. On Saturday then, the big day, there will be a whole host of high-calibre speakers at the RSA-US SDA event itself, which will be followed by a reception. If you’re quick, perhaps you can book a spare seat.
Which brings me to another first for the RSA: Starting this autumn, in collaboration with Genovasi Malaysia we will run the first ever RSA Genovasi Malaysia awards as part of the SDA programme. As part of a consortium including Pearson, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, the HPI School of Design Thinking in Potsdam and Singularity University, we will partner to reward craft, ingenuity, insight, communication and social benefit of the designs of a new generation of Malaysian students.
And we are currently exploring further countries to add to our list together with the RSA Fellowship. Next year the SDA programme, which started in 1924 and is the oldest design competition of its kind in the world, will be going strong for 90 years – what a better way to celebrate than for RSA Student Design Awards to go global.
Moby famously sang that we are all made of stars. And yesterday evening at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Professor John Wormersley, Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, echoed Moby’s mantra (okay, maybe that’s a bit of stretch). Professor Wormersley spoke about how the search for black holes and the higgs boson impacts society and the economy.
Professor Wormersley’s talk was engrossing for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that he emphasised the link between ‘big science’ (think of the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN last year) and the implications for our daily lives, society and the economy.
While for many people (me included), our knowledge of theoretical physics may come mostly from reruns of The Big Bang Theory on E4, Professor Wormersley noted that we rely on the numerous outcomes and chain reaction results from ‘big science’ in our daily lives: the internet (originally Tim Berners-Lee’s method for information management for scientists at CERN), wifi (which was enabled through Hawking radiation), and MRI scanning (which comes from knowledge of superconductors). In short, we need theoretical physics to help develop and improve our economy, our health, and the environment.
Yet ‘big science’ is often viewed as a risk because it is in an investment in the unknown, the unexpected and can often fail. But, as Professor Wormersley pointed out, we must be willing to take that risk.
So, Professor Wormersley’s thesis got me thinking about design. Just as Wormersley emphasised the need for and the link between theoretical and applied science, I think we need both theoretical and applied design.
But how can we teach and understand and then reap the benefits of theoretical design?
We can interrogate the design brief. Instead of just applying our knowledge of design and the design process (observing, analysing, prototyping, etc. ), we should use design to question our motives and why things are the way they are, without necessarily expecting a certain outcome.
This is where projects like The Great Recovery come in. The RSA’s Great Recovery project is about how we can promote and foster a circular economy and for now, we’re focusing on making connections between science, design, manufacturing and policy. But, we don’t necessarily know what the end result will be – though there actually is some ‘small, medium and big science’ going on in our workshops related to the project) as we don’t know necessarily what the end result will be.
You might even call it ‘big design.’
“People are being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about” Tim Jackson, TED
I have been watching a series of films made by the Culture, Materials & Design Anthropology students at UCL for a brief set by The Great Recovery around people’s personal ‘stuff’.
Their footage follows a middle aged married couple in their home in South London (above) juxtaposed with another film of a young professional living in a newly built shared apartment in Notting Hill. The students were quizzing the inhabitants about their possessions. The shot pans around the house in South London, which is piled high with stuff; intricately carved wooden heads from Africa, stuffed toy animals, audio equipment with its vast quantity of snaking wires, CDs, books and trinkets. Kitchen drawers opened exposing a myriad of objects deemed ‘too useful’ to throw away. One of the couple starts to talk: “I don’t have anything in my house that is not useful to me, I don’t like objects that have no particular function”.
In the second film we pan around the stark white walled room belonging to a young advertising professional. Objects have been carefully curated on the shelves; an unopened beer can; a bottle of whiskey; a vintage camera. All these objects relate to specific moments, reflecting history through their creases and scuffs, and held in a personal space. A stark contradiction when we pan through to the small shared kitchen where chaos rules. Piles of food packaging flows from the bins and the shared fridge is smaller than a bathroom cabinet.
Watching these films made me realise three things:
1. The way I define usefulness is not universal.
I could see no intrinsic use in most of the stuff that populated the first house – but the couple who lived there clearly did. As a designer this is a very interesting concept. Can a trinket carrying personal memories be deemed useful? People’s possessions are testimonies to their history and not everything has to be practical. We seem to be very good at building attachment to our objects. We like to customize our things, and we define ourselves through the brands we have around us. Brands use this desire to build entire campaigns enticing us to identify with their lifestyle and therefore buy whatever they are selling – its clever stuff.
2. Many newly built houses are not fit for purpose.
The 3-bedroom apartment in Notting Hill was a new development. It’s built-in kitchen was not, it seemed, designed to cook in; its fridge was so small it had no room for fresh vegetables and and there was a tiny amount of preparation space on the counters.
RIBA’s report ‘The Case for Space: The Size of England’s new homes‘ highlights that the average 1 bedroom home newly built in the UK is 4sqm short of the recommended minimum size. It puts this into perspective by relating it to our use of space; 4 sqm is enough to work at home on a computer comfortably or ample room for a single bed with a bedside table and a dressing table with a stool. 57% of the people they surveyed said they did not have enough storage for their possessions and 35% said they did not have enough space for their kitchen appliances.
3. Designers can’t predict the user experience.
Finally, the question I had posed to the students was giving different answers to that which I had expected. I had asked them to observe people’s disposal habits, but the films clearly showed how bad we seem to be at this, generally keeping things for as long as possible to the point where we border on hoarding. In fact the UK is seeing a rise in extreme hoarding and we now have dedicated helplines for those that suffer.
Even though I am nowhere near extreme, I have a clutter drawer where all manner of things are shoved out of sight. Things I don’t know where to put but can’t yet face to throw away end up there. It’s where my old mobile phones live side by side with forgotten plastic toys from kid’s party bags, old batteries and pens that no longer work. When I open this drawer I despair in the same way one woman in the films despaired when she went up into her loft and saw the boxes of unopened possessions still carefully packed from a move two years ago. It was so much easier to close the door and walk away.
Our hoarding habits are beginning to become an issue: We are squirreling away valuable resources. Research done by Hallam University as part of their ‘What’s in my stuff‘ project estimates that the UK have over 85 million old mobile phones stuffed into those drawers. We pull out excuses that we don’t know where to send them, still hold useful addresses/pictures/fond memories in them or keep them for our kids to play with. Each phone is made of approximately 40 different elements including Copper in the wiring, Indium in the touch screen and Gold in the circuit boards. These elements are becoming increasingly viable to recover as the price of metals and minerals increase. There is more gold in a ton of mobile phones (approx. 300g) than there is in a ton of mined rock from a gold mine (approx. 1 – 5g)
Our clutter drawers are filling up fast. It seems it much easier to design things without talking to the people who have to live with the stuff and eventually dispose of it and with little or no consideration as to where our finished products will end up: re-used, recovered or landfilled once we as consumers are finished with them.
Incredibly the design industry still seems unable to fully understand the subsequent impact of design decisions. In an age where the rising cost of resource and increasing nervousness around security of supply of these raw materials is affecting business decisions and where 80% of the environmental impact of products is pre-determined at concept design stage this surely needs attention.
By Sophie Thomas, Co-Director of Design, RSA
With thanks to MA Culture, Materials & Design, UCL
Here at The Great Recovery HQ we have been glued to our TV screens for the last few weeks watching BBC 2’s three part documentary series: Welcome to India. Over 1 in 6 of the world’s population live in India, and during the series we see the film crew follow a handful of ‘backstreet entrepreneurs’ who are all “learning to survive in a crowded world”.
In episode 1 we meet 23 year old Kaale who has moved from the countryside to the city of Kolkata in search of gold. Gold is a precious metal with huge cultural significance in India – it acts as insurance, and Indian housewives own an incredible 11% of the world’s gold stocks. That’s more than the USA, Germany and Switzerland put together. Kaale lives with 20 other men in a small room in Kolkata’s Jewellery district, and wakes at 3am every morning to begin work. The huge mass of goldsmiths who live and work in the area leave particles of gold on the street which falls off their clothes, hands and hair when they wash, and gathers with the dirt and dust. Kaale and his friends spend hours sweeping the streets and using traditional American gold panning techniques to extract the metal.
“When people look at the street, all they see is garbage… But we know what’s hiding here.”
During the hour long programme, we see Kaale taking his gold panning venture even further by lowering himself down the tiny drains of Kolkata, extracting sack loads of ‘sludge’ and selling it to Javed, whose family own a backstreet gold panning workshop on a disused bank of the River Ganges.
Here, Javed’s 20 employees work tirelessly to first dry the mud, then sieve and crush it into powder (the only mechanised part of the process) before using 19th century Californian techniques with a wooden board and water to massage the mud to trap gold particles in tiny grooves on the board. Mercury is added to the remaining mud to ‘stick’ to the gold, and this is moulded into ‘ranga’ balls which are heated to first drive off any impurities, then to melt off the mercury. All that remains is one final smelting with nitric acid and they are left with 24 carat gold! These tiny gold particles that could so easily be dismissed as lost are being meticulously sourced and implemented back into circulation.
In episode 2 we meet Kanye, who also works recycling metals, but on a much bigger scale. Mumbai is home to a cargo ship graveyard, and it is down to 16,000 workers to ‘butcher’ these 12,000 tonne ships from across the world. It is an extremely dangerous job – every part of the ginormous vessels is taken apart by hand. Not a bit of the boats go to waste. The reusable parts go to the market and supply the Indian construction industry with cheap recycled steel, and the bits that cannot be reused are turned into something else and sold on. Even the tiny specs of iron that gather on the floor are collected and sold on.
Moving away from metals, to plastic recycling: Johora lives with her 12 children and husband alongside the railway tracks in Kolkata. She has worked her way up from a rag-picker to business-woman, with 3 warehouses collecting, sorting and selling on empty plastic bottles. Her young son, who has a network of ‘suppliers’ (who scour rubbish tips, restaurant and shop refuse) and a rickshaw collects the bottles, and brings them back to the warehouses where 4 employees remove the labels and sort the bottles by colour. They are then bundled into huge balls weighing up to 100 kilos and sold by weight for around £50 each to the next link in the recycling chain. (Johora cheats a little here by filling the odd bottle with water to increase the weight!).
At the next stage of the recycling process, some of the bottles are shredded, and the ‘chips’ are sold to manufacturers of poly-synthetic fibres who can use them to make everything from polar fleece to the stuffing for your sofa cushions.
It’s thanks to businesses like Johora’s that India manages to recycle a massive 60% of all plastic bottles. We, on the other hand are not even close to this figure, this is what the UK aims to be recycling by 2020 – Europe currently recycle 48% of their plastic bottles, the US just 29%.
All of these examples encapsulate so well the ethos behind a circular economy, however the tragic part of this story is the fact that these people aren’t dredging mud out of drains or collecting plastic bottles because they care about the environment, for them it a necessity for survival: “Where you see trash, we see a livelihood”. It’s time that here in the west we began to realise that ‘trash’ shouldn’t really exist as a concept any more. Money can be made from the recycling and recovery process. What if we started collecting and selling all of our plastic bottles? What if recycling became more of a business than a chore?
This illegal ‘backstreet entrepreneurship’ can also be seen in San Francisco, where due to the California Bottle Bill of 1987 (which means a deposit is paid on all plastic and glass bottles sold in the state) recycling has become an extremely profitable business for gangs who raid recycling bins. In February’s edition of BBC 4’s ‘Costing the World’, Tom Heap meets a 78-year-old Vietnamese woman who has spent all night rummaging through bins to collect just £17 worth of recycling. While this illegal activity means that 78% of all waste in the city is diverted from landfill, imagine if we could make this a legitimate business model, instead of relying on those in desperate need to do the work for us, illegally. One of the main drivers for the Technology Strategy board putting up £1.25million for designers to come up with new approaches to the closed loop system are the rising cost of metals and other resources. China now own 97% of the Rare Earth market. We don’t use the words ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco’ as the drivers are now financial as well as moral.
One of the most interesting things to note about all of these stories is the networks that these people have. When Kaale decided to take extend his business to selling drain sludge, he knew exactly who to call who could process mud into gold. When Johora brought her own van so that she could sell her bottles on directly, she knew exactly where to take them to get the best price. It’s developing these networks that we need to build on. We need to make sure that we know where to take our goods to recycle them; we need to make sure we know a materials expert to consult when designing new products and we need to make sure we are building and using these networks at every stage of a products life span. We need to become a connected society.
(This blog was originally posted on the Great Recovery site)
When Sophie needed a new toothbrush, she was overwhelmed by the ridiculous choice of products available that all (give or take the odd tongue scrubber) do exactly the same thing. There are an awful lot of toothbrushes being made, and even more being thrown away. The NHS recommends that you “replace your brush or brush attachment every three months”. If we had all stuck to this advice in 2011, we would have thrown away 224.4 million toothbrushes in England and Wales alone.
So what happens to these toothbrushes when we throw them away? From the look of the one that Sophie found washed up on a beach, not a huge amount happens to them at all. Despite having been battered by the tides, this toothbrush looked in pretty good nick. So when these toothbrushes are sitting in landfill, they are doing just that. Sitting there. Wasted. All 224.4 million of them.
Then Sophie found a toothbrush that really puzzled her: A disposable electric toothbrush. The packaging clearly states to replace it after 3 months. It also carries the WEEE symbol, meaning that the consumer is responsible for ensuring the product is correctly recycled. But how? Sophie had no idea how to go about this. She couldn’t put it in with her regular recycling, and she didn’t want to just put it in the bin. So she took it apart!
Inside the toothbrush, along with a battery she found a motor, just like the ones that we have in our mobile phones to make them vibrate. The funny thing is, the motor wasn’t attached to the bristles. All this toothbrush does is make our hand vibrate.
She decided to send it to her friend Hywel at Sheffield Hallam University who took a closer look.
He found the plastic made up 85% of the weight of the tootbrush, and the motor alone was 10% of the total weight. Within this tiny 10% he has so far found the following ‘ingredients’:
This vast list is before we even get to the polymers used. These will contain fillers that he hasn’t yet measured, but titanium is likely to appear here.
The Royal Society of Chemists place Carbon and Tin as having a medium supply risk, and Tungsten and Neodymium as high. This means that if consumers don’t know how to recycle these small electrical items they fall through the gaps and these precious elements are locked in landfill, increasing the pressure on supply
The way to break this cycle is through systems thinking where everyone plays a role through the life cycle of the product, including the designer. Product designers could work with the design commissioner to make it easier to take the toothbrush apart (without the need for a saw!), packaging designers could work with supply chains to make recycling directions clearer, and government, brands and consumers could reassess the need for a disposable electric toothbrush in the first place,
Join us in our investigation into closed loop design. Why don’t you take something apart and see what you discover? (making sure you take the necessary safety precautions of course!) To contribute to our deconstruction series, contact Hilary.email@example.com or come along to one of our Great Recovery e-waste workshops, taking place throughout November.
This post was originally published on the Great Recovery blog.
Filed under: Design and Society, Education Matters
Two new intern opportunities have arisen within the RSA Projects team. Each of these is paid at the London Living Wage and will last for 12 weeks:
RSA Design Intern – assisting the Design team in developing and curating content, running events and communicating work through a variety of social media. The intern will be tasked with supporting the team on two projects in particular – the Student Design Awards and the Great Recovery project. We are looking for someone who is enthusiastic about sustainable design, the circular economy and design for social good. Click here to find out more about this position.
RSA Academies Intern – helping the Executive Director of RSA Academies to support the development of the growing RSA Family of Academies. The intern will be asked to take a lead on the creation a more systematic process for communicating with stakeholders, to assist the RSA as it seeks to create a new Academy in Redditch, and to organise various events for schools within the Family. We are looking for someone with a keen interest in education policy and a sound understanding of marketing and communications. Strong written communication skills are necessary. Click here to find out more about this position.
Regardless of the internship position, we always look for candidates who are passionate about pursuing social progress, who are willing to put forward new ideas and test our thinking, and who are driven to develop their own skills and knowledge in a chosen discipline. Wherever possible, we also seek to recruit people who understand the RSA’s overall ethos of 21st Century Enlightenment and who can prove that they would benefit strongly from our opportunities – experience is desriable but a good attitude and a desire to learn are often more important to us.
If you think you fit the criteria and are interested in either of the above opportunities, make sure to apply by 9am on Monday 17th September. The expected start date is Monday 1st October.
By Melanie Andrews
Jonathan Ive RDI – the British designer responsible for Apple’s iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad was knighted at Buckingham Palace this week. Listening to an interview with him on the Today programme Sir Jonathan said that he knew at the age of seven that “what I love to do is draw and make stuff”. The goal of Apple was not to make money, he said, but to design the best possible products. “There is beauty when something works and it works intuitively,” he said.
I couldn’t help but think of the RSA’s Student Design Awards as we are proud to have Jonathan among our talented alumni. The RSA has been aware of Jonathan’s special design talent since he was a student at Newcastle Polytechnic. We also had a hand in steering him to his future career in California. He won two Student Design Awards consecutively in 1988 for, rather tellingly, a telephone brief for both ‘household and office use’ and in 1989 for ‘the intelligent ATM’. In both these projects he displayed an interest in both the hardware and software design of each which has been the winning formula for Apple products. Winning an RSA internship at Pitney Bowes design studio in Connecticut and a travel award, Jonathan had the experience of working and travelling in the USA for the first time. “I immediately fell in love with San Francisco and desperately hope that I can return there sometime in the future – it far exceeded my expectations” he auspiciously noted in his RSA travel report.
Design has always been central to the work of the RSA. In 1924, as part of its advocacy of good design, the RSA established our student award scheme with the goal of linking education and industry in beneficial partnerships; in a contemporary form, this scheme continues today. I have had the privilege of working on the Student Design Awards for many years. The reason that it continues to thrive and remain relevant is that, during the course of its 88 year history, the scheme has been consistently reviewed, adapted and re-focused to respond to the prevailing demands and concerns of education, industry and society.
We continue to challenge emerging young designers to consider their future professional role and responsibilities more broadly in ways that can have meaningful effects on business, public services and wider societal concerns. The range of thought provoking and challenging student projects we set each year directly address the goals of the RSA while commenting on the changing role of the designer in relation to society, technology and culture. Through this competition the RSA aims to enthuse and motivate young designers to explore the new ground design is now occupying and to provide ever more exciting opportunities to reward the most innovative and creative responses. Today marks the final day of judging this years shortlisted entries and we will be announcing our winners for 2012 in the coming weeks.
Watch this space!
Last week I did a talk at TYPO Berlin, a long running and well respected design conference. It’s called TYPO, so many people think it’s a conference about typefaces, but in fact it has broadened out its definition of design somewhat in the last few years.
I’ve been at The RSA for a few months now, and before that I ran a design agency, Airside, for 14 years, so there have been a lot of changes in my life over the last while. Not only that, but I’ve felt the design industry morph around me hugely in the last 10 years or so, and I’ve experienced my own practice as a designer change too. So for the initial part of my talk at TYPO I decided to attempt to bring some clarity to the changing role of the designer.
I started my design career as a graphic designer 23 years ago, then when new technology became so exciting that I just couldn’t ignore it, I moved on to become an interaction designer. More recently as the director of a design agency, I not only broadened out the kind of design projects that I worked on – from websites to exhibitions, toys and animation, but also started becoming involved in the organisational change of some of our clients. It seemed like a natural step; in the process of trying to understand their business so that we could communicate their message to the target audience, or to create really great content for their website, we started seeing problems and blockages in the organisation itself. It seems that the designers brain is very good at understanding complex problems and redesigning systems, and more and more designers are moving in a direction which reflects this.
I came across the diagram above defining the different stages of design, which seemed to me to be a good place to start. On the left, you have style. What something looks like. The craft of aesthetics. Beautiful design makes the medial prefrontal cortex light up, just like sex. Sound, touch and even smell can be used by designers to get the hormones racing.
Moving right, you get to form and function – how exactly will the thing that you’re designing work, and will it work in the right way. Then we have problem solving – a lateral, agile thinking process. And finally we get to framing, which is my favorite part – questioning everything right at the beginning. In my opinion designers don’t ask this enough.
At the beginning of my career, I only really understood design as style, but now I see that the real power comes when you broaden out the definition along this scale. And of course you need all four of these elements for truly great projects. I think there are a lot of people who still believe that design is only about style, but I’ve come to realise that with more complex projects, you really need all four of these bases covered. And these days I find myself gravitating towards the problem solving and framing end.
I’m definitely not saying that style isn’t crucial – if you do some serious work up the framing and problem solving end and it isn’t beautifully realised, then you won’t have the impact you need.
I came across some more diagrams, from the NextDesign Leadership Network. When I saw them, I realised that they had articulated the change I had been experiencing very well.
This first diagram shows that the way a designer works has been changing. From work alone, or in a single discipline, to cross-discipline team work.
And what we face is changing – problems are becoming more complex which is why we need multidisciplinary teams to face them. And we need to have a top level understanding of as many of those disciplines as possible.
Also, the time cycle of design is changing – we are moving from projects that had a beginning and an end to an iterative ongoing process.
This is the journey that I’ve taken so far in my career and I believe much of the design profession is taking a similar journey. For instance, the newer design disciplines such as service design are far more cross discipline, complex and iterative than more traditional kinds of design. It’s a really exciting time to be a designer – all over the world we are seeing social innovation companies spring up that are a perfect marriage of business, technology and design. Design is becoming embedded in areas that would have seemed impossible 20 years ago and we now have an opportunity to make a real difference.
I’m really enjoying my new role at The RSA – watch this space for news of projects that we’re developing – they will of course be iterative, complex projects that require cross discipline collaboration, and begin at the framing and problem solving end, but are delivered with style!