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Student design tackles society’s now and future problems
Student design tackles society’s now and future problems

Student Design Awards from the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) are a shining example of how design is at the forefront of creating the kind of world we want.

From the introduction of the report marking 90 years of the awards it states the awards are ‘a global curriculum and competition that challenges emerging designers to tackle real-world social, economic and environmental issues through design thinking.’

Their goal is to ‘empower a generation of savvy, employable designers who understand the potential of design to benefit society.’

The report highlights two key issues among others:

1. The need for a more democratic approach to creativity – the power to create – where creativity is not unique to select professionals, but is an underused human capacity.
2. Industry now requires designers to be ‘storytellers’ with transferable technical skills and approaches to problem solving.

Unrealised Creative Potential


The RSA commissioned research which found that nearly 75% of UK people ‘feel they are not meeting their creative potential.’ So, less than a quarter felt able to ‘use their creativity to use creativity to turn their ideas into reality and create change around them.’

The RSA approached the issue from the perspective of equipping people with design skills that are key to solving this century’s ‘most intractable problems’ – climate change, raising living standards or reforming public services.

Some 64% of those polled thought it was important to place emphasis on creativity is education, although 77% thought there should be a traditional educational style with focus on ‘core knowledge.’

Most people thought future products must be designed with sustainability, recycling and re-use built in. Just under half said they’d pay more for recyclable products.

Design Is Superpower!

The Awards manager Sevra Davis said, ‘traditional approaches to problem-solving and innovation – in government, in business and in society – are failing to adequately respond to complex problems.’

Tellingly, she added, ‘in this situation, the iterative, experimental, context-sensitive and, above all, faster ways of working inherent in design are increasingly attractive and necessary.’

She also talked to Hannah Gal for a report in Huffington Post and responded to the question about emerging trends. She replied, ‘we’ve seen a real increase in the number of apps being submitted. Also, with the emergence of service design, we are seeing a lot more students proposing joined up product and service schemes, rather than just one or the other. This represents a real shift in that designers now understand that it helps to – and they want to – think about how their design will be implemented, accessed and used.’

To the killer question, ‘Why is design important?’ she said, ‘Design is superpower!’

Some of the issues the awards have tackled in recent years:

  • Mobile City
  • Reinvent the Toilet
  • Workplace 2030
  • Collaborative Consumption
  • Mid-Life Moment
  • The Daily Diet
  • Water for All
  • Design for Social Inclusion
  • Gerontology
  • Design for Patient Safety

All worth checking out of you are interested in design. And who can afford not to be?

Other design-focused blogs:

The Car of Tomorrow Is Arriving Today, 26 January 2015

Past, Present and Future Design is the Key to Life, 16 December 2014

Something of the Importance of Design for Words and Messages, 10 November 2014

Celebrating Steve Jobs’ Designer, Jonathan Ive, the Man Behind Apple, 6 October 2014

Image: Willowb100