It is time again for the annual postgraduate Art & Design show from students at the Royal College of Art. I've reviewed and put together my thoughts from an industrial designers perspective and picked out some overarching themes, and some specific pieces of interest.
Across the projects on show there were 3 main overarching themes:
A | Recycled or Reused Materials
A number of projects, building on the environmentally responsible theme featured the use of recycled or reused materials, in particular a set of children's shoes designed to be produced using off cuts from luxury leather production. There was also another set of shoes designed to be fold flat enough to be post-able. Both these projects had gone a little further with their recycled thinking by looking at the full product life cycle. Each of the shoes were intended to the posted back to the manufacturer in the case of the fold flat 100% recyclable shoe [Christian Ferrara - Morph Shoe] it was for repair, or in the case of the child's shoe [Thomas Leech - Shoe-y-shoes] to be replaced with a larger pair. What was interesting here was that both projects had taken into account the full life cycle of the products, from raw materials, through to disposal, or in their cases repair/replacement. Perhaps the next step would be understand the business model for endless returns for repairs or replacements, I would suspect a rather expensive shoe. As an additional observation the display area for Design Interactions was constructed from white tiles that had a feeling and look of recycled rubber, one of the barriers to raw materials with recycled content is often their lower physical or aesthetic qualities despite a higher price. By using these materials hopefully we can gain familiarity and appreciation of them and what they represent.
B | Bio & Organic Materials
A number of students were working, in what is becoming an area of much interest and attention, biological and organic materials. As we begin to develop a wider responsibility for our environment, we must better understand it and re-engage with it. Perhaps it is this re-engagement that sparks ideas of experimentation and play. There were a few projects that were playing on ideas that have been seen around before; the use of waste material from algae based bio fuels [Haidin Rashid - Materialise] as a packaging material or biodegradable outdoor floor tiles. As well as a biodegradable vessel for food consumables, featuring a snap of lid and complimentary organic form [Sheroy Katila - Fade]. There were some projects pushing things further, a plastic additive produced from feathers obtained as a bi-product of industrial farming [Elena Dieckmann - Aeropowder], and the perhaps quixotic concept of using bio-luminescence to create an interactive screen of living light [Charlotte Furet - Living Pixels].
C | Designs for Inclusivity & Community
Across the different programmes there was clear thought and interest in wider society particular looking at how those of with less typical perspectives or requirements interact with our environment, what appears to be an important part of a maturing society where we all compete no longer on a local but a global scale. One project was centered on a communication system for public transport (in particular the London bus network) to improve usability for the blind and visually impaired [Olivia Hildebrand - Tact]. This was achieved using a series of smart devices and physical amendment to bus stops. In an attempt to raise empathy and understanding of autism, on designer had developed a set of sensory alteration devices to simulate the condition [Heeju Kim - Autism Empathy Tools]. Another designer had developed a body augmentation for sufferers of muscular atrophy to supplement the sufferers own muscles using an exterior pneumatic device to help achieve a more mobile life [Xinyang Tan - VIGOR]. Its always good to see technology put to use to raise the quality of life for those of us with different requirements, especially considering the variety of technologies and applications for different conditions.
Beyond these overarching themes there were a few projects that were of particular interest:
1 | Non Judgmental Cooking Set [Clea Jentsch - MEaltime]
Rethinking the way food is prepared and consumed for modern times, a cooking set has been developed that looks, and feels, good to eat directly from the pan. Well executed and presented this is a neat solution to something we can all admit we've done from time to time. Should this prompt thought into other areas of the kitchen or home to better understand how our relationships with our living environment are changing, and are there any product solutions that can help dissolve some of the long established etiquette that have become outdated?
2 | An End-to-End More Environmentally Responsible Light Bulb [John Routledge - Recandescent]
Currently in the landscape of lightbulbs we are experiencing growth in all things LEDs and CFLs, driven across the world by phasing out of electricity hungry incandescent bulbs. However looking at the raw materials required to manufacture LED alternatives, the picture of sustainability isn't quite as clear. Especially considering the lack of recycle-ability of LEDs. John Routledge has looked into utilising a new material developed by MIT, a glass that reflects heat but allows light through, to increase the efficiency of incandescent lightbulbs in his project titled Recandescent. This new material paired with a design that allows the tungsten filament to be fully recycled, he has begun testing a product with a lower total impact on the environment. A very interesting project turning conventional thought around, and considering the wider and longer term impacts that design can have on the environment.
3 | Shipping Container Return Journey Utilisation [Philippe Hohlfeld - GrowFrame]
Fitting into the over-arching theme B mentioned above, the designer behind this project has looked at the large quantity of empty shipping containers on their return journeys. Could these spaces be utilised to grow plants using autonomous hydroponic systems, to be harvested at their return destination, is the question Philippe Hohlfeld asked himself. A project sponsored and supported by a collection of big names, it would be great to see the experiments taken further. The examples and trials of plants were mostly food for human consumption, however given the environment they would be in, perhaps ingredients for bio-fuels or bio-plastics might be safer.
In total the show was thought provoking and interesting that environmental and social responsibility appeared to be key drivers.
Source material available at the RCA website