27/06/2014 07:17 BST | Updated 26/08/2014 06:59 BST

The RSA Student Design Awards Celebrate Ninety Years of Innovation


The RSA Student Design Awards (SDAs) are celebrating ninety years of ingenuity and pushing the boundaries of conventional design. Ninety years of what the RSA'S co -director of Design, Nat Hunter, calls "design thinking".

Commenting on the recently announced 2014 winners, Nat explains she wants "people to know that design isn't about prettification, it is the cornerstone of society's fight for positive social and environmental change.."

Through inspiring briefs and a constructive collaboration with the private sector, the SDAs have over the years produced highly relevant, often groundbreaking work, which in turn have led to the awards being recognised as one of the creative industry's most highly regarded sources of new talent.

From water scarcity to the impact of the banking crisis, emerging designers are challenged to create solutions for issues that are at the top of the news and social agenda, resulting in designs that are of great interest to potential future employers.

Companies such as Severn Trent Water, sponsors of the Water Water Everywhere award. "We've traditionally looked for scientists and engineers only," says the company's General Manager Water Strategy & Innovation, David Essex, "but clearly in the modern world we need to draw in both the creative and practical skills that design students can offer."

To celebrate what has become an unmissable date in the creative industry's calendar, I speak with Sevra Davis, Associate Director of Design at the RSA & Director and RSA Student Design Awards and start by asking about the challenge of putting the creative briefs together.

A The RSA works closely with the sponsoring organisations and companies, universities, colleges, course leaders and students to source the topics. Our primary aim is to develop and issue project briefs that will inspire and challenge the students. Because the briefs are generally incorporated as part of the curricula in design colleges and universities, it is important that they complement existing work, not only building on the design and design thinking skills that students have learned already, but also capturing imagination. We look at how students can join up their skills as a designer with their interests as a person - as a citizen. I feel a huge responsibility when developing and writing the briefs that they are relevant and achievable.

Q As judges who examine such at a great number of works, do you spot trends emerging?

A We've seen a real increase in the number of apps being submitted over the years. 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.

This year in particular, I was pleased to see so many students tackling the brief about well-being. Mental health issues and well-being has been in the news a lot recently, but the entrants who worked on the well-being brief for the RSA Student Design Awards were working with demonstrated a real understanding of how to incite positive behaviour change for positive mental health in thoughtful, facilitative ways. It is exciting to me that we were able to encourage a new cohort of students to access and engage with robust research on well-being and use it to design solutions. The two projects that ended up winning in this brief - one is a twist on an alarm clock app targeted for 18-25 year olds and the other is a digital detox movement - confirm that solutions that are easy to understand, charming and witty have the most impact.

Q Why is design important?

A Design is a superpower!

Design shapes our everyday experiences in countless ways. Design has always been a force for change, often radical, sometimes reactionary - just think about the Bauhaus or the Italian Futurists - so, in many ways, what we promote is a return to design's roots. Saying that design is the cornerstone of society's fight sounds like a very worthy, ambitious, and probably even unattainable goal, but this encompasses large and small interventions and it is more about moving in the same direction.

Every designer can contribute toward this positive change if they want to. I came to the RSA to lead the RSA Student Design Awards from the architecture and urban design world - for me, the realisation that design and design thinking skills could make an impact on people's lives was a slow realisation over my career as an architect and urban designer.

The RSA Student Design Awards 2014/15 programme will launch on 1st September with a new range of project briefs addressing a range of social, environmental and economic issues. Entries in the 2014/15 competition will be due in March 2015. Judging will take place in April, with an Awards ceremony in June 2015.