Encouraging and supporting designers to play a central role in creating a more resilient, resourceful and sustainable society

The RSA’s central mission is to foster good citizenship by closing the gap between our everyday behaviour and the future to which we aspire.

To close this gap, contemporary society needs to be more resourceful: its citizens more engaged, self-reliant and collective in their striving. A combination of professionalisation, bureaucracy and consumerism has reduced our resources of common competence and as citizens we often appear to be less resourceful than ever. At the same time our consumption has diminished the earth’s resources and we now have fewer resources of energy and natural material at our disposal. 

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce has vigorously supported design since it emerged as a professional discipline in the early 20th century, and earlier. One of its best-recognised expressions of support was the Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) award established in the 1930s to recognise designers of excellence, raise the profile of the emerging profession of design and promote the contribution of design in manufacturing and industry. The second is the Student Design Awards, dating back to a bursaries scheme born in the 1920s that encourages and rewards the best emerging talent from universities.

Building on this history, we’re developing new projects that closely align design to the RSA’s core mission of progress and change today; and contain a broad range of debate and action in design. We recognise the formal judgement traditionally associated with design, and design's essential optimism with respect to progress and change. We now want designers to demonstrate how the insights and processes of design can increase the resourcefulness of people and communities.

Our current two year project is The Great Recovery, which examines the role of design in moving us from a linear economy to a circular economy. Our hypothesis is that in order to make this shift, designers need to consider the system as a whole rather than focus on individual components or products. True co-creation is crucial from those involved in these lifecycles: designers and material experts, manufacturers and resource managers, brands and retailers, consumers, policy makers and government, investors & academics all working together. Our mission is to create a neutral space where all disciplines can learn from each other so that we can create initiatives which move us towards a circular economy.