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Three-quarters of UK citizens and other advanced economies feel they are not meeting their creative potential – they say they are unable to generate change, solve problems and turn their ideas into reality, according to a recent RSA commissioned survey.

Published to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the RSA’s Student Design Awards (SDAs), the Populus poll of what the RSA calls the ‘Power to Create’ – people’s freedom and capacity to turn their ideas into reality – revealed that only 28 percent of the population felt they were able to be “creative generators of change”.

The survey found 52 percent of people, however, were unwilling to take on such a role, while the remaining 20 percent felt positively blocked from exercising the power to create despite a deep desire to do so. When asked what stopped them, the most common three answers were lack of self-confidence, money and motivation.

In a report published today, ‘Design for Good: Ninety Years of the RSA Student Design Awards’, the RSA said that releasing people’s creativity and encouraging ‘design thinking’ is vital to solving the world’s most ‘wicked’ problems – whether it’s combating climate change, raising our living standards or reforming public services.

The report revealed how the SDAs have encouraged generations of young people to become capable, active citizens who feel confident in using their innate creativity and design thinking to tackle social problems.

The SDA’s are the world’s longest standing, most pioneering student competition – with the goal of empowering a generation of savvy, employable designers who understand the potential of design to benefit society, and are able to use their design skills to do so. Mapping out the 90 year history of the awards, today’s report acts as a “call to arms” for the next generation of young designers to set their minds to pressing real world problems.

This year’s competition includes eight design briefs – each focused around a different social or environmental issue - ranging from how we might foster creative thinking (Creative Conditions) and make healthy eating appealing to young people (The Daily Diet), to designing sustainable toys (Fair Play) and ways for people and communities to celebrate heritage (Heritage by Design).


Commenting on the awards, Manager of the RSA Student Design Awards, Sevra Davis said:

“For the last 90 years the SDA awards have pushed the design industry, governments, and business, to think more openly about what design can do. The iterative, experimental, context-sensitive and, above all, faster ways of working inherent to design are increasingly attractive and necessary. It’s vital that we encourage the next generation of designers to pour their energies into tackling real-world economic and environmental issues and continue to push the boundaries of what good design can achieve.”

Commenting on the report, Mark Bailey of Northumbria University said:

“The RSA Student Design Awards are always operating at the front edges of the profession – exploring a huge breadth of issues and where design may have influence, and this is really valuable for the next generation. For educational institutions the programme is a benchmark and the briefs are always so well-resourced that they provide really rich contextual content for students.”

Organisations like Unilever and RBS use the SDAs to address genuine business and social challenges with innovative design thinking. Previous winners of the Awards, including Sir Jony Ive, have gone on to promote the value of design at the very top level of business and government.

In 2014 entries came from Ireland, Finland, India, China, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, the United States and more. All of 2015’s briefs are open to entries from students studying on any recognised higher education course, anywhere in world, as well as graduates who have graduated since March 2014. Winning entrants receive benefits including cash awards, work placements, RSA Fellowship, mentoring and industry links to develop budding careers. This year’s Awards include over £12,000 in cash prizes plus a range of paid internships, including at the Eden Project, Green Room and Priestmangoode.

Past winners of the RSA Student Design Awards include Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice-President of Industrial Design at Apple; fashion designer Betty Jackson; Andy Clark, who designed the Heathrow Express train; and Hot Springs radiator designer and founder of Priestmangoode, Paul Priestman.

The RSA/Populus poll of 2000 adults revealed that:

  • The vast majority of people (96%) do not think the economy, society and politics is changing in a way that will allow them to make a difference for themselves and others.

  • Over half feel that power is becoming more concentrated in the hands of the wealthy (53%); in international institutions e.g. EU (46%); in large businesses (42%); in central government (40%); and in the media (34%)

  • Five groups exist that have different attitudes towards their own ability to turn their ideas into reality:

    • The Coasters (30%) who don’t see creativity as central to their lives but could be encouraged (exist across all ages, generally middle to lower class, highest concentration in SE)

    • The Held Back (20%) who see creativity as central to their lives but feel unable to turn their ideas into reality (tend to be younger, lower social class, highest concentration in NE, lowest in East of England)

    • The Confident (11%) who see creativity as central to their lives and are turning their ideas into reality (25-35 age, highest social classes, concentrated in London, lowest in NW)

    • The Relaxed (22%) who enjoy a relaxed retirement and perfectly happy with that (65+, across all classes, highest concentration in Scotland, lowest in London)

    • The Curious (17%) who are using their retirement to turn their ideas into reality (65+, higher social classes, highest concentration in Northern Ireland, lowest in London).

For more information, please visit the Student Design Awards website or follow the SDA team on Twitter @RSADesignAwards


Notes to editors

For more information contact RSA Head of Media Luke Robinson on 020 7451 6893 or 07799 737 970 or

  1. This year, Apple, a design-led company, became the most profitable company in history; Warby-Parker, also design-led, came top of Fast Company’s coveted ‘Most Innovative Companies of 2015’ list; and according to a Department of Business Innovation and Skills report released last month, the UK’s creative economy - of which design is a key part - grew three times faster than the economy as a whole, with gross value surging to 9.9 per cent.


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