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Designing our Futures: Announcing the 2016/17 RSA Student Design Award Winners

SDA winners 2017

A refillable ‘infinity mascara’, an intelligent carpet for growing crops in refugee camps, a customisable wheelchair brand that provides aspirational lifestyle products, and a classroom game that promotes inter-cultural understanding are among the innovations announced today as winners of the 2017 RSA Student Design Awards.

Today we reveal the 24 winning solutions developed in response to this year’s RSA Student Design Awards (SDA). Run annually by the RSA since 1924, the SDA is the world’s longest running student design competition, challenging emerging designers across the globe to tackle real-world issues facing society, the environment and business.

The Awards are open to university students and new graduates from all disciplines, who can work individually or collaborate in teams to apply their design thinking and skills in new ways. The winning entries this year show students using design in the context of social and economic innovation, sustainability and international development – a full list of the winning entries can be found below, and see our online Showcase for images of winning and commended work.

The 2016/17 competition comprised 12 different briefs developed in partnership with a diverse range of industry and government sponsors, with topics including designing ways to foster inter-cultural understanding (‘Beyond Borders’), increase mental agility in older age (‘Agile Ageing’) and rethink Fast Moving Consumer Goods for a circular economy (‘Circular Futures’).

Thousands of students around the world tackled these briefs, and engaged with the RSA through our programme of briefing sessions, skills workshops, and online resources to support students as they wrestled with these issues. Over 800 students from 21 countries went on to submit their work into the competition. Their proposals were judged by leading designers and industry experts in a rigorous 2-stage process: anonymous offline shortlisting, followed by face to face interviews with finalists.

It’s this combination of judging rigour, in depth engagement with students and explicit focus on design for social impact, along with the unique mix of benefits for winners, which sets the RSA Student Design Awards apart from other student competitions. This year over £45,000 of cash prizes and paid industry placements have been awarded to the winning entrants, who also receive a range of other benefits including complementary RSA Fellowship.

It’s incredible to see the transformative impact that winning an award has on participants’ lives and careers; last year we made a short documentary film that followed a student’s journey through the Awards, combining behind-the-scenes footage from the judging and awards ceremony with candid reflections from finalists, judges and alumni.

This year’s winners will be celebrated at an awards ceremony at RSA House in London on 21 June. The event will include a keynote address by past winner David Constantine MBE, founder of Motivation, a charity that sets up self-sustaining projects to improve the quality of life of people with mobility disabilities in developing countries. David is one of many SDA alumni that have gone on to have a massive impact in business and society, from Apple Design Chief Sir Jonathan Ive and Chief Executive of the Design Business Association Deborah Dawton, to founder/CEO of renewable energy company Pavegen Laurence Kemball-Cook.

Congratulations to the thousands of students around the world who took part in this year's RSA Student Design Awards and to those shortlisted, commended and winning students who are using positive, impactful design in designing our futures.

See the winners and commended projects

The RSA Student Design Awards 2016/17 – Facts and Figures 

  • 12 briefs
  • 803 entries
  • 21 countries represented
  • 24 winning entries
  • £45,000 in cash prizes and paid placements
  • Each entry is judged according to six criteria: social and environmental benefit, execution, research, design thinking, commercial awareness and magic.