A new day for design for social innovation - RSA

Blog: A new day for design for social innovation


  • Design
  • Creativity
  • Skills

Today I am delighted to launch the RSA Student Design Awards programme for 2015/16.

The RSA Student Design Awards (SDAs) is a global curriculum and competition that challenges emerging designers to tackle pressing social, economic and environmental issues through design thinking. Each year, the SDAs work with industry partners to develop briefs that challenge design students to apply their skills to pressing social, environmental and economic issues. The SDAs team works closely with colleges and universities in the UK and internationally to embed the briefs in their curricula.

The aim of the SDAs is to challenge society, the design industry, governments, and business to think more openly about what design can do. In addition, we want to help a new generation of students focus their skills on creating genuine innovation through the application of design thinking and holistic design skills.

“In digital product design we make decisions that affect millions of people on a daily basis, but rarely engage with the social, political or ethical consequences. As design’s power in business and society grows, the RSA seems like the perfect place to begin explore these issues.” – Ian Bach FRSA, Interaction Design Lead, Method Inc  

Established in 1924, 2015 marks the 91st year of the SDAs and last year we celebrated 90 remarkable years of the programme with a report and a series of events on the evolving nature of design. Key highlights included the 2014/15 Awards Ceremony with Paul Priestman, speaking about his own journey from RSA Student Design Award winner to world renowned product and transport designer, and Alastair Parvin, co-founder of WikiHouse, speaking about the link between design and democracy and the future of open design.    

The 12 briefs that form the RSA Student Design Awards programme this year address a range of important social, environmental and economic challenges. To this end, our briefs this year focus on issues such as how might we design environments that foster creative thinking, how might we empower people with long-term health issues to manage their own care, and how might we encourage people and communities to reduce food waste, amongst many others.  We are pleased to announce that our sponsors and partners this year include Airbnb, Fazer, GlaxoSmithKline, Philips, RBS, Unilever, Waitrose, and many more.

“I care very deeply about being part of an organisation that considers art and design as a fundamental component of positive social change.” Mike Roberts FRSA – Creative Director Green Room, 2014/15 SDA sponsor

The SDAs are increasingly attracting global interest and recognition; the 2014/15 programme attracted entries from 30 countries including many from Finland, Hong Kong, Iran, Libya, Malaysia and Turkey. We hope that 2015/16 will continue to see more students around the world tackling the SDA briefs and sending their work in to the RSA.

Many RSA Fellows are engaged with the SDAs, most notably as sponsors, judging panel members or as tutors using the briefs in their curriculum. Russ Camplin FRSA, Design Manager in RBS Choice & Design won an RSA Student Design Award when he was a design student and now in his role at RBS he is a key sponsor and supporter of the scheme. Russ recently noted that “the RSA Student Design Awards provides design students in the UK and globally, an opportunity to work on real-world projects that improve social well-being and which makes them stand out in the employment stakes, which is increasingly important for the next generation.”

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to announce an exciting partnership this year with AIGA, the professional association for design in the United States. Founded in 1914 as an institute dedicated to the graphic arts, AIGA’s focus and reach have continually expanded and it is now a rich and active community embracing diverse and rapidly changing expressions of design and design for social impact. AIGA will promote the RSA Student Design Awards in the U.S. through its student members, 200 student groups, Design Educators Community, and relationships with peer national design associations, as well as across its high-impact owned media platforms, including website and branded social media handles.

If you’d like any more information about the RSA Student Design Awards, including information on how to sponsor a brief, please do not hesitate to get in touch.


Download the Student Design Awards Call For Entries 2015-2016


Student Design Awards website

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