RSA Design Awards: A celebration of design

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How might we: rethink our current food system to design out waste; use circular economy principles to rethink tablet medication; and, make multi-modal travel an inclusive experience for all? These are just some of the complex challenges from the 2022 RSA Design Awards.

In June 2022, the RSA hosted ‘Designing our futures’ a collaborative celebration of two RSA open innovation competitions – the Student Design Awards and the Pupil Design Awards.

The Student Design Awards

The Student Design Awards call on emerging designers from around the world to tackle pressing social, environmental and economic issues through design thinking and practice. The competition is open globally for applicants enrolled in higher education or recently graduated. In 2024, the Student Design Awards will be celebrating their 100th birthday.

The Pupil Design Awards

The Pupil Design Awards is a free national design competition for secondary school and sixth-form pupils aged 11-18, where participants are encouraged to use their creativity and imagination to tackle real challenges facing people and the planet. Past SDA winners often join judging panels or offer expertise as mentors to pupils throughout the process.

For the first time in two years, an in-person celebration at RSA House in London was possible so we took the opportunity to celebrate both 2022 Design Award student winners and pupil awardees. The day began with an interactive workshop led by Erica and Mark – the 2022 RSA Catalyst Award winners from Design Nature - who set the scene for the day with a quote from the climate justice writer Mary Annaïse Heglar: "The thing about climate is that you can either be overwhelmed by the complexity of the problem or fall in love with the creativity of the solutions." In the workshop, pupils were encouraged to consider their dreams for their own schools and make them into a reality. This was followed by a workshop for both pupil and student awardees run by SDA alumni Aniela Fidler Wieruszewska. Here participants were guided to craft physical representations of their ‘weather of the day’ - their mood and current state. These visuals will be transformed by Aniela into a collaborative physical garment – an activity developed from Aniela’s SDA 2021 winning project ‘Community Couture’ that bring communities together through the act of making.

The day’s activities were followed by networking opportunities with design industry experts and RSA fellows and an awards ceremony hosted by RSA Chief Operating Officer Andrea Siodmok.

SDA and PDA 2022 awardees participate in ceremony day activities.

Positive change through design

At the awards ceremony, the keynote address was delivered by award-winning design critic, author and co-founder of Design Emergency, Alice Rawsthorn. In her inspiring address, Alice highlighted the important role designers play in responding to the increasingly serious challenges of our time. Celebrating the power of design to foster positive change, Alice gave examples of work by established global creatives from multiple disciplines that are developing ingenious impactful solutions. To learn more about this work, from the Bangladeshi architect building housing for Rohingya refugees or the queer illustrator telling stories of their community, watch the full event recording of ‘Designing our futures’.

Alice Rawsthorn (left) and Andrea Siodmock (right) leading the ceremony at RSA House.

The winners and awardees

The 2022 Student Design Awards winners responded to challenges set by brief partners such as Philips, Network Rail, Lego, National Lottery Community Fund and GSK. Judging panels reviewed all entries anonymously, interviewed shortlisted students and decided on awardees that reflected innovative forward-thinking solutions to global issues. Winning brief submissions ranged from an app that supports deaf children to learn vocabulary through play (Look!), a proposal to convert decommissioned oil rigs into large-scale sustainable kelp farms (Scottish Kelp) and a campaign for managers to enforce better working conditions for menstruators (Set the Bloody Standard). Judges commended the outstanding level of systems thinking, creativity and rigorous research presented by students to address complex problems, demonstrating the potential of the next generation of changemakers. Read about all of our Student Design Award 2022 awardees.

Working on this brief has helped me shape who I want to be not only as a designer but also as a person, my work now has a strong alignment with social good and responsible design, I know that if I can make at least one life better or easier than I have fulfilled my goal.

SDA Alumni 2022 Sophie Hague, LOOK!

The Pupil Design Awards is a programme that guides young people to apply a design thinking approach by engaging the local community and positively impacting place and planet. For 2022, three PDA briefs were set, sponsored by programme partner Comino Foundation and supported by Fixperts. Awardees presented clear solutions to complex challenges and demonstrated thoughtful inspiring application of design disciplines. The winning brief submissions were a pop-up book made from seeded paper educating children on the importance of food sustainability, an adaptable fence post design that provides habitats for native insects and an app that provides support and information for young people who identify as LGBTQIA+. Judges praised the passion, maturity and depth of knowledge that pupils from across different year groups presented. Read about all of our Pupil Design Award 2022 awardees

2022 RSA Student Design Award winners (left) and Pupil Design Award awardees (right).

This partnership has enabled us to learn from the breadth and depth of fresh new design thinking perspectives and engage in meaningful conversations around the future of design and play, which we believe are essential to reaching our goal and enabling design innovation. We are incredibly proud to have been a sponsor and were blown away by the creativity and innovative design solutions students came up with. The entire experience has been truly inspiring.

Head of LEGO Design & Innovation Nanna Ulrich Gudum

Both RSA Design Award programmes aim to support the future generation of changemakers through the series of challenges and empower them to go forward positively shaping the world around them.

Watch our video from the PDA and SDA event event below:

Each year the impressive standard of submissions from applicants across all ages continues to demonstrate this – from their passion to solve problems, depth of emphatic research and innovative creativity.

The Student Design Awards and the Pupil Design Awards are kindly made possible through the contributions of partners, stakeholders, teachers, educators, judges and RSA fellows.

Collaborate on a brief

If you would like to discuss collaborating on a brief for students or pupils as part of the upcoming award programmes please get in touch.

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