Winning ideas from the RSA’s 2021-22 Student Design Awards
The winners of the 98th cycle of the RSA Student Design Awards (SDA) are shifting their understanding of who design is for by prioritising inclusive design solutions.
‘PATH: A travel aid for the visually impaired’ was submitted by designers Che Antoine, Safa Ikheria and Zahra Mandviwala of Loughborough University. The device is part phone accessory, part application, and aims to support users to access transit networks with greater independence. It does this by identifying the correct bus through Bluetooth and near-field communication technology, detecting an empty seat on the bus via thermal imaging and alerting the user upon arrival at their destination through vibrations.
The winners responded to ‘Active Journeys’ (one of the SDA’s nine briefs this year), which was developed in partnership with HS2 and focused on making multi-modal travel accessible and inclusive to improve the experience for all. The highly commended entry, ‘Wheelable’, submitted by a multi-university team from the US, is a navigational application that offers people with mobility issues ideal local travel routes and crowdsources live feedback on the terrain.
This year’s Active Journeys brief continued the RSA’s legacy of challenging students to think deeply about the users for whom they are designing. The disability community asserts that people are disabled not by their difference or impairment but by barriers created in society. Inclusive design aims to tackle this problem. Previous SDA briefs have focused on breaking down the physical, organisational or attitudinal barriers that people with disabilities or impairments can face to enable them to live their lives to the full. This year, judges were impressed not only by the solutions themselves, but by the way that students considered a variety of needs and difference. Doug Paulley, a disability activist and judge on the panel, said, “The quality of the winning and commended entries was truly outstanding. It is great to know that there are such allies of disabled people in the up-and-coming design community.”
SDA participants also proposed a range of inclusive design solutions for other briefs. This included the winning entry for the ‘Press Play’ brief developed with the LEGO Group. Sophie Hague of Sheffield Hallam University focused on the needs of deaf children, informed by her research showing that 90% of deaf children in the UK are born to hearing parents who may have little experience of how the deaf community communicates. Her application, ‘Look!’, supports British Sign Language learning for deaf children through outdoor exploratory play, making this process easier and fun.
Students also submitted solutions to support all families, carers and communities to play and learn more creatively at home. Seeing inclusive design woven throughout submissions is a signal that the SDAs and the students who participate are continuing to widen the lens when it comes to design and building a more inclusive world as a result.
The competition could not happen without the support of RSA Fellows on SDA judging panels and in workshops and brief development.
Jillian Linton is a Delivery Manager at the RSA interested in building a more just world
This article first appeared in the RSA Journal Issue 3 2022.
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