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In recent months I have had the privilege of developing new opportunities with the RSA Academies and the RSA’s Royal Designers for Industry (RDI). The aim is to assign at least one RDI to each school every year. As reported by my colleague Georgina Chatfield in her blog post ‘What’s the secret to learner engagement’, interior and exhibitions designer Ben Kelly RDI, recently visited Arrow Vale RSA Academy  to set a radical ‘live’ brief.

The initial project for Year 12 product design students was to design a shelving system for the school entrance hall in which to display student’s work. However, as communications developed between Ben and design tutor Paul Taylor, the brief, much to the students’ excitement, became a more daring proposition to completely re-design the reception space.

During the visit Ben shared his design path with the students, from school days, to a career-defining commission to design the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester, and beyond. When discussing the project he challenged the students to “dare to be different”, and to “challenge convention by breaking the rules”.

I joined Ben for the presentations and tutorials and it was evident that the students were engaged throughout, asking searching questions and listening attentively. But could this experience really make a difference to them? Our intention from the outset was that it should.

Following the visit we were encouraged by a report of the day written by two students from the group; Bren Heald and Chantelle Pollit. It was a heart-felt and incredibly rewarding account of the experience from the group’s point of view which they described as “thought-provoking and inspiring”. The group continues to develop its’ design proposal as I type, and Ben Kelly will be returning to the school at the end of term to assess the outcome.

This project is a unique opportunity for the students to take ownership of a space that could redefine the character of their school, and that will enable them to be confident about taking risks when testing their ideas. It is also a valuable example of how designers can contribute inspiration and quality to design education, and also of the enrichment that partnership with the RSA can offer.



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