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The newly released Industrial Strategy sets out a vision for building an economy and industry fit for the future; design should be a driving force in delivering this vision.

The Industrial Strategy aims to shape a vision of a Britain ‘fit for the future’ where UK businesses and citizens embrace technological change through targeted investment in existing and new industries and skills. The Strategy focuses on five foundations of productivity: ideas, people, infrastructure, places and the business environment, as well as on four Grand Challenges: artificial intelligence, clean growth, mobility of goods and services, and an ageing society. 

While a few have acknowledged its shortcomings, the Industrial Strategy is a welcomed pledge to supporting innovation, economic growth and skills in 21st century Britain. The RSA has a long history of launching and supporting projects exploring economic growth areas, as my colleague Ahmed Shaal explains here. This tradition continues today as the RSA explores new thinking around the age of automation and artificial intelligence and the future of skills and schooling; while the Taylor Review on Modern Working Practices argues that good work is not just good for living a good life, but for productivity too.

The Industrial Strategy identifies a framework for embracing the opportunities for flourishing growth in the 21st century while recognising the need for cultivating a new and different set of skills that place creativity and innovation at the forefront. Design – bridging all industries and sectors – is key to unlocking economic growth and positive social change, enabling businesses to connect meaningfully to people and customers and engage in mission-orientated innovation. Indeed, the Industrial Strategy directly addresses the Creative Industries and acknowledges note only the huge contribution and growth of this sector (representing over 5% of the UK economy, employing over two million people, and contributing £87bn of GVA), but also that ‘creative businesses are by their very nature, innovators.’

At the RSA, we believe that is through design and design thinking that real innovation can happen and can support finding effective solutions, sometimes in the most unexpected of places.  As InnovateUK have noted: ‘A design mind-set focuses on solutions rather than problems, dreaming about what could be and how to bring about beneficial outcomes.’ Through the design programmes at the RSA and the belief that design can – and should be – a cross-cutting discipline that can lead to innovation in a range of sectors, our work already addresses several of the key areas highlighted in the Industrial Strategy.

At its core, Design at the RSA is about ideas and people: demonstrating a clear and progressive account of the role of design in positive social change and in industry through a programme of practical projects working together with a thriving global network of designers while considering the creative skills and mindsets that we need to develop and grow so we can innovate in an increasingly complex world.

Harnessing the power of creative minds to seize the opportunities and tackle the challenges associated with a rapidly ageing population (one of the identified Grand Challenges) have long been a core part of the RSA Design programme. Most notably, through the well-established RSA Student Design Awards, we have continued to deliver briefs that directly address the social and economic challenges of an ageing society. Last year we worked together with the UK’s Policy Lab to develop and deliver a brief titled ‘Learning for Life’ that asked students to design an exciting new way to support, encourage or stimulate learning throughout people’s lives in the future. The brief encouraged university students to reconsider how, where, and when learning might occur throughout people’s lives in light of technological developments and longer lifespans. For example, Jasmine Robinson’s winning response ,’Project UX’ was a social enterprise proposal with two key aims: firstly, to provide a rigorous user testing service for digital products and services and secondly, to provide testers with the opportunity to improve their own digital skills while earning money through a structured user testing programme. All the winning projects in response to the brief can be viewed on the RSA Student Design Awards 2017 Winners’ Showcase.

As the Industrial Strategy notes, by 2040, one in eight people in the UK will be aged over 75 and staying active, productive and independent into and throughout older age is key to ensuring fulfilling lives. To this end, this year, we’re addressing how the built environment can help older people stay independent for longer and accommodate a range of ages in one space. Our brief ‘Eat, Share, Live,’ co-developed and supported by a range of industry partners asks students to design an inclusive kitchen space that works for all ages, as well as for disabled and non-disabled family members, so they can prepare, cook and serve food, entertain, engage in hobbies or work and enjoy life together. Students around the world are working on this brief as I write and will send their work to be judged at the RSA in March 2018.  We will continue to work with the National Innovation Centre for Ageing to harness the great ideas students are coming up with in response to the RSA brief and hope that it will not only stimulate the innovation of new products and services, but potential new businesses too.

To build on our work to date and in light of the Industrial Strategy, the RSA is delighted to be partnering with InnovateUK on an upcoming programme of work exploring how design contribute to the future of industry and we’ll be working closely with the Royal Designers, RSA Fellows and our supporters, participants and alumni of the RSA Student Design Awards to gather insights to inform the project. More on that soon – watch this space.

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