Sustainable designs win national RSA award - RSA

Sustainable designs win national RSA award

Press release

Five innovative designs aimed at encouraging people to live sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyles have scooped a top Design Directions award from the RSA.

The winners include Joe Harrison from Bournemouth, who created ‘Digital Growth’ a dynamically changing digital plant that grows in homes and develops uniquely in relation to the occupier’s energy consumption, and Matthew Jarvis who submitted ‘Flick my Switch’  -  a new idea for light switches that encourages people to turn their lights off. View full list of winners below.

Design Directions is the RSA’s annual design awards in which students are challenged to address intractable social problems through innovative new design.

This years awards included the briefs  ‘A changing world’ – in which students were asked to imagine a world in 2025 and the products and services we will be using in our every day lives, and ‘Design for elegant frugality’ - in which they were asked to focus on the creation and production of an original, persuasive and behaviour changing strategy.

Announcing the winners, the RSA’s Head of Design Emily Campbell said:

“The RSA is proud to give these awards to Harrison, Morris, Bell, Brenkley, Rodde, Jarvis and Spurr as part of our long history of encouraging young designers to take on big issues. These are breakthrough designs that combine practicality with creative leaps, and make you look forward to the future in spite of – or even because of – its frugality.”

Jonathon Porritt, founder director of sustainable development organisation Forum for the Future, who helped judge the competition, said:

"Design and innovation have a vital role to play in creating a low-carbon future. We need designers who can imagine how our world will change and create sustainable products and services which bring environmental and social benefits, so it was great to see the bold ideas the students produced in response to our challenge."

The five winning submissions for ‘A changing world’ and ‘Design for elegant frugality’ are:

, The Arts Institute at Bournemouth, The Wally Olins Opportunity Award of £1,000.  ‘Digital Growth’, a surface covering concept for 2025, combines nature and technology to create a dynamically changing digital plant that grows in homes and develops uniquely in relation to the occupier’s energy consumption. The plant changes shape and colour depending on the efficiency of the appliances around the home.

Sustainable designs


‘Digital Growth’ works by taking data from different appliances via nanotechnology and wireless capabilities and converting it into a visual format on a section of electronic wallpaper, integrated into each home. Water and electricity usage and the efficiency of particular appliances affect how the plant will look. Brown and drooping leaves indicate low efficiency, and the user can find out what is causing this using touch screen technology in areas of the digital plant to see detailed pop up information.

, Northumbria University, The Wally Olins Opportunity Award of £2,500. Laura’s personal care proposal was ‘Locally Pure’ which she envisaged as a new Unilever brand consisting of a solid shampoo packaged in an abrasive foaming mitt, together with a service provided for rural towns and villages in a ‘Patchwork World’.

Sustainable designs 

Local communities are shown how to make the shampoo by a representative from Unilever. They can then sign up online for a starter kit and access recipes, further base ingredients and optional equipment. ‘Locally Pure’ is made communally, and a local twist can be added (such as honey). The shampoo is sold locally and also traded between rural towns.


Joanna Bell, Sarah Brenkley, Hannah Rodde, Kingston University, Waitrose Internship Value £2,500. This team’s research showed that one of the biggest problems within the construction industry is over-ordering, which leads to surplus new materials being thrown away because it is cheaper to buy in bulk than it is to order specific amounts.

Sustainable designs 

‘Surplus’ is a service for large construction companies which makes their unused or reusable materials available to small sites, single builders or the general public. These materials are collected directly from the site, meaning that the construction company does not have to pay landfill charges. 

Matthew Jarvis

, University for the Creative Arts, Epsom, Springetts Brand Consultants Internship Value £2,500. ‘Flick my switch’ is a light switch that actively engages the user and embraces their sense of touch.

Sustainable designs 

A texture on the switch plate offers a tactile reward and a satisfying sound is emitted only when the light is turned off. The switch plates would be available in a range of textures to suit different customers, such as wobbly ribbed rubber, sponge pyramids, metal ball bearings that role with your finger tips and bristles that tickle finger tips. The sounds emitted when the switch is turned off will mimic pleasant, therapeutic or addictive sounds such as the ‘pop’ when a tight jam jar lid comes off, water plopping into a puddle, the pssschh of a drinks can opening, and the pop of a balloon bursting or champagne cork coming out of the bottle. This product, designed to make a small but significant contribution to changing behaviours, would contribute to CO2 emission reduction and contribute to small acts such as turning off lights, to become, over time, an instinctive behaviour like putting on a seat belt in a car.

Chris Spurr

, De Montfort University, A Fellows’ Award of £1,500

Chris’ proposal was a design for a frugal refrigerator system, which features the manufacturer playing a more active role in the product life cycle, offering services to the customer that alter the product and give it a longer life.

Sustainable designs 

The unit comes as a flat pack modular system featuring three main components – a base unit housing the compressor; a back unit accommodating the condenser; and the main cavity for storage of goods, which is built up from flat sealed panels to form separate compartments. Individual doors on the units decrease the amount of cold air loss compared to opening one large door on a traditional refrigerator, improving operating efficiency. He envisaged the manufacturer offering a service that included technology upgrades, and the opportunity to change aesthetics and expand the system as the customer’s circumstances change, thus reducing waste.

Download the full press release containing winning designs (PDF, 384KB)

View gallery of winning entries for RSA Design Directions 2008-09

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