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The RSA celebrates a new generation of socially conscious designers

Press release

The Royal Society of Arts today unveils a cohort of young designers changing the world for the better.

The Student Design Awards is an annual competition for higher education students and recent graduates run by the RSA. Each year, the RSA challenges emerging designers to engage with a range of design briefs centred on social and environmental impact. 


This year’s briefs tackled a range of challenges; from addressing our environmentally harmful relationship with clothing, providing medical equipment for those who need it most, to using new technologies for social good. Winners are rewarded with cash prizes and a range of other benefits to kick-start their careers.  


The Student Design Awards have helped identify talented early career designers that have had a huge impact in the world, with over 100,000 students entering the competition since it began in 1924.  


Previous winners include Sir Jony Ive, Former Chief Design Officer of Apple; Kate Dundas, Director, City Strategy, City of Melbourne; Richard Clarke, Former Head of Innovation at Nike; and Bill Moggridge, Co-founder of IDEO and designer of the first laptop.  


This year judges included Paul Gardien, Head of Design Strategy & Innovation at Philips Design; Ellie Stathaki, Architecture Editor at Wallpaper Magazine; Frank Anatole, Principal Architect at Network Rail and Victoria Lee, Lead Programme Manager, Architecture and the Built Environment at the Design Council. This year, panels were curated to incorporate a range of industry professionals and those with lived experience related to topics found in this year’s briefs.  


This year’s winners include: 

Launder: In response to the UK’s environmentally-damaging fast fashion habit, Launder is a reimagining of the laundrette as a multi-service clothing care destination, featuring a broad range of repair services and evening classes on how to mend and extend the life-cycle of clothes. 


Nip it in the Boob: An AI-driven interactive service that provides women to confidently record monthly assessments, access tailored recommendations and enable early detection of breast cancer in the comfort of their own home. It also includes a book with 3D shapes that mimic the texture and quality of the mammary gland tissue to help guide women through check-ups. 


Insight: Is a product which consists of a retinal camera allowing the user to take a photo of their eye. Through AI they are able to analyse their eye for early signs of Alzheimer’s. A connected service supports users post-diagnosis by recommending services and support. 


INCUBE: A flat-pack, low-cost incubator that runs without electricity. Designed to be used in refugee camps in northern Nigeria, INCUBE is made with local materials including cardboard and beeswax, helping new-borns in to maintain an ideal temperature long enough to save lives. 


ReForesting: A systemic approach to mobilising local woodland resources. Re-Foresting takes a whole system approach to mobilising woodland resource and proposes nine model villages set along the M62 corridor. These villages will grow and harvest diverse forests in order to build timber homes. 


DOT-+SUM: A clock-face that uses visuals which evolve with the station environment to provide passengers with real-time information about the transport service, such as the number of passengers on the platform and the least busy areas of the train.


Elephant in the Room: A colourful animation focussed on climate change. Elephant in the room puts to life the words of Mike Berners Lee talking about ‘There is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years.’ 


Full list of winners and more info available on request. 





Rebecca Ford, Head of Design at the RSA, said: 

“For this year’s awards, we have undertaken extensive work to redefine what good design for social impact looks like. This has meant honing our judging criteria and ensuring our panels are diverse in experience and thought. Through a carefully developed selection of briefs focusing on pressing social and environmental issues we are helping early career designers develop capabilities for addressing intractable challenges.  


“Designers in the 21st century must think more holistically than previous generations. While in the past entrants may have focused solely on product or visual design, young designers are now thinking creatively about the entire life-cycle of an object. Many of the winning projects opted to redesign whole services and processes, rather than just the end-product.” 


“In its 96th year, the Student Design Awards are continuing to surface some amazing talent. We’re excited to see what these young designers do next.” 


Matthew Taylor, CEO of the Royal Society of Arts, said: 


“In these uncertain times, it’s refreshing to see young people striving to make a difference in the world around them. The challenges of our time – for the environment, for society and for communities – require new ways of thinking. Good design will be key in building a better future, and this years’ cohort demonstrate the breadth of talent and ingenuity coming out of the UK’s design schools.” 


Professor Christopher Earney, Head of the Insights Team at the United Nations, said:  


"The RSA has a unique convening power, and that's something we need to see more of. Collaborating with RSA on the SDA's opened up a whole new diversity of thought to contribute to one of the world's most pressing challenges -- the dignity and safety of those forcibly displaced by conflict.” 


Professor Patrick Bonnett, Development Director, UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing, said:  


The UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA) was delighted to sponsor the award for the Healthy Routes Design Brief. Making active travel accessible to an ageing population is vitally important and we were hugely impressed by the thought, quality and care that went into the entries and virtual presentations. I look forward to seeing how these talented designers and their ideas develop over time.   


RSA Student Design Awards Website  

Press are invited to watch the live stream of the award ceremony at the RSA on Thursday the 30th of July. Please contact Will Grimond, Media & Communications Officer, 07972470135. 



The RSA [the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce] is an independent charity whose mission is to enrich society through ideas and action.   

Our work covers a number of areas including the rise of the 'gig economy', robotics & automation; education & creative learning; and reforming public services to put communities in control.   

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