RSA takes Design Directions scheme into health arena

Do designers enjoy humiliating people who try to give up smoking? In the 1990s everyone guffawed the inhalator into oblivion, and now we can giggle at the Divert Ring, ‘a displacement activity for smokers’. It is a big, personalised ring, featuring anti-smoking messages from your loved ones. Well, at least it’s not a teething-style device.

The Ring is one of more than 40 winning entries from this year’s Royal Society of Arts’ Design Directions competition. As such, it is unlikely to go into production, so smokers can wheeze a sigh of relief.

Since its foundation in 1924, only a handful of ideas sent to the RSA’s annual design student competition have made it into production. While this is emphatically not one of its stated aims, Design Direction’s focus on alleviating social and health problems makes it a shame to let the ideas it inspires slip by unnoticed.

Consistent with the UK’s current focus on the importance of innovation to our economy, this year the RSA joined up with the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts’ innovation challenges team. Together, they devised briefs specifically addressing health and community concerns.

Nottingham student Alex Bone is one of five winners sharing £8000 from Nesta’s coffers. He created a variation on the ileostomy bag, while Central St Martins College of Art and Design graduate Jim Rokos created a board to help mental health service users to make daily decisions, and Victoria Talbot designed an indoor salad garden, Diggit.

Bone explains that his ileostomy bag design was inspired by the problems a family member experienced in trying to cope with her standard-issue bag following an operation to remove her bowel.

‘A normal bag is made of two sheets of plastic sealed together,’ says Bone, ‘but my design adds an internal structure to prevent it filling in an obtrusive way, and to help it stay discreetly flat to the body.’ He reports that the National Health Service’s Innovation Centre, which supports designers developing early-stage ideas, is currently helping him to protect the design.

Bone continues, ‘While it would be nice if the RSA could bring industry and manufacturers on board in an effort to get designs made, I think that this would restrict the creativity of the entries.

‘At the moment, the RSA can set very broad briefs, but that would have to change if they were to bring manufacturers in to set the briefs’.

Bone is content to settle with the prestige of the prize, which ‘will definitely help my career’, he says.

However, there may be other changes ahead for the prize, which is now almost exclusively oriented towards social, health, community and inclusive design solutions. The only remnants from its early days as a more commercial design award – the postage stamp, ceramics, interiors and fashion categories – are to remain, but RSA design programme manager Ann Crawley hints that they might not be there forever.

‘At the moment we are not considering phasing out the postage stamp, fashion or fashion interiors categories,’ says Crawley. ‘But we are moving further away from a discipline-based scheme into a more issues- based competition, giving students from different disciplines a chance to work on any of the briefs.’

She adds that the competition will put increasing emphasis on health issues, ‘which is an area that design can really help in’.

An on-line exhibition of the winning work will be launched on 23 May, at www. rsadesigndirections.org.


Design directions:

• Prize money this year was £115 000, £10 000 more than last year

• More than 1100 students entered the competition

• Students from about 100 universities and colleges took part

• There were more than 40 winners across 16 categories

• Four categories were supported and briefed by Nesta

Winning designs include:

• A height-adjustable toilet

• A motion-sensitive television remote control

• Alternative packaging for Fisher-Price’s Cookie and Dora toys, using one material instead of six

• A packet of batteries that dispenses one when a dud is inserted, to encourage recycling

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