The Royal Society for Arts (RSA) has unveiled the nine recipients of the 2022 Royal Designers for Industry (RDI) title as it overhauls its structure to recognise speculative design, regenerative design and design research.
Every year, the RSA award the RDI title to individuals who exhibit “sustained design excellence” and produce “work of aesthetic value and significant benefit to society”, according to the RSA.
Superflux founders Anab Jain and Jon Ardern and Munich-based industrial designer Stephan Diez are among the new inductees, who were announced by Master of the RDI Faculty Tom Lloyd during a ceremony at RSA House.
Only 200 designers can be part of the group at any one time, and it has a legacy stretching back to its foundation in 1936. Non-UK designers can win the title as honorary Royal Designers. Current RDI include illustrator Quentin Blake, who has held the title since 1981, and graphic designer Michael Wolff, who was awarded the title in 2011.
Sebastian Cox was awarded an RDI for his work in regenerative design. He is a designer, maker and environmental campaigner who adopts a nature-first approach in his work at his zero-waste workshop in London.
Cox uses only UK harvested woods, including from his own woodland in Kent. He practices coppicing, which is a woodland management technique involving repeatedly felling trees at the base (or stool) and allowing them to regrow to provide a sustainable supply of timber. This means that the raw materials Cox uses are net positive.
As well as modern digital fabrication methods, Cox designs and makes furniture pieces using traditional crafts and greenwood working techniques, such as weaving steaming and cleaving. His design style brings “the softness of nature into modern spaces”, said Lloyd, adding that the furniture pieces clearly communicate the origins of the materials and act as “vectors of education on subjects of bio-diversity and climate breakdown”.
Anab Jain and Jon Ardern
Superflux founders Anab Jain and Jon Ardern were recognised for innovation in speculative design and handed RDI titles. Founded in 2009, Superflux is both a design and experiential futures company and a research and art practice.
Addressing topics such as climate change and algorithmic autonomy, Jain and Ardern seek to present the complex and interconnected nature of present-day challenges to diverse audiences. Their approach is a unique strategy for business that works by inviting people into hypothetical worlds to expand their imagination.
Lloyd described Superflux as “one of the first studios to pioneer a practice with speculative design, critical foresight, design fiction and experiential futures in business”. Jain and Ardern’s work takes the form of client projects, cautionary tales, super-fictions and immersive simulations which test new ideas and themes, ultimately helping to identify blind spots and enable strategic, informed and long-term decision making.
Product design – Stefan Diez
Stefan Diez attained an Honorary RDI title for his work in the product design space, where he focusses on designing furniture lighting and accessories for the circular economy. He founded Diez office in 2002 forefront of transforming the ways that products are developed and manufactured.
Growing up in a household of fourth generation carpenters inspired Diez’s “hands-on experimental approach” to his designs, said Lloyd. This concept is at the heart of his studio space formed in 2008, which is joinery-turned-atelier workshop in the centre of Munich.
The space aims to encourage crosspollination, creative experimentation and working analytically. According to Lloyd, Diez believes a good product “offers a tangible advantage to the user and is something they become attached to and want to preserve”.
Diez has also been head of the industrial design program at the University of Applied Arts Vienna since 2018.
Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin
Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin received an Honorary RDI for innovation in design research. The pair founded research-based design studio Formafantasma in 2009 to drive projects that investigate the ecological, historical, political and social powers that influence contemporary design. They carry out similar research as co-leaders of the geo-design department at the Design Academy Einthoven.
Working from their studios in Milan and Rotterdam across multiple disciplines, – such as product design, spatial design, strategic planning design and consultancy – Trimarchi and Farresin take on both client briefs and self-initiated projects. Lloyd explained how their portfolio exemplifies “coherent visual language and meticulously research outcomes”.
He adds that Trimarchi and Farresin have advocated the need for “value-laden advocacy merged with holistic design thinking” in a bid to facilitate better knowledge of our natural and built environments and how it can be transformed through design.
Professor in Graphic Design at The University of Melbourne and a visiting Professor at Tokyo Zokei University John Warwicker achieved the RDI honour for his work in new media design. Lloyd said that Warwicker “never stood still”, adding that his work across media, performance, commerce and art practices is “progressive exploratory and innovative”. Warwicker co-founded the multi-disciplinary design collective Tomato and received TTDC special prize for the curatorship and design of the O tomato Parco exhibition in Tokyo, which celebrated Tomato’s 25th anniversary in 2016.
Renowned west-African Burkinabè architect Diébédo Francis Kéré was accorded an Honorary RDI award. Lloyd described Kéré’s vision as both “utopian and pragmatic” as he focusses largely on utilising local materials, community engagement and sustainable modes of design to construction. Jenny Bevan (OBE) received the honour of becoming a RDI for her innovation in costume design. She has designed clothes for 49 films, 16 TV productions and 30 theatre productions and won three Oscars, three Baftas and two Primetime Emmys.
Lloyd also announced that Charlie Paton, who has been a RDI since 2012 for his work in engineering design, will replace him as Master of the faculty. Paton is best known for inventing the Seawater Greenhouse, which combines seawater and sunlight to generate ideal growing conditions for crops in hot, dry environments.