Judgement day

As the Royal College of Art prepares to showcase its latest crop of graduates, two designers debate the state of product design education today.

Ani Cube by Hisao Sato

Now, 25 years later, criticism is again being levelled at the work and at the growing number of exhibitions. Product and furniture design, unlike many other art and design activities, exist in the hard space of the real world. The work is criticised by consumers everyday rather than by the occasional review by an art critic. But designers are asserting their right to the space of the gallery, where the discipline can grow as a critical discipline in its own right.

This year’s crop of graduate projects is once again brimming with ideas – some new, some not so new – but all are the result of hard work and commitment. There are projects that try to solve problems, to use only materials that come from sustainable sources, then there are those that are environmentally friendly, sociologically sound or politically correct. There are different kinds of ambition, from the pragmatic – such as finding the perfect hingeing mechanism to make a table fold perfectly (by Tomek Rygalik) – to the inventive shapes that slot together in a multitude of ways, to make multi-purpose play shapes for children (by Hisao Sato). There are the less pragmatic propositions, such as the electronic ‘paintbrush’ for painting a computer image with pixels straight on to a wall (by Florian Ortkrass and Stuart Wood) or the less tangible projects that question why we desire certain products at all.

The work of our graduating students is judged in a gallery context: almost as soon as the students leave, their work is snapped up for exhibitions in the Design Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum and in a whole series of exhibitions at the Milan Furniture Fair. The academic calendar demands that we judge them as students now. And maybe that’s too soon – we can only wait and see…

Hilary French is head of the school of architecture and design at the Royal College of Art

The Show: Two runs from 24 June until 3 July at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7. Tel: 020 7590 4498

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