New Royal Designers for Industry master aims to build bridges with RSA

When Robin Levien takes up his role as Master of the Royal Designers for Industry in November he aims to improve the soured relationship between the RDI faculty and parent body the Royal Society of Arts.

Levien (pictured), founder of product design consultancy Studio Levien, is poised to replace Chris Wise, who has held the position of master since 2007.

‘I am a conciliatory character and that will be my approach to trying to talk around any issues that there are,’ says Levien. ‘There is some effort required on both sides.’ However, he talks down any suggestions that the relationship between the two bodies has worsened since RSA director of design Emily Campbell joined in August last year. He observes that, while the RSA and the faculty used to be close, ‘I’ve been an RDI since 1995 and in that time I have never known it to be a highly productive relationship.’

Recent ructions between the RSA and the RDIs include the cancellation of this year’s summer school, which Levien hopes to revive.

The school, which costs about £10 000 to run, sees about 30 designers and ten RDIs retreat to Dartington Hall in Cornwall for three days to explore ideas without the assistance of traditional design tools including briefs, computers, pens and paper.

Campbell claims that she would like to see the school return, but this time, ‘link it with the RSA’s Design & Society account,’ she says.

This would mean, says Campbell, involving nondesigners and ‘people who would otherwise not be exposed to the benefits of design’ and taking ‘resourcefulness’ as its theme.

Campbell claims that the RDIs who regularly participate in the summer school have agreed ‘in principle’ to these conditions.

Levien recommends that Campbell attend the next summer school before making any decisions about its future. ‘I have attended four schools, the first being particularly lifechanging,’ says Levien.

‘The structure of the summer school is flexible – it can be adapted and changed and take on new ideas, but it is a good idea with anything to get to know what it is before you radically try to change it’.

However, Levien claims to be amenable to bringing the RDI’s aims and activities ‘more aligned to what the RSA is doing, concentrating on designers who show a benefit to society in their work’, he says. This summer, the RSA published its ‘manifesto’, Design & Society, written by Campbell. Some members of the RDI faculty, including Mike Dempsey, were strongly critical of Campbell for failing to properly consult them on the paper. ‘We ought to make efforts to make the whole thing a bit more transparent, bring us up to date and allow people to understand what the RDI’s are all about,’ says Levien.

He will be inaugurated as Master of the Faculty of RDIs on 19 November, where he will deliver a speech entitled ‘Allusive rightness in design’.


  • Founded product design consultancy Studio Levien with his wife, graphic and garden designer Tricia Stainton, in 1999
  • Specialises in industrial ceramics, creating taps and toilets for Ideal Standard, for which he is a non-executive design director
  • Levien’s role as design champion includes commissioning Pearson Lloyd and Jasper Morrison for Ideal Standard projects
  • Levien was runner-up in 2007’s Prince Philip Designers Prize

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