The title Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) is awarded annually by the RSA (the Royal Society for the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) to designers of all disciplines who have “achieved sustained design excellence, work of aesthetic value and significant benefit to society”.
It is the highest accolade for designers in the UK, according to the RSA, and only 200 designers can hold the title.
This year’s recipients were announced at an event last night, during which designer Charlie Paton – the new Royal Designers for Industry faculty master – used his inaugural speech to call for designers to “accept the blame” for the fact that “global human-made mass exceeds all living biomass”.
Paton started out his career in lighting design, founding the company Light Works Ltd. in 1979 and achieving early success in the invention and development of motorised lighting for theatre, TV and concerts, though his focus for the past two decades has been his Seawater Greenhouse concept. This is designed to harness sunlight and seawater to produce food and water on barren land in hot and arid coastal regions, and has been used in places including Oman and Somaliland.
This year, four designers working across sound design, fashion, horticulture, and children’s books received the accolade. These were respectively: TV and film sound designer Kate Hopkins, whose credits include the BBC’s Planet Earth and Blue Planet, Disney film Penguins, and 1992 horror movie Hellraiser III; Lucinda Chambers, stylist and former British Vogue fashion director; Nigel Dunnett, Professor of Planting Design and Urban Horticulture in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield; and children’s book author and illustrator Lauren Child, best known for the Charlie and Lola series and a UNESCO Artist for Peace since 2008.
A further three honorary RDIs were awarded to designers based outside the UK, including Dutch industrial designer Hella Jongerius, whose work includes designs for the interiors of the United Nations headquarters; and illustrator, artist and graphic designer Christoph Niemann, known for his Abstract Sundays series and his work with The New Yorker, including creating its first augmented reality cover.
The Royal Designers for Industry honour launched in 1936, and previous recipients have included architect Richard Rogers, textile designer Lucienne Day, and Jonathan Ive, former chief design officer at Apple and Chancellor at the Royal College of Art. Among the current RDIs are set designer Es Devlin; illustrator Quentin Blake; musician, producer and artist Brian Eno; and inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee.
Last year’s recipients included Anab Jain and Jon Ardern, founders of design and experiential futures company Superflux and designer, maker and environmental campaigner Sebastian Cox, whose work focuses on regenerative design.