The Royal College Of Art:
Design For The Real World

Last stop on our London Design Festival gadabout… we managed to catch the exhibition Design for the Real World at the Royal College of Art (RCA), just before it closed, and we’re so glad we did.

It was full of projects by recently graduated students who’s work is dedicated to exploring diverse aspects of sustainabilty. We were impressed by both the quality and the variety of the designs.

It was a joint show between SustainRCA and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design. It also marked the 40th anniversary of the publication of Victor Papanek’s book, Design for the Real World. In 1972, at a time of rampant consumerism, designer/teacher Papanek made a powerful case for the importance of sustainable and inclusive design in meeting people’s real needs. Quotes from his book were featured around the room and they are surprisingly appropriate today.

Sustain began as a vibrant environmental group at the Royal College of Art to encourage students to engage more strongly with sustainability themes in their work. After 18 months they’d gathered such momentum that last year the group was formalised into SustainRCA, a cross-departmental centre, under the leadership of Clare Brass, with the mission to inspire and support sustainability thinking and projects. They currently have many innovative initiatives underway and many more in the pipeline.

We met Clare and Dejan Mitrovic from the team. Clare generously gave her time to show us round the show and explain the work that went behind each piece. Clever and fabulously inspiring real-life stuff! Featured here are the 4 winners of the SustainRCA Awards 2012.

Ai Hasegawa
[Design Interactions]
I Wanna Deliver a Shark

This project approaches the problem of human reproduction in an age of over-population and environmental crisis. With potential food shortages and a population of nearly nine billion people, would a woman desperate to conceive consider incubating and giving birth to an endangered species, such as a shark, tuna or dolphin?

This broad conceptual thinking introduces a new argument for giving birth to our food, to satisfy our demands for nutrition and childbirth and discusses some of the technical details of how that might be possible.

Aran Dasan, Jonathan Fraser, Jacky Chung, Julene Aguirre
Ento – the Art of Eating Insects

Insects are more space and energy efficient than traditional livestock and are happy to eat the crops we don’t want. They could represent a healthy, tasty and sustainable alternative to traditional protein, offering a solution to accelerating global food demand. But how can we overcome the cultural barriers and make them an everyday reality?

Ento is a roadmap for introducing insects to the western diet, through a  sequence of products, services and eating experiences that will steadily build acceptance. By 2020, fresh grasshoppers may be a regular at your local Tesco.

Alei Verspoor

Pack! is a set of elegant and modular bags that are designed for disassembly, using lo-tech rapid construction techniques; folding and simple weaving.

Flexible and practical, they can be formed into bags, but also into seating and storage. Each of the Pack! components is made of one material and has one function, which makes it easy to replace and recycle components when they are worn out or when you want to switch function.

Pack! is pattern. With the construction of the packs; the assembling of differently coloured and printed components, three-dimensional check patterns are created, and continue to evolve over time, as components are replaced or added.


Hal Watts
[Innovation, Design, Engineering]
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is the fastest growing waste stream worldwide. The UK illegally exports 70% of its WEEE, largely to Africa where cables are burnt to recover the copper, with devastating health and environmental consequences.
Esource is a bicycle-powered cable recycling system for small-scale recyclers in developing countries, designed to be manufactured, sold and maintained by local workshops. Un-burnt copper can be sold for 20% more than burnt, providing operators with a better income and healthier working conditions. Take a look at this video to see how it works.

Also, around the exhibition were featured Olympic InspireRings, by Dejan Mitrovic.

Originally developed for locations around the 2012 Olympic Village, the graphic rings create a series of visual puns which play with perspective to communicate and encourage energy saving and waste reduction.

The aim of the project was to promote athletes as environmental champions, by providing them with cool photo-opportunity artworks to share on social media, influencing fans and wider audiences.
The abstract shapes become a complete ring when seen from a specific angle, giving the viewer a ‘moment of discovery’. This motivates them to take the photo and even appear themselves with the graphic.
The InspireRings have proved so popular that even after the events they are being incorporated into the Olympic Village’s redevelopment.


Part of the show was dedicated to human-centred design projects, presented by the Helen Hamlyn Research Associates 2012. Themes focused on ageing, diversity, health, working life and the city.