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What’s It Like to Work With Leaders In the Art & Design Industry?

What’s It Like to Work With Leaders In the Art & Design Industry? main image

Sponsored by the Royal College of Art

On-going collaboration partnerships between universities and industry have the potential to influence and improve society on a cultural, social, and economic scale. So when it comes to the world of design, it’s apparent that such opportunities have never been so important (or innovative).

So, what’s it like to work with some of the world’s most innovative businesses and organizations?

Over the years, students at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, which ranked first in the world for Art & Design in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2020: Art & Design, have had the chance to collaborate and work with a range of industry partners, including Hyundai and Visa, as well as Logitech, British Land, Rainbird & EY, British Airways, CERN (European Laboratory for Particle Physics).

Here are some of their stories…

‘The three-month project was fast-paced, very busy and exciting’

Julian Ellis-Brown is a systems designer, specializing in novel sustainable materials. With a background in engineering, Julian studied the MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering.

During his time at the RCA, Julian has explored numerous projects involving environmental design, co-founded the innovative-textiles company ‘SaltyCo’ together with three peers from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London, and took part in a three-month collaboration project with British Airways.

What was it like to collaborate and work with British Airways?

The British Airways ‘Flight of the Future’ collaboration kicked off in April 2019. I’d been in Nairobi the day before, finishing a human-centered design project with my IDE course cohort and stepped right off the nine hour flight to meet with the CEO of British Airways on the college campus for an introductory presentation.

The following three-month project was fast-paced, very busy and exciting. Having a large brand behind speculative design ideas looking at the next 100 years of flight was a fantastic opportunity to push the boundaries of what’s possible and ultimately display our work in a world-renowned gallery.

Can you tell us a bit about what you learned?

There was a huge amount to learn from the process involved, and I was a beginner to a good chunk of it. We started by using speculative design methodologies – ones that were founded at the RCA, to build up alternative futures of what might be possible in 10, 50, 100 years’ time.

We then established how these concepts might be transformed into physical embodiments to present to a series of panels made up of industry leaders from the executive board of Airbus to head scientists at NASA. We eventually settled on our project Aerium – a performative skin and structural method to harvest the clouds of water, add strength to the plane’s chassis, and power on-board devices.

With the project secured, we considered how we could convert our designs into a world-class exhibition that was to be presented in the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, London. We had to learn how to make 1:1 scale models designed using heat-pressing, silicon molding, large-bed CNC machining, hand sculpting, electronics and an awful lot of wood-filler. 

Do you think the experience has had an impact on your approach to your studies and your career prospects? If so, how?

I had been given a small piece of advice not long before this project started – try and say yes to every opportunity, because you never know where it might lead.

The British Airways ‘Flight of the Future’ exhibition was the pinnacle of this advice and I am so pleased I pursued it. The lessons I learnt throughout that process have stayed with me as I’ve taken my latest project and start-up, SaltyCo, to multiple exhibitions alongside my team that received fantastic feedback and responses. I look forward to continuing to apply the skills of professionalism, design and creation that I learnt throughout this process, long into my career.

‘Working with OPPO was a great opportunity for me to learn how a telecommunications company works’

Stockholm-based industrial designer, design researcher, and former Ikea Foundation scholar, Anna Heck, studies the MA Design Products at the RCA’s School of Design. During her second year, Anna was able to complete a three-month internship with OPPO – a leading Chinese consumer electronics and mobile communications company.

What was it like to collaborate and work with OPPO?

I’m really interested in working in consumer electronics, so working with OPPO was a great opportunity for me to learn how a telecommunications company works. As part of the project, OPPO generously brought a big part of their team from China to the RCA to demonstrate to students how they work with consumers and technology.

What did you learn?

I learnt a lot about the technology behind phones, how they develop their products and how teams within a communication company work together.

Do you think the experience has had an impact on your approach to your studies and your career prospects? If so, how?

The RCA teaches you a lot about design thinking and my internship with OPPO gave me the opportunity to apply this notion in practice. I learnt a lot about CMF (colors, material and finish). In relation to phones, CMF refers to the color, coating, feel and look of the phone.

This helped me consider the market, consumer preferences and understand the new behaviors of users and translate this to how the product should be designed and evolve. These are skills that I will continue to use and build on as my design career develops.

‘Working closely with a small team that are so hands-on and invested in the project was a delight’

MA Curating Contemporary Art student, Haseeb Ullah Zafar is an independent curator, researcher, writer, and artist. For his graduate project, Haseeb had the opportunity to co-curate a trans-disciplinary online art commission, titled Empathy Loading, in partnership with Furtherfield, a leading art organization in the United Kingdom (and London’s longest-running center for art and technology).

Furtherfield’s reputation for initiating experiments in artistic co-creation across both digital and physical networks aligned perfectly with Haseeb’s current interests, which involve investigating the intricacies of born-digital artistic practices and the curator’s role within the labyrinthine socio-cultural context of the internet.

Haseeb, can you tell us a bit about what it was like to collaborate and work with Furtherfield?

I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience working with Furtherfield on the trans-disciplinary online art commission. It brought together my passion for science fiction and interest towards understanding the intricacies within affective relationships between humans and sentient cybernetic beings.

Working closely with a small team that are so hands-on and invested in the project was a delight. Whether it was the constant guidance from Ruth (Co-Founder & Co-Artistic Director) or the continuous support from Charlotte (Executive Director) or the all-important feedback from Marc (Co-Founder & Co-Artistic Director) that helped refine our ideas I cannot say, but each of these elements came together to push myself and my fellow co-curators in the development of the project, which we are all proud of.

What did you learn?

I have learnt to appreciate the level of responsibility that comes with being a curator, especially towards the community and environment in which I work. I’ve learnt to apply my critical analysis skills to producing meaningful projects, all while keeping the audience experience at the forefront. I have also learnt how to support artistic practitioners in telling vital stories.

Most crucially I’ve learnt how to navigate unprecedented circumstances, using my problem-solving skills and the platform I have to work through the traps and pitfalls of operating during a global pandemic. Putting research into practice I have learnt to utilize the role of empathy within working relationships between all collaborators contributing to the Empathy Loading graduate project and this is surely something I hope to carry through to all future endeavors.

Do you think the experience has had an impact on your approach to your studies and your career prospects? If so, how?

I’ve developed a litany of necessary professional skills which I believe will be crucial to my practice and assist in realizing future curatorial endeavors. The RCA has helped me adopt a proactive approach towards expanding my knowledge and gaining valuable experience by utilizing the networks and opportunities I have at hand.

The ethos of collaboration and co-production throughout the CCA program has helped me to refine my interpersonal skills and develop meaningful working relationships with my fellow practitioners, which I believe will stand me good stead as I move towards establishing a career as a curator.

Lead image credit: Courtesty of British Airways

BA 2119 - Flight of the Future exhibition: RCA collaborative student designs exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery

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Written by Stephanie Lukins
As the Head of Sponsored Content for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Stephanie creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. She attended the University of Portsmouth where she earned a BA in English Language and an MA in Communication and Applied Linguistics.

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