Has there ever been a greater need for innovation than now? With Covid-19 disrupting many aspects of normal life and exacerbating existing political, social and economic concerns, it is vital that we begin to adapt and evolve our society in order to achieve a better and fairer future for all.
Fortunately, this is just the sort of task students at the GSA’s Innovation School specialise in confronting. This year’s hardy group of graduates have had to overcome extraordinary challenges within their own practice, but they have risen resolutely to the challenge of compiling meaningful research in isolation and developing empathic design solutions despite watching the world being turned upside down.
As Jonathan Baldwin, Programme Leader MDes Design Innovation, points out in his introduction to this Showcase, the graduates’ work deals with topics that are exceptionally pertinent as we gradually leave lockdown behind and begin exploring what a post-Covid world might look like. These include the future of work and education, the impact of social isolation, approaches to end-of-life care, and the effect of urban environments on mental health and physical well-being.
Inevitably, some of the projects here reference the coronavirus, although most were well underway before the pandemic’s full impact became apparent late on in the academic year. It’s likely the fallout from Covid-19 will become a major topic to be explored in 2020/21, but for now it’s refreshing to see positive and innovative thinking applied to more familiar issues.
Typifying the Innovation School’s disruptive approach to everyday concerns, Imanina Hamzah from the MDes in Design Innovation and Citizenship programme wants to take back control of the media from global news corporations. Her proposal for a citizen-owned media aims to be more representative of people’s views and provide a platform for positive public interest news.
Mugdha Patil also looks to shake up the status quo with her project The Design of Dissent, which would see the creation of a museum dedicated to protest, human rights and underground movements. Her objective is to raise awareness of the public’s role in holding governments to account and promote the benefits of civic participation. In a year that has seen the Black Lives Matter movement gather momentum, and protesters in Hong Kong demonstrate against the government’s introduction of its Fugitive Offenders amendment bill, Patil’s project offers an insightful overview of the taxonomy and anatomy of dissent.
The democratic process also gets a going over in Mafalda Moreaud’s From the Multitude to the People project. Inspired by the Yellow Vests protest movement in France, Moreaud provocatively maps out how the political system could be reformed to create greater autonomy and truer forms of representation.
Appearing to respond to the #MeToo movement, Carolina Moyano Izquierdo’s project called Bam Bam examines how stereotypical male behaviours could be addressed through an educational platform that instead promotes responsibility and respect, especially for women.
Maja Naumczyk’s research could be valuable for urbanites seeking to reengage meaningfully with their communities post-lockdown. Her service proposal includes new spaces for outdoor activities and a free magazine providing news, stories and details of events that would encourage citizens to step outside of their routines and discover the rich potential of the people and places on their doorstep.
Sustainability is a consistently popular area of research for the Innovation School’s graduates, who are intent on making a positive contribution to the future of our planet. Based on studies into the loss of fish biomass in the oceans, Struan Fraser devised a campaign to promote practices that cultivate biodiversity. He wants to prompt city dwellers seeking a greater connection with nature to work on projects that help improve biodiversity in the oceans, such as running farms dedicated to integrated multi-trophic aquaculture.
Audrey Vadukkut, a graduate from the MDes in Design Innovation and Environmental Design course, designed a toolkit that would help aspiring gardeners to grow more produce at home. The project is informed by her experiences visiting relatives in a rural community in India and aims to provide a more sustainable alternative to the way food is currently farmed and shipped around the world.
Andrea Yurie Ando Yau from the MSc International Management and Design Innovation programme also presents an alternative food system for Glasgow designed to use locally grown produce. An urban farm would provide healthy ready meals that would be distributed through a network of small businesses, thereby supporting employment in underprivileged areas. It’s a considered and well-researched proposal that offers broad societal as well as health benefits.
Other graduates from the programme tackled issues affecting businesses and communities around the world, ranging from a proposal for accommodation in regions of Thailand impacted by rising sea levels (Sukingchaya Punaram), to a concept for improving the post-Covid museum experience (Yian Chen).
Among several graduates examining the difficult topic of death and grief is Matija Barovic from the MDes in Design Innovation and Environmental Design course. His project, Grief and Growth, proposes a new service that would see memorial grounds incorporated into sites of great natural beauty. Mourners would benefit from spending time in nature and profits from the enterprise would support the preservation of these fragile ecosystems. Barovic took inspiration from funerary rituals conducted around the world and spoke to experts including a doula about the importance of understanding the cyclical nature of life.
Pärtel Unga’s role-playing card game aims to provide a playful and engaging way to help users cope with bereavement and the prospect of dying, while Sangeeta Jaiswal’s Future Present project reimagines rituals around intergenerational gifting. I liked the idea of families investing in urban gardens or forests that future generations can enjoy rather than giving presents with limited lifespans that will inevitably end up in landfill.
I was interested in Christopher Wild’s disruptive approach to supporting artisanal traditions using technology. The graduate from the Master of Research programme travelled north to the Shetland Isles to explore how digital techniques could be integrated early on in the design research process and used to reexamine aspects of the traditional Fair Isle knitting process.
I also enjoyed the professional look and feel of Xiang Yan’s Cubee service, which aims to promote financial learning in young people. Like a cross between an advent calendar and a piggy bank, kids open doors in a custom-designed box to reveal money-based tasks they need to complete before receiving their allowance. If it had existed when I was growing up my personal finances might be in a better shape!
Xidan Tu’s thoughtful project about the importance of independent pubs in their local communities struck a chord at a time when social distancing means visiting hostelries still feels slightly strange. Her Home on Tap project aims to enhance well-being and social engagement by providing a set of tools to help welcome newcomers or those who don’t drink regularly. As we exit lockdown and gradually rebuild our social lives, this project seems to provide an ideal tonic to the isolation many have experienced in recent months.
Finally, congratulations to Letao Li from the MDes in Design Innovation and Interaction Design, whose project From the Grounds Up was ‘Highly Commended’ by the jury of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise’s SIE Fresh Idea Competition. Li took inspiration from her caffeine habit when developing a system for reusing waste coffee grounds as a binding for growing mycelium – a fungal material that displays similar properties to some plastics. This material could be shaped into new coffee pods, creating a closed loop that minimises waste.
Inevitably, there is far more to explore within this exciting showcase than this brief overview is able to communicate. It can be somewhat overwhelming to scroll through, and a few of the graduates could do with tightening up their presentations, but when dealing with issues affecting the future of humanity it is understandably difficult to summarise the projects in a few paragraphs.
The Showcase does a fine job of cataloguing the graduates’ ideas, but it’s a pity it isn’t currently possible to visit the Innovation School’s degree show in person to interact with the engaging presentations they typically produce. The digital platform does, however, give the graduates an opportunity to continue evolving their projects and I, for one, will be logging back on with interest in a few months to see how some of these innovation specialists think our future might shape up.
*Alyn Griffiths is an Edinburgh-based journalist, editor and copywriter specialising in architecture and design. Former Design Editor of biannual men’s lifestyle magazine PORT, Alyn is a contributor to leading print and online publications, including Style, Wallpaper, ICON, Blueprint, Dezeen, Dwell and Interior Design.
Image Credit: Christopher Wild, Generative Knitting Motif Software.