New Designers, the two-week exposition of 3000 of the UK's most promising design graduates hand-selected from more than 170 creative courses, is known for launching the careers of some of the UK's leading designers - including Thomas Heatherwick, Bethan Gray, Jay Osgersby, and Lee Broom. Now in its 34th year, the annual exhibition at the Business Design Centre, London, has firmly established itself as an invigorating and inspiring platform for discovering extraordinary new talent and exploring the future of design.
This year, an overwhelming number of these graduates and young professionals showcased projects that explored the potential of design as a powerful tool for change - addressing pressing humanitarian issues such as infant mortality in developing countries, education on climate change, and water sustainability. There was also a strong focus on deep-rooted societal issues, which are less tangible and can be hard to define, including anxiety, loneliness, and privacy. While these issues aren't new, they have taken on new significance in a world that is increasingly dominated by technology. These projects demonstrate extraordinary design capabilities in creating products and services for issues whose impact we do not yet fully understand, due to the rapid rate at which our relationship with technology is evolving.
Perhaps there is an irony in this generation of designers dedicating themselves to solving problems created by the fast-paced development of design in technology over the past 10-20 years. In that sense, it is a strange time but exciting time to be a designer - designing out problems attributed to the work of previous generations. Not that this is a new situation to be in; in many ways, we are still dealing with problems created by industrial designers of the early 20th century, with respect to fossil fuel consumption - resulting in depleted natural resources and increased air and water pollution. Sarah Monk, Portfolio Director of New Designers, commented, "In times of turmoil, creativity is known to flourish. The new generation of designers exhibiting in this year's New Designers are creating forward-thinking innovative and exciting designs that not only fly the flag for UK creativity, but also have the potential to make a truly global impact."
There is a deep rooted feeling of conscience and responsibility present in the projects showcased - evidenced by the fact that sustainability is no longer an added feature, but inherent in these designs, with many products made entirely from biodegradable and recyclable components, such as Milo Mehta's fully biodegradable 'Moe' trainer; this generation of designers are acutely aware that it is not sustainable or even ethical to manufacture endless products without thinking about their life-span.
That's not to say that there isn't a sense of fun about the exhibition; digital illustrations by graphic designer Chelsea Waites took a tongue-in-cheek approach to issues of body positivity and the female experience, making light humour of situations that can be perceived as embarrassing or shameful. When asked if the projects were intended to highlight societal issues, Waites said, "I just want to make people feel more comfortable talking about these issues and have a laugh; I tend to appreciate the smaller details in life that are overlooked and often use humour as a way of telling these stories".
The exhibition is a hive of ideas and creative energy, offering great promise for the future generation of designers across a diverse range of disciplines - from interiors to healthcare to hospitality, food, travel, toys, and more. Some projects operate on a domestic scale but are significant in their potential to positively impact daily lives, such as Marisa Tschickart's 'Anima' line of products created to reduce food waste in private households and Tom Bryant's 'Koko' system intended to separate us from our mobile devices at home. Others are more global in their ambition, such as Amy Ottley's illustrative 'Ruby' packaging system designed to tackle period poverty, and Beth Keturah's 'Community Birthing Pillar' to reduce infant mortality rates.
Beyond the exhibition itself, New Designers offers young creatives vital professional skills-building support to make their products market-ready, through mentorship initiatives, awards funding, and a comprehensive talks programme that discusses relevant industry topics including online selling, crowdfunding, and the circular economy.
There is a sense of a communal willingness to take on old problems with new ideas and methodologies, which both pay homage to the past and represent a spirit of novel, even breathtaking, innovation. This is a place for inspiration and ideation; graduates connect with educators, professionals and consumers, and you leave the space inspired by the optimism of these young practitioners, to create a better future through design.