Now in its 27th year, New Designers is the foremost graduate design showcase in the UK, celebrating the handpicked talent of 3,500 exhibitors fresh from 200 design courses around the country. The 2012 exhibition, held in Islington, London displayed an overwhelming array of projects, from a blown-glass, electronic trumpet with precision acoustic resonance to a sustainable flat-pack cardboard car. The range of skill and talent was so immense it would be impossible to include everything, so here's a snapshot of some of the things we discovered in this pool of emerging creativity.
Some ingenious inventions were unveiled from the University of Brighton's Product Design course. Matthew Douthwaite's Bull Bars, a high security lock that is integrated into the handlebars of a bike, save cyclists from carrying around a separate heavy D-lock or chain, while Scott Pethick's disposable Drone Phones offer temporary vessels to hold your SIM card while on a night out or at a festival - anywhere you are likely to lose or damage your valuable handset. Of an equally practical nature was Henry Sandars' Flight Weight Airline Flatware. The Northumbria University graduate's design dramatically reduces the weight of first-class cutlery - thus reducing cost and emissions - on board an aircraft, whilst maintaining its appearance and resilience.
Of the more tactile variety were products from the Design and Craft course at the University of Brighton. Bridget Wheeler talked to us about her Brick/Bowl, a series of humble domestic ceramics created using the traditional brick-making process, while Grace Hancock showed us her alternative coping mechanisms for sufferers of mental health problems such as anxiety or Seasonal Affective Disorder, in the form of multi-layered crystals and white light cubes.
Debbie Lean, from Camberwell College of Arts took a similar approach to design as a means of dealing with habits or psychological tendencies. Her wood and woven leather seating is cleverly designed to 'counteract the natural discomfort of sitting still' - and is very nice-looking, too. Responding to emotional idiosyncrasies in a different way, Anastasia Kuzina, also of Camberwell, offered her Spatial Linear Constructor to transform emotions into visual forms through a Constructivist-inspired drawing machine. Probably drawing the biggest crowd at any one time was Joseph Begley's audacious Slap It light. The Camberwell graduate demonstrated the mechanism of his androgynous posterior-shaped lamp, which turns on and off with the slap (or pinch) of a hand. The young - and may we say distinctly innocent-looking - designer describes his piece as 'a multi-sensory experience to make you smile.' From the same London college came the Captain Hook Lamp by Dan McMahon, a clever device that turns on when unhooked, laid on a table, stood up or draped over a shelf. "I wanted the Captain Hook Lamp to transcend the generic white wall switch," he states. Ordinary (not to mention irritating) cables are replaced with an ample length of aesthetically pleasing blue, red or green cord, which complements the restrained design and enables the light to be elegantly maneuvered from desktop to bedside.
As well as brightly coloured flex, a preference for solid blocks of material - particularly wood and concrete - and the amalgamation of different wood types was evident in a variety of exhibitions stalls. Tom Tregaskes of Plymouth University displayed a selection of his surface-patterned furniture, including a bench, stool and three-legged chair, with a geometrical attention to detail faintly reminiscent of medieval church seating. In a similar vein was Buckingham New University graduate, Sivani Ratna's TriStool; a puzzle-like ensemble of Maple, Oak and Walnut wood.
True to their reputation, this year's Central Saint Martins students exhibited design of a more esoteric nature. Amongst the beguiling array of particularly sensitive and insightful designs was Paulo Goldstein's Repair is Beautiful project. Approaching design as a therapeutic process, his work deals with feelings of frustration by enabling the user to displace these intangible sensations onto tangible objects through craftsmanship and the act of repair.
Also from Central Saint Martins was Roselle Lam's Maxi, a bedside light/clock that addresses the commonly shared problem of procrastination before bedtime, and Andrew Williams' Taskbot, an anthropomorphic desktop robot that helps the home-worker to focus on their tasks and develop self-control, using 'principles of gamification, monitoring technologies and data visualisation.' Its 'eyes' glow red when you start procrastinating on Facebook or Twitter. Of all the products on display, this one seemed the most imminently useful - but unfortunately, it's not on the market just yet.
Some products were available on the market, however. Aside from the graduate showcase, a small section at the back of the enormous hall displayed the work of an elected group of start-ups who graduated a year ago. Collectively named 'One Year On', the businesses ranged greatly in quality and originality, with a few exhibits that really shone out from the rest. One of these was Cornwall-based Felix McCormack's collection of bold, uncomplicated lighting designs; the result of months spent in a converted old cattle shed. "I am aiming to create playful, elegant and highly usable objects," he says. Using solid blocks of concrete and untreated wood highlighted with red braided flex, the strength of the range is not in its wild originality, but in its elegant sense of control, simplicity and practicality; a tendency that emerged in much of the work on display at this year's showcase.
On Wednesday 4th July, Jay Osgerby of BarberOsgerby (designers of the Olympic Torch) presented 16 winning graduates with the prestigious New Designers Awards. Supported by leading creative brands and organisations, the awards aim to support the imminent career success of these notably talented individuals. Hugh Leader-Williams from Loughborough University managed to bag himself three awards for his Spun Furniture range of stools and tables, being named the winner by 100% Design, BCFA Lugo and Made.com. His spun steel seats are connected with magnets to ash frames, allowing them to be easily removed, while the frames can be folded flat to minimise space for storage and transport. Yet whilst these 16 individuals have gained particular recognition for their contributions to contemporary design, there were hundreds of others whose brilliant ideas are ensuring Britain's reputation as a forerunner of great design is maintained for the next generation.
Media & Arts Correspondent