RSA Student Design Awards team

 16 March 2017

The RSA Student Design Awards have been running for 93 years, helping young designers develop their skills and gain employment. In 2017 the team behind the programme were awarded the Creative & Cultural Skills Design Skills Award.

Sevra Davis and Rebecca Ford accepted the award on behalf of the team. Credit: James Fletcher
Sevra Davis and Rebecca Ford accepted the award on behalf of the team. Credit: James Fletcher

The RSA Student Design Awards (SDA) is an annual design curriculum and competition run by the charity the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).

Through their Student Design Awards they aim to empower a generation of savvy, employable designers who understand the potential of design to benefit society, and the range of career possibilities available to them.

The team were nominated to recognise the major contribution they played in developing young designers’ skills and supporting them to gain employment.

What is the SDA programme?

The SDA has a remarkable 93-year history of commitment to supporting young design talent.

Despite massive changes in the design sector, design education, and the nature of UK employment since its foundation in 1924, the SDA programme has successfully adapted to provide emerging designers with the skills and opportunities they need to succeed professionally.

I owe my career to the RSA Student Design Awards

The SDA programme is pioneering in its approach to skills development and helping young designers from varied backgrounds into work.

The project briefs (designed in collaboration with their partners) empower participants to build on their existing skills to engage with complex real-world challenges.

And the free workshops and resources they offer equip them with new skills for the world of work in a highly practical, industry-focused format.

In addition, the awards provide new routes into employment through paid internship opportunities that embed young designers in a diverse range of cross-sector organisations, from design agencies to governments departments, charities and big corporations.

These opportunities open up new career possibilities to young designers, and employers benefit from the fresh insights and skills these young people bring.

Helping and supporting young designers

So far, over 8000 individuals have been awarded with internships, bursaries and other forms of support since the programme began in 1924, which has had a transformative effect on the careers of many generations of designers.

In recent years our award winners have undertaken internships at organisations including:

  • The Eden Project
  • PriestmanGoode Ltd
  • Waitrose
  • BuroHappold Engineering
  • Philips
  • The Environment Agency

From the 2015/16 award winners, 3 have already been offered fulltime employment by the organisations they interned with.

The awards provide new routes into employment through paid internship opportunities 

2012 winner Rebecca Penmore said: “It was the launchpad for my career – had I not entered, I think things would’ve been quite different.” Rebecca now works as a designer at  Pentagram 5 press.

2016 winners Leah Witton, Tom Williams and Ella Taylor said: “The RSA Student Design Awards have made us realise we want to design for social change and create socially engaging work.

And the interview process has made us feel more prepared for the real world!”

And 1988 winner Richard Clarke simply declares: “I owe my career to the RSA Student Design Awards.” Richard Clarke now works as the Head of Innovation at Nike.

To follow one student’s journey, watch this short documentary ‘The RSA Student Design Awards: A Student’s Story’

Winning the Design Skills Award

The team were chosen as the deserving winner of the Design Skills Award because they advocate widely for the power of design skills in business and society, and the benefits of employing young designers.

The judging panel said: “By the SDA team developing and training new design talent in a wide range of skills, it provides the young people with long term career opportunities in different sectors.”

Sevra Davis, the Director of the RSA Student Design Awards said of winning the award: “We are honoured to receive the Creative & Cultural Skills Award for Design Skills.  

"This isn’t just testament to the work the RSA and the Student Design Awards has done over the last 93 years to encourage graduates to apply design thinking to every day problems; it is also indicative of the importance of design skills in tackling today’s most pressing social, economic and environmental issues.”

If you would like to nominate someone for a Skills Award, you can find out when nominations open by signing up to our newsletter.


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