Member Spotlight: Oliver Evans, S/IDSA

Mar 9 2021 - 1:33pm


International student member Oliver Evans shares about his industrial design education in the UK and the Netherlands.

An unusual feature of high school education in the UK is that it is possible to study industrial as part of the curriculum in Design and Technology. Learning about the history of industrial design, materials processing and being able to make my own products identified a passion for designing and set me on a course for a degree in industrial design. Having identified a shortlist of courses at leading universities that offered an all-important one year co-op, visits and interviews at Loughborough, Northumbria and Brunel followed.

The reputation of Northumbria University, where Jonathan Ive and Tim Brown are alumniplus the buzz of the post-industrial city that was once famous for ship buildingled to me enrolling in September 2016 on the BA Design for Industry course at Northumbria. With the university located in the heart of in the northeast city of Newcastle upon Tyne, locally referred to as ‘The Toon,’ the course has a reputation for generating disruptive and innovative designers. Based in the School of Design, industrial design students share the building with furniture and fashion design courses, which fosters a creative and collaborative environment in which my studies took place.

The teaching style is based around two types of activities. The first, undertaken in the first two years of study, involved short, practical and technical assignments involving sketching, modelmaking and graphics tasks. The second, introduced in years one and two but became core in my third and final year, involved studio activity in response to design briefs. This activity focused on the design of consumer products, opportunities for innovative materials processing and explorations of emerging technologies such as internet of things (IOT). These included ‘live’ briefs offered by agencies and manufacturers for domestic appliances, lighting and fast moving consumer goods and (FMCG). 

Most final year undergraduate design students in the UK participate in the annual Royal Society of Arts (RSA) Student Design Awards, with briefs set and supported by manufacturers, agencies and NGOs. When I took part in the competition, there was a comprehensive selection of briefs allowing students to explore challenges associated with UI/UX sustainability and social impact. I took part in a brief created by Phillips to explore future applications of AI in healthcare, for which I was fortunate to win a Gold in the 2020 IDEA.

The Design for Industry course, unlike most other design courses in the UK, splits its co-op into two, with one 6-month placement in year 2 and another in year 3. My first internship was with the Innovation Team Pentland Brands in Nottingham, UK, a large sports/outdoor clothing and footwear company that owns brands such as Speedo, Berghaus and Canterbury. This split approach to internships had the benefit of equipping me with industry experience and preparing me when applying for a more ambitious, year 3 co-op for which I was seeking international experience. I consider myself extremely fortunate for my year 3 co-op to have been at VanBerlo, a leading global agency based in Eindhoven in The Netherlands. As VanBerlo typically recruits graduates for their co-op programme, the fact that I already had work experience was a major contribution to securing the position. As an undergraduate with still one year of studying left, the internship was challenging but highly rewarding. Needless to say, living in The Netherlands and visiting different cities every weekend, usually by taking my bicycle on the train, was an amazing experience. 

My time at Vanberlo was one year before the UK left the European Union (EU) and, as such, enabled me to apply for and secure a monthly stipend from the EU Erasmus program. Erasmus funding enabled myself and a number of other students in my year to study in Europe with funding that subsidized the modest or sometimes non-existent coop salaries. After Brexit, the UK no longer participates on the Erasmus scheme; but this is being replaced by the new Turin Scheme that will offer financial support for study both within and beyond the EU.  

Final year design students in the UK have an opportunity to exhibit their capstone project at the New Designers event that is held every year in London. This is a key event in the design education calendar for showcasing work, networking with potential employers and having worked recognised through a number of awards. Unfortunately for myself and other design students graduating in 2020, New Designers was cancelled due to COVID-19. However, there was somewhat of an irony to this in that my capstone project, that I had started in October 2019, was a design for a product/service/system to help stop the emergence of new diseases spreading to become a pandemic.  

An overriding theme appears in my journey as a UK-based industrial design student—that of internationalisation. Having been fortunate to have worked in The Netherlands and won a Gold IDEA, I fully appreciate the amazing opportunities that are available to students who move out of their comfort zone and seize opportunity. I will be taking this forward in my first full-time position as an industrial designer at PA Consulting.