Visionary thinking thrives at the 96th RSA Student Design Awards

The world's longest running competition of its kind, the Royal Society of Arts Student Design Awards, announces its winners for 2020, celebrating socially and environmentally conscious work

rsa student award winners Re-Foresting
Joint winner: ‘Re-Foresting’
(Image credit: TBC)

The Royal Society of Arts has announced the latest crop of talented designers to win the organisation's prestigious RSA Student Design Awards for 2020. The selection of winners and commended participations include a mix of socially and environmentally conscious designs, conceived to envision a kinder and more positive future for people and planet. Awards span fields such as fashion, community, travel, as well as our relationship with woodland.

The latter category's award, called Branching Out – sponsored by John Makepeace – has announced joint winners. Simon Feather and his project Re-‘Foresting', which focuses on using woodland resources to create nine innovative, model villages in England; and Sandra Reith with her project ‘TRĒOW’, an exciting new material made from small-diameter logs. Commendations in this category included an environmentally friendly burial casket (Nephythys), an earphone case (A Wooden Case), and a STEM programme for young people (STEM Ideas). 

Joint winner: ‘TRĒOW'

Joint winner: ‘TRĒOW'

(Image credit: TBC)

Award winning designs in other categories span from Magdalena Boudova's train station way-finding system, Alina Toh, Gracia Goh and Johyun Moon's inspirational housing proposal, and INCUBE, a flat-pack, low cost incubator that runs without electricity, designed to be used in refugee camps in northern Nigeria. There were over 700 participations from almost 100 universities and 19 different countries, including both UK and international students – an impressive reach for the UK-based, socially aware charity, and one that touches on key issues for today's global challenges. 

The awards, now in their 96th year, have been known for spearheading innovation and original thinking in the realm of design. Past winners' lists feature names, such as Sir Jony Ive, former chief design officer of Apple; Kate Dundas, director of city strategy, City of Melbourne; Richard Clarke, former head of innovation at Nike; and Bill Moggridge, co-founder of IDEO and designer of the first laptop. The 2020 winners are certainly in good company. 

‘For this year’s awards, we have undertaken extensive work to redefine what good design for social impact looks like,' says RSA head of design Rebecca Ford. ‘This has meant updating our judging criteria, panels and process, working towards making the competition more inclusive. Through a carefully developed selection of briefs focusing on pressing social and environmental issues, and by incorporating systems thinking and innovation alongside rigorous research in the judging criteria, we encourage students around the world to build their capacity to address whole population-scale challenges.'

rsa student award winners TREOW

Joint winner: ‘TREOW’

(Image credit: TBC)

A Wooden Case

Commendation: ‘A Wooden Case'

(Image credit: TBC)


Commendation: ‘Nephythys'

(Image credit: TBC)

stem ideas

Commendation: ‘STEM Ideas'

(Image credit: TBC)


Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).