It offers your organisation the chance to work on a research, development or communication project of your choice with a new design graduate of the Royal College of Art in London. Whether you're a company in industry or in the public or voluntary sector, the Programme provides a platform for practical collaboration by matching your needs with a talented young RCA designer-researcher from an institution with a world-class reputation for creativity and innovation. Projects typically result in new knowledge, products or services that are directly applicable to your business. Each project lasts for one calendar year, running October to October.
Every year we create more than ten paid posts for College graduates to spend an extra year working with their RCA studio departments as Research Associates. Each new graduate is teamed with an external industry partner, with whom they collaborate closely on projects mutually agreed between the partner and the RCA. The graduates are drawn from a range of design disciplines taught at the RCA - architecture, interiors, furniture, communication, interaction design, product design, vehicle design, industrial design engineering and so on. The programme is managed by the Helen Hamlyn Centre.
All the project briefs relate broadly to socially inclusive design and commercial innovation. Past research projects have addressed design for ageing populations, changing patterns of work, mobility for all and innovation in healthcare. Project briefs are developed as a three-way conversation between the external partner, the Helen Hamlyn Centre and the host RCA department. Sometimes the external company has an idea or issue it wants to investigate, or an existing research programme it wants to augment. Sometimes the starting point is a student project at MA level that interests the company.
Companies that have joined the Research Associates Programme say that participation:
One Research Associate to work with you for one year costs between UK £20,000 and UK £25,000 depending on the parameters and focus of the project. In all cases we add to your funds to enable the full costs of the project - including Research Associate salary, studio costs, publication costs, IT costs, College costs etc - to be met. The result is that the Research Associates Programme offers your company a subsidised design research mechanism at a fraction of the real commercial cost. The sum can be paid in up to four separate tranches to meet the demands of your own budgeting arrangements and financial year.
New intellectual property and new knowledge that arises in the course of the project will belong to you, subject to your organisation granting the RCA the rights to publicise and circulate mutually agreed information relating to the project.
The Research Associates Programme is tried and trusted. Since it began at the RCA in 1999, we have successfully undertaken more than 60 projects with industry and the voluntary sector. Our research partners include multinational companies GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever, Ford, Dyson and Levi Strauss as well as retailers such as Waitrose, MFI and B&Q and technology giants such as Philips Design, Hewlett-Packard and Intel. Charities like the British Heart Foundation, Peabody Trust, Leonard Cheshire and Audi Design Foundation have participated, as have creative industry firms such as Reid Architecture, IDEO and Fitch. The result of our collaborations is a thriving global network of partner organisations and an alumni network of past Research Associates working in design, industry and education.
We conduct rigorous post-project evaluation with every partner. Here are some comments:
‘We committed to the Research Associates Programme not because it is the politically correct thing to do but because it is the economically sensible thing to do. BAA's business very much depends on a socially inclusive design approach. We couldn't afford not to work with the Research Associates...’ - Raymond Turner, Group Design Director, BAA plc
‘We got a lot more than we bargained for ... in the best of ways. As we worked with our Research Associates, we became inspired by their, to our minds, new ways of thinking.’ - Dr Viviene Press, Assistant Medical Director, British Heart Foundation
‘The Helen Hamlyn Research Associates really focus on understanding users whose needs might otherwise get overlooked - and that unlocks the door to new business opportunities.’ - Jim Rait, Global Design Centre, Unilever
‘A fantastic job of pursuing the design brief with enthusiasm, creativity and insight’ - Huw Robson, Hewlett-Packard Laboratories
‘Challenged us on the key issues – which is what we wanted’ - Steven Kyffin, Philips Design
‘Our research associates do not just have the curiosity and originality to ask new questions but also bring the commitment and energy to find the answers’ - Simon Harris, Visteon
‘The discussion of ideas is challenging, the presentations are provocative’ - David Tannahill, Peabody Trust
Each project has defined objectives and clear outcomes, captured in a final report, exhibition display and symposium presentation at the RCA each autumn, as part of the London Design Festival. Where your study requires mock-ups and prototypes, the RCA's renowned workshops, studios and technicians play a key role. Some of our project successes relate to new products that have been fully developed and reached the shops, such as age-friendly hand tools for B&Q. Others reflect the aim to generate inclusive design guidelines for the sponsoring organisation, as in the case of work for BAA and Unilever. Some projects articulate a future vision to energise creative thinking - for example, we explored city transport in 2030 with Ford. Others investigate ways to exploit new technologies for social and market need - such as a study of paperlike electronic displays with HP Labs. What we offer is a clear standpoint on putting the user and consumer experience right at the heart of every project and using this as a mode for inspiration and innovation.
Certainly. Once a brief is agreed between us, a job spec is written up and the post is advertised within the relevant RCA department. We shortlist applicants and you will have a chance to join an interview panel to be part of the final decision. A good 'fit' between graduate and research partner is essential and we go to great efforts to make sure the chemistry of the collaboration is right. The average age of a new RCA graduate is 28. Nearly all have practice and project experience as well as BA and MA degrees in the relevant design discipline. In recruitment, we look particularly for good communication and research skills. Research Associates are employed as RCA members of staff on a four-day-a-week contract, leaving some time for them to pursue their own practice and carry out other commissions.
The Programme has been designed in consultation with industry to be time and cost-effective for our partners. In others words, tightly managed by us but low maintenance for you. The year is divided into three phases from 1 October to 1 July, with presentation and dissemination at the end of September:
Partners receive interim written reports after phases 1 and 2 and a final report summarising the entire project at the conclusion of phase 3. Key milestones are agreed at the outset with meetings scheduled to monitor the work and make decisions on its direction. A work in progress seminar after phase 2 and the final show and symposium after phase 3 are staged at the RCA for professional and public audiences.
We don't believe in a long legal wrangle. We simply offer you a short Letter of Agreement for signing which sets out the contractual relationship, terms, conditions and outline brief. This Letter of Agreement was developed in consultation with the legal departments of several large companies. You reserve the right to alter the project in writing during its course.
You have a number of options. You can extend the project with the existing graduate to a second year (a favoured option among many partners); you can extend the project but bring in a new graduate; you can employ the graduate in your organisation on a consulting or staff basis; or you can simply take the results and assess their value. We can help you evaluate and decide what to do. Many of our former Research Associates continue to enjoy close working relationships with their research partners.
We have a work-in-progress seminar at the halfway stage and a full public exhibition and symposium every autumn. We take dissemination very seriously and we work closely with you on media relationships, conference papers, and other forms of public disclosure. We also have experience of leading workshops to disseminate the results inside your organisation. Equally, however, we respect those aspects of the study that must remain confidential and we are willing to sign binding confidentiality agreements in certain circumstances.
Two sources are recommended: The Helen Hamlyn Centre website