Interval Research of Palo Alto, California has helped the Royal College of Art to build a new studio where postgraduate student designers will use computer technology to make life easier.
The company, founded by former Xerox researcher David Liddle and Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen, has a Pounds 2.5 million, five-year research contract with the RCA's Computer Related Design department.
The department, led by Gillian Crampton-Smith, is particularly interested in the design of personal appliances which not only look good but are easy to use.
Student projects have included a portable phone in the form of a glove, and magnetised washing machine controls which users can rearrange on the control panel as they choose.
Professor Crampton-Smith believes that graduates from the department have important skills which are undervalued in Britain. "Quite a lot go to the States because British companies have yet to be completely convinced that this is an important area," she said.
The contract has enabled the department to take on full-time research staff for the first time. To create the new studio, an area of the existing RCA building was remodelled and equipped with Apple Macintosh computers.
Interval Research is an ideas factory, developing technologies which may be used in five to ten years time. It sells rights in the inventions to start-up companies or joint ventures. The first of these spin-offs will be announced in March.
Dr Liddle believes that the school of interaction design which developed around Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and continues at such outposts as Interval Research and the RCA will be seen, in future years, as the electronic equivalent of the Bauhaus.