Dreams and machines

November 7, 1997

Two alumni of the Royal College of Art tell Kam Patel how they use their design expertise in commerce.

For car designer Paul Hanstock, the two years spent at the Royal College of Art were an opportunity to experiment, to dream a little. The period was also, he felt, the last time he would get the chance to take on a project or two of special, personal interest to him. "I never felt restricted in any way at the college," he says.

Now working as a designer at car maker Rover, Hanstock stresses, however, that with the freedom at the RCA came responsibility. "It was not about set lectures. It is understood that by the time you arrive there, you are capable of self-discipline."

Mr Hanstock, 25, graduated from Coventry University in transport and product design. His two years at the RCA were sponsored by Rover, the company where he carried out his industrial training as an undergraduate. Although interested in all areas of design, transport is his favourite. "Motorcycles in particular have been a big thing for me since I was very young," he says.

Not surprising, then, that one of his final-year projects involved designing a motorbike. "The British motorcycle industry has been decimated by competition from Japan. My idea was of a next-generation motorbike that was British badged. The idea was to be inspired by the past but not be romantically retro. I felt it was really the last opportunity I would have to do something like this."

The work resulted in a striking, one-third scale aluminium model of his vision. Mr Hanstock found the search for a distinct British aesthetic challenging. "You could not take on a project like that in industry where you operate under tight financial and time constraints."

Commercial confidence prevents him from discussing his work at Rover's design centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire. "Millions are invested in a car project. I'd be shot if I said anything. But I've been amazingly lucky because I have landed on a really good project from the start. And you get the chance to work on a wide range of vehicles so there is an awful lot of scope."

A more difficult but nonetheless eventually successful time at the RCA was experienced by Alisdair Sibbald, an industrial design graduate of 1993."It was a strange period. We had a change of head halfway through the course and that resulted in a big change in design philosophy. It was turmoil but still quite enjoyable, although I did take a year out in the middle because of the uncertainty on the course and worked freelance specialising in 3-D modelling and animation." On his return things had settled down and he was much happier.

Mr Sibbald's decision to go to the RCA was influenced by his father, David, having studied on the same course 20 years ago. For Alisdair, the RCA "was very much about questioning things and pushing things forward. It was more about how you think and developing your own approach to the work. The time and environment was provided which you are just not going to get in a corporate setting unless you are very lucky."

One of his final-year projects investigated the future of domestic electronic rental units encompassing technologies such as TV, radio and cable. The aim was to create an "open system" for mixing and matching units with the emphasis on reducing duplication of common componentry - for instance the power supply system - in units.

Mr Sibbald explains that this "sharing" of repeated components allows the complexity of products to be reduced and maintenance to be simplified without compromising the purpose of units. He demonstrated the feasibility of the system for many units including an Apple computer, BT ISDN link, a heating controller and Philips CD-ROM. The proposal won an award from Thorn EMI.

Mr Sibbald, 29, and a graduate of University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, now works for Barclays Multimedia, Barclays Bank's in-house electronic business design and development unit. His team works for the bank's various arms on the electronic delivery of its services. The work is part strategic, part research and he undertakes Internet and intranet projects. "My task is to ensure that the brand image is not damaged by the clearly different electronic delivery systems and design that are needed."

Mr Sibbald has created an "Internet style" book to help provide "open and flexible" advice on, for example, website design.

"We want to try to give structure and direction to the group rather than impose control. By using examples of best practice we hope to reinforce brand image. If you are looking to work in multimedia, financial institutions are a pretty good place to be. They are trying to make the web truly functional."

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