Imperial and RCA draft blueprint for innovation hub

June 1, 2007

When Sir James Dyson was a student at the Royal College of Art, he would sneak across the road to listen to the lectures of the structural engineer Anthony Hunt at Imperial College.

He was inspired by what he heard. Sir James went on to train as an engineer and to combine this knowledge with his design skills to create the globally successful Dyson vacuum cleaner.

"In those days, these very close neighbours didn't speak to each other," said Sir Christopher Frayling, rector of the RCA.

But now the two institutions - one renowned for science, engineering and medical research and the other with one of the world's most concentrated groups of artists and designers - are forming the first major partnership between the art and design sector and a Russell Group institution.

Design-London will be a £5.8 million multidisciplinary centre bringing together the design skills of the RCA, the engineering expertise of Imperial and the business know-how of Imperial's Tanaka Business School to form an "innovation triangle". Sir James will be the chair its advisory council.

Imperial and the RCA have run a joint masters degree in industrial design engineering since the 1980s. The new centre will enhance the existing course, and the future will see new modules for MA, MEng, and MBA students at Imperial and RCA and new courses on design and innovation management.

Sir Christopher said: "There has been a lot of snobbery in higher education - that 'interpreters' are the top of the tree and 'performers' are at the tradesman's entrance."

Now, he believes, the creative industries are getting the recognition they deserve.

"Last year Chancellor Gordon Brown came to our summer design show. He spent an hour and a half looking round and I gave him lots of literature. He said, 'You're trying to distract me from the economy.' But when I answered, 'It is the new economy', he agreed."

Indeed, it was the Chancellor who commissioned the Cox Review of Creativity in Business, which was headed by Sir George Cox, chairman of the Design Council. The recommendations of that review are a major driver for the new centre.

Sir George called for a series of high-profile centres of creativity and innovation throughout the UK, with a central London hub.

"I couldn't be more delighted that the first to come up with one is Imperial and the RCA. It's innovative, it's creative and it will be a great success," Sir George said.

"The great thinkers were polymaths. To separate people into creatives and non-creatives is just daft. If you cannot be innovative in today's world you have no future."

A facility called the Incubator, which is funded by £900,000 from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, will give entrepreneurial graduates from the RCA and Imperial the opportunity to develop new ideas commercially.

Meanwhile, the Simulator will allow businesses to refine the business case for their designs.

David Gann, head of innovation and entrepreneurship at Imperial, said: "The Cox review highlights the central role of design in innovation processes and a strategic issue for business.

"By design, we don't just mean aesthetics. Good design can provide a more efficient, cost-effective product or service, better quality and better functionality. You get all these different forms of value through harnessing the power of design in the innovation process."

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has provided funding of Pounds 3.8 million over three years, with additional funds provided by Imperial and the RCA.

Design-London's location is yet to be decided, but it will be situated close to both institutions in South Kensington.

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