Ravensbourne University London
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Course: BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design

Year of Graduation: 2007

I had seen Ravensbourne in Blueprint Magazine and Design Week long before I had heard about its great reputation. When deciding between product design degrees, my design tutor and my career coach both gave me the same advice: “You need to go to the best; you need to go to Ravensbourne.” When I visited on an open day I saw what they meant – the facilities were like nothing I had seen before. Huge model making workshops, metal workshops, CAD rooms, 3D printer, plus everything the other courses had to offer too like video editing suites, broadcasting and photography studios, fashion workshops and much more. I knew right then that Ravensbourne was where I wanted to be.

Alongside this I knew the tutors were all experienced design professionals; they weren’t solely academics. They were in the industry I wanted to be in, which made them more real and relevant – I knew their tuition would be as real as it got. Frequent critiques with them encouraged me to think fully about my design decisions and to make sure I had a strong narrative. In later years I realised just how well this set me up to work with creative and marketing teams in so many different places.

Ravensbourne is a unique university; it’s a small, close-knit community which meant I knew and worked closely with students from lots of other courses. This was a great way to stay inspired and try mediums, styles and approaches I wouldn’t have naturally thought of. Looking back this definitely improved my creative thinking. This was a huge advantage over other institutions where collaboration didn’t seem to happen as naturally.

During my time at Ravensbourne I worked on a number of live briefs and competitions with the likes of MK Electrics, Hitch Mylius, Nespresso and Habitat. I was awarded second place in the Habitat Tableware design competition for my Japanese-themed cast iron cooking pot. I presented this to their design team in their London HQ, which the tutor critiques had prepared me well for. This and the other brands we got to work with definitely shaped my thinking, encouraged me to think commercially, and helped me find my niche (not to mention the exciting opportunity for our designs to actually be made).

This all required professionalism but was still fun — something that sums up my time at Ravensbourne. Another great example of this was ‘Rare Breeds’ – our degree show that we exhibited at the Truman Brewery as part of the London Design Festival. We handled everything from printing leaflets to fire-proofing hay bales which we used as pedestals for our work. It was another great experience looking back.

Since then I’ve worked at six companies in three countries. I’m proud to have broken new ground at each one by developing new products, services, teams and offers. I was part of the Foresight team at design heavyweights Seymourpowell, where I worked on some fascinating innovation and design research projects. I then worked in global marketing and design roles at Nokia and Microsoft, where I honed my service design skills. And then I moved on to work at digital insight and strategy experts Sparkler where I created a new service innovation team from scratch. In each of these companies I’ve used my creative training from Ravensbourne and experience since to champion human-centred design to win in business. This has led to me becoming an expert in innovation insights, design leadership and product creation.

I now work as Global Innovation Insights Director at Nike Inc. Here at the World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon I work closely with the advanced design and innovation teams who design products 3-7 years out. Every day I represent real people and look out for emerging opportunities to serve them better. This involves: designing and executing research flawlessly; spending time with people in their own worlds; bringing different teams together to experience it; and telling powerful consumer stories which we can design from. This all results in new footwear, apparel and more in years to come. It’s intense but thoroughly rewarding.

It’s not all work though; there’s some play involved too as you’d expect from the biggest sports brand in the world. There’s always something going on around campus: professional athletes visiting; social and cultural events happening; competitions and inspirational talks; and – of course – classes, teams and facilities for every type of sport imaginable.

If you choose to study at Ravensbourne you will be surrounded by creativity in forms you’ve never seen. As much as possible I’d say be open to it, have fun with it, throw ridiculous ideas around with others, and see where it takes you. Just don’t take it too seriously all the time – there’s plenty of time for that later. In summary, stay hungry and stay open.

Rob Kirby

Amazing things happen here