GSA’s Product Design Degree Show: the future of tech for good, user experience and tangible design

17th July 2015 Posted by: Cat Cochrane

At Tech for Good we’ve posed ourselves the task of gauging the future health of tech, design and innovation for good in the short and long term. How better to start than by getting up close and personal with a group next generation designers and tech heads. We visited the recent Glasgow School of Art Product Design degree show in a search to discover where ‘...for good’ sits on the agenda of its newest crop of graduates.

From the view of guiding some of the UK’s best young designers through to graduation, Gordon Hush, Head of the Product Design Department at GSA talks about the changing face of design and technology. He says, “Traditionally, designers made things that looked nice. Today, designers are being asked to give form and materiality to novel moments of experience, to forge new possibilities of inter-connection between ourselves and our peers, connecting humanity and technology in ever more intimate and previously unimaginable ways.”

With the rise of user experience, human-centred approach and service design journey mapping, could the onus on design-training institutions to ring fence society’s consumeristic need and desire for tangible and objectified design be changing…replaced by radical, holistic-based innovation for good concepts?

Gordon says, “Designers don’t appear to be making things anymore, they are dabbling in behaviours. Sure there are things in there, but they serve as a medium for experience. Instead these designers are designing connections: between people and things, between physiology and data, between time space and experience. And these connections require to be rendered tangible, to be made available to the public, to a variety of publics.”

In clockwise order, a selection of this year's GSA Product Design Degree Show innovations
included new solutions to autism, exercising at night, cycling in safety and bowel cancer detection

Research and exploration, understanding and empathy, communication and co-creation in design ideas and technological prototypes were in abundance at last month’s GSA Product Design Degree Show. Each deserved appreciation while warranting scrutiny of their conceivability in equal measure, such was the range of iterative innovation on display. Game changing wheel reinvention was not the remit here. But the exploration of how and where design and tech can develop and enhance the lives of citizens, communities and society for good certainly was.

Of this year’s graduates, Gordon says, “The young designers [at GSA] are re-imaging what charitable giving could be, or Scotland’s relationship with the Arctic, and how we might be able to help stroke victims, how museums might work, what grieving for loved ones may become, how schoolchildren make choices about their futures.

“All these connections now enter the province of design as the creation of tangible experiences and conceivable futures to be assembled and presented for contemplation, for interrogation. Here the future is considered and represented. Today, this is design. Tomorrow, this could be our everyday.”

Covering a trio of design and tech for good themes, here are some examples of the GSA Product Design Graduates’ work and the exploration of each in the hands of potential future users.

Mental Health

Product Design graduate Sue Shen Chan co-created a concept that brings citizens closer to understanding and empathising with mental illnesses in the form of the Museum of Madness. Travelling around the UK raising awareness and combating stigmas, tech steps in as visitor’s heart rates are monitored during their time in the museum and an emotional map of their experience is produced at the end of the tour, giving insight into attitudes around a range of mental health issues and our own personal perceptions of sanity.

Sharing her view of how design and tech can combine for good, Sue says, “Modern design does not always translate into minimalism, contemporary design does not necessarily forsake tradition and the use of technology does not automatically abandon people and their senses. In fact, these elements bring new meaning to innate objects surrounding these relationships.”

Read more about Sue’s shared work on the Museum of Madness concept here;

Citizen Data Protection Awareness

Bachelor of Design Amber Jones co-designed The Other You, a prototype of a personalised space where people can learn the realities of how their digital data is being collated and what changes can be made to better protect themselves from personal information falling into the darker spaces of our online world.

Talking about her motivation around designing for good, Amber says, “For me, design is about creating an experience that is beneficial to both its users and the social context it will be applied within. My design process focuses on the needs, wants, rituals and behaviours of people to create the most appropriate outcome.”

Read more about Amber’s co-designed The Other You concept here:


Introducing an online model which helps to foster the relationship between curriculum models and students in secondary schools in Scotland, Bachelor of Design, Stewart Gairn’s creation My Way is a social media platform which assists teachers and parents to source and encourage the academic and social capacity of the individual.

Taking inspiration from past projects and experiences, Stewart says, “Being fully invested in, and motivated by, human-centred design processes, I have learned not only to translate human needs, wants and behaviours into objects, but also into services and designed experiences with the intention of improving our lives.

Read more about Stewart’s self-initiated concept My Way here:


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