Collaborating with RCA Design Students

“code + food = ?”

As part of Tesco Labs’ continued outreach to academic and research institutions we have been excited to partner recently with the Design Products faculty of the London Royal College of Art.   During winter 2016 and spring 2017 we exchanged visits and feedback with 13 MA students as they embarked on tackling the brief: ‘code + food = ?’

Senior Tutor at the RCA Dr Robert Phillips created the initial brief below and contacted Tesco to ask if we would help to support.

‘Exploring the combination of food & technology

Hunger remains a challenge for the 795 million people worldwide who still do not have adequate access to safe, nutritious food in their communities, while global populations are expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Our relationship with food in the UK is becoming costly, distant and unsustainable, our consumption reliant on international producers. In a nation where we are experiencing increasing digital opportunities but also increasing evidence of class-based stratification and inequality, how can we inspire design students to not only think critically about food security issues, but also to build their own digital solutions aimed at provoking positive change? Furthermore, what are the design opportunities for innovative food and technology collaborations between industry and academia that can help solve core issues around food production, distribution, consumption, and security?

Design Products at the Royal College of Art, launched a project entitled Code + Food = ?, collaborating with a new set of industry partners and discussants, from Tescos, Microsoft and Growing Underground. We applied a three-stage process to learning, stressing a research-based approach to ensure design outputs were based on grounded evidence. The first stage, called SENSE/MAKE, focused on evidence gathering, and identification of design challenges to explore. This included field trips in collaboration with industry partners, from web grocery distribution centres to underground micro seed grow-ops. In stage two, MAKE/DEPLOY, students were prompted to experiment, deploy and intervene, iterating on their own design ideas with the help of hands-on workshops and 1:1 tutorials. The responses have ranged from: retail experiences through digital devices, health and wellbeing, reduction in food waste, using food to create music, rebalancing meat consumption and a more sustainable approach to rice farming. Food, its design, impact and implementation are key to our survival and emulates part of the Design Products approach of “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion…” (Thomas Paine 1780).’

During October 2016 Robert and his students visited Tesco Labs where they were immersed in the world of Tesco Technology, and walked through the key role role it plays in supporting the operation of the food retail business. The Tesco Labs team then completed a return trip to the RCA in January to support and feed back on the early project concepts being developed.

Tesco Labs introduced the students to some of the exciting new technology shaping the future of food retailing, including introductions to Tesco’s cutting edge developments within the area of APIs and Services through to the potential of Robotics and IoT.

Most recently Tesco was treated to an amazing day of final presentations from the students which took place on 21 March 2017 at the Tesco’s head office in Welwyn Garden City. It was an inspiring and illuminating event attended by lucky colleagues from across the Tesco business.

Tesco Labs are delighted to be part of this fresh new collaboration, and enthusiastic about the prospect of continuing and deepening the relationship with Robert and the Design Products team in the future.

(P.S: COMING SOON. Look out for videos of the students’ excellent final presentations.)