Review: New Designers 2021

One year on and design graduates have still faced a compromising and difficult year of study; with traditional live event degree shows once again affected by the pandemic. But with the same the show must go on spirit as was shown last year, the organisers of the UK’s largest design graduate show, New Designers, have managed to offer a platform for graduating students to showcase their work and for prospective employers to seek out and discover the latest creative talent.

Vicky Huang

Whilst the event had to once again take place online, it has done so by presenting the work of 3,000 handpicked students from every corner of the UK as well as highlighting the overall offerings of each university via detailed University Profiles on the site. As ever, the jewel in the crown is the ND Awards; a long-standing and much sought after series of accolades awarded to the leading lights of the show. This year around half of those exhibiting applied for the awards, which require the students to respond to a set of design briefs that encompass design disciplines ranging from fashion to ceramics, textiles to furniture design and spatial design to jewellery. The bespoke briefs in question are devised in conjunction with the awards partners that include leading brands such as John Lewis & Partners, Liberty Fabrics and The Conran Shop.

Whilst it’s now been a very difficult couple of years for these graduates, the quality of work has remained very high; something event director Sally Bent feels underlines the adaptability and endeavor of the ND Class of 21:

“The talent we have seen from the ND Class of 21 has been incredible. After one of the hardest years, the graduates have shown immeasurable resilience and the ability to adapt under such testing circumstances. We are delighted to showcase over 3,000 designers through the online event and connect them with leading industry professionals to kick-start their career.

A huge thank you to our Universities, sponsors and partners for continuing to champion the future of design. We look forward to returning to the Business Design Centre in 2022.”

Along with the reliability of quality there are usually consistent themes that run through the work on show as a result of common interests and concerns that are prevalent in the current zeitgeist. The 2 most apparent this year are themes that we’ve noted on a number of occasions over the past couple of years, and indeed they may well represent this period in human history for many years to come; namely, a “going back to” and celebrating of nature (whilst also recognising our impact upon it) and a desire to create more sustainable practices across the board.

Vicky Huang

One of the most immediate visual references to nature comes from Duncan of Jordanstone Collage of Art & Design graduate Vicky Huang, whose Textile Design project Wandering Down the Garden Path – Joy of Print does exacting what it says on the tin. Inspired by walks in nature the print designs reference discoveries made at botanical gardens with hand-drawn depictions of native flora and fauna that won her The Clothworkers’ Company: Printed Textile Design Award.

Anna Burke

The garden setting is also of great significance to the winner of The John Lewis & Partners Award for Design and Innovation, Anna Burke. The Loughborough University Textiles Design & Innovation graduate created A Garden of One’s Own having realised the importance of outdoor spaces and gardens during the pandemic. With limited access to outdoor environments, the reopening of gardens like those managed by the National Trust, have offered solace and excitement to many, and the project celebrates the natural world with abstract print designs.

Al Bates

Curious while Calm by Edinburgh College of Art textiles graduate Al Bates also explores the influence that the outside world has upon us. Her research found that interactions with nature helps to significantly reduce anxiety; the significance of which has been felt more prominently than ever during the pandemic, and her richly textured designs aim to soothe through soft tactility and calming visual compositions. Utilising sustainably sourced materials in the creation of her high-end interiors collection sealed the deal in the awarding of the Colour in Design Award.

Daniel Embleton

For his project The Age of Discovery, Daniel Embleton has taken inspiration from “the best elements” of Victorian expeditions to tropical environments by creating vibrant interior patterns. The Northern School of Art graduate has developed bold colour palettes using rich Victorian shades as his starting point, which are used to bring his drawings of tropical plants to life. Whilst visually arresting, the designs also seek to highlight the beauty and fragility of such tropical environments and the biodiversity for which their existence makes possible. The use of etching, cyanotype and digital rendering allow for a great level of detail, something the Liberty team highlighted as a reason for the awarding of The Liberty Fabrics Studio Award.

Keeley Russell

Caitlin Stracey

Fractal Recharge by Keeley Russell of Birmingham City University takes the time-honoured visual representation of the fractal; a common shape found within nature, and transforms it using contemporary processes. Using laser etching technology she has discovered a technique of applying her design to natural wool fabric that creates a contrast of depths, something made all the more apparent by then dyeing the fabric in hues of blue, green and teal. Caitlin Stracey is another designer who utilises biophilic principles; using her designs to bring the outside in to create natural sanctuaries. Deep shades create the backdrop for more vibrant pops of colour, something that caught the eye of the judges of the Sanderson Design Group Award.

Matthew Sheperd

Samantha Tung

Whilst visual references hark back to nature, numerous projects seek to create ways of living that will benefit nature by reducing waste, something that was demonstrated by products designed for the future, more sustainable home. Matthew Shepherd’s EKO Kitchen is an entirely holistic example of this mind-set, with a stand-alone butchers block kitchen unit designed to de-clutter the kitchen whilst organising recycling. Packaging is the primary focus of Loughborough University graduate Samantha Tung’s project Reverse. Her clever containers do-away with the need for disposable food wrappers whilst conveniently keeping the consumer and supplier connected, as the judges explain:

“Combining smart, universal containers with a dedicated delivery vehicle we were impressed by Samantha’s strong thinking and well-presented story of her sustainable vision, for a package-free grocery delivery DCA PACKAGING FUTURES AWARD service.”

As well as the student work, the show also offered talks and presentation with keynote speeches in the online awards ceremony delivered by ceramic artist, Kate Malone, and WeTransfer’s Creative Director, Nessim Higson.

You can watch the ND AWARDS Ceremony and discover the award winning talent of the ND Class of 21 here.


About Jim Biddulph

Jim Biddulph is a freelance materials, colour and interior specialist with over a decade of experience working with architects and interior designers. Communicating ideas about design through creative copy has always been at the core of his work, something he has shared with Design Insider for a number of years.
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