RetailEXPO Student Design Awards judging starts online

Judging for this year's Retail Expo Student Design Awards is taking place this month, to show support for emerging design talent in the sector event though Retail Expo has had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time, judging will take place via video link with each judge seeing digital versions of the entries. The judging panel will be chaired by design writer and consultant Lynda Relph-Knight, who has coordinated the Student Design Awards since their inception in 2015.

The scheme sees students from six colleges tackle briefs from major retailers and brands. This year, students from Glasgow School of Art and the University of Huddersfield have been set a brief by outdoors brand Berghaus; Manchester Metropolitan University and University for the Creative Arts Farnham have worked on a brief from Pets at Home; and Middlesex University and Ravensbourne University have been served a brief by Pizza Express.

Each college is also assigned a design industry mentor, who helps students to interpret and tackle the briefs in a way that reflects the substantial challenges they have been set. Mentors this year have senior leaders at Fitch, Innovare Design, 20:20, Graven Images, and YourStudio, along with independent designer Helen Shelley.

“This year’s briefs were all rooted in the realities retailers currently face and the students have really risen to the challenge,” says Lynda Relph-Knight. “Everyone involved - brief-setters, colleges and mentors - has worked incredibly hard to get the students to this point. I have to also applaud the judges who are determined to give it their best despite the changes and constraints we face in light of Coronavirus.”

As in previous years, the judging panel consists of retailers and design experts. Previous brief setter The Body Shop is represented by global store design and VM director Jo Percival and global store design manager Amy Duke, and Specsavers by future store designer Tesh Chauhan.

Gensler principal Jon Tollit, Dalziel & Pow design project leader Anna Sanders, Quinine founder Ian Johnston, AHMH architect Franceso Draisci and independent interaction designer Ross Phillips are all bringing their experience and expertise to the judging panel too.

The Retail Expo Student Design Awards has developed a reputation for setting tough and realistic challenges that give many students their first taste of a real commercial brief. They have helped to identify a number of talented young designers, who have already gone on to make a mark in the industry.

As a result, the scheme is well-supported by the retail sector. Briefs for the 2019 competition were set by Costa Coffee, The Body Shop, and the Co-Op. Kingfisher, KFC, Red or Dead, John Lewis, Ted Baker, Pentland Brands, Oasis, Browns Fashion, and Topshop are among the companies that have all set challenging briefs for students in past years.

Winning students are typically offered paid internships at both the retailer that set their brief and the design agency that acted as mentor – though on several occasions they have been unable to take part in these as they have already accepted paid, full-time roles be the time they can be scheduled.