Having wrapped up proceedings for the 12th annual New Design Britain (NDB) awards at [the now defunct] May Design Series, programme curator Allie Little explains why bridging the divide between the design and manufacturing communities is more important than ever …

This year’s NDB awards were bigger than ever. During May Design Series, 24 judges descended on London’s ExCel to assess the merits of 30 shortlisted products across six categories. The winners of the various product categories will receive a free stand to exhibit their product at next year’s show as part of the Designer Makers area, while the leading lights from the Interior Design and Architecture categories will be invited to assist with that show’s design.

With opportunities for design graduates to take their first steps into the industry few and far between, Furniture News turned to Allie Little to offer her perspectives on the programme and its place in the wider industry …

How did you come to curate the NDB awards programme?

After studying both at undergraduate and Masters degree levels, the education sector is an area I have always felt very passionate about. Having only finished my studies a few years ago, I can vividly recall the challenges I faced when leaving the education system and trying to make my way into full-time employment.

Although I studied journalism, and later PR, the challenges faced by design students are still very similar when leaving university, and I can fully empathise with their frustrations. So when the opportunity came to head up NDB after working for UBM’s Built Environment portfolio for four years, naturally I jumped at the chance to spearhead the programme and make plans to really take the awards forwards.

“There is a travesty occurring right under the industry’s nose, with talented designers leaving education and being thrust into the unknown, many with little or no knowledge of business, or how to take those vital first steps into the industry”

What makes NDB unique?

With the design industry crying out for the new – fresh new faces and innovative new products – now should be the ideal time for design graduates to really shine. And yet there is a definite disconnect between the student design community and the industry which they so crave to be a part of.

NDB is a unique programme centred entirely around design students and graduates. It aims to not only provide a stepping stone to bridge the gap between education and industry in the design sector, but also to bring the very latest design talent to the forefront of the industry, providing an ever-important source of innovative design for manufacturers, retailers and designers alike.

An important part of the NDB ethos is that we never pass any costs on to individual students or universities, meaning a completely fair system where each student who enters has an equal chance to join us on the stand at the awards.

How are the winning products taken to market?

By providing a physical platform at a trade event for 30 finalists to showcase their designs, the awards ensure that new design talent is seen by key retailers, interior designers, architects and manufacturers, leading to connections being made between the students and the industry.

This has led to some of the NDB alumni collaborating with our exhibitors and visitors on designs and projects – Alexander Mueller is a fantastic example of this, with his appearance as part of NDB leading directly to a full-time position working with Capsbury.

What new elements did the 12th edition introduce?

This year saw the introduction of two brand new categories to the awards, Architecture and Interior Design, as well as the relocation of the show to London as part of May Design Series. With this move came the opportunity for the NDB stand to be located right at the very front of the show – a big move for the awards, which shows a commitment to, and appreciation of, the importance of supporting design graduates on their journey into the industry, as well as recognising our visitors’ desire to see something new.

In addition to this, we had an alumni stand featuring a selection of past NDB finalists, which included its very own bar to give the students a place to network with key players in the industry.

We also launched our own Twitter account, had our awards bespoke designed and 3D printed, and gained sponsorship from the wonderful Achica, as well as partnerships with new supporters such as DeadGood. So, a very busy year for NDB!

What is the most difficult aspect of delivering the programme?

The 2015 awards saw some big changes to the organisation of the programme, with a record number of entries, 24 judges rather than eight, and the added pressure of being thrust into the limelight at the entrance to the show.

That being said, this year’s awards were the biggest and best yet, and all the hard work definitely pays off when we start to see our finalists benefiting from their activities at the show. The biggest challenge now is to ensure that both the industry and the universities are fully aware of – and on board with – NDB.

The awards were really well received this year, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for NDB as a programme.

What plans do you have to develop it?

We plan to transform NDB over the next 12 months. I can’t give away too much – let’s just say you’re going to be seeing a lot more of NDB! Personally, I’m looking forward to exploring other ways in which the programme can help both the industry and our education institutions to support and nurture the fantastic design talent being bred by our British universities.

What NDB accomplishment do you take most pride in?

This is a difficult one, but I would have to say that the biggest sense of pride comes when our finalists are able to find full-time employment within the industry as a direct result of being part of NDB. This is really the end game for us, and to see that the programme is working in this way and achieving its key aim gives us a great sense of accomplishment, and drives us forward as a team to evolve the programme and take it to even greater heights year on year.

How crucial do you feel NDB to be to the industry as a whole?

As an industry it is crucial that we acknowledge the ever-widening gap between our education establishments and the design market. There is a travesty occurring right under the industry’s nose, with talented designers leaving education and being thrust into the unknown, many with little or no knowledge of business, or how to take those vital first steps into the industry.

This is where NDB comes in, aiming to support both the students and universities through a series of industry-focused initiatives, enabling vital connections to be formed and, ultimately, to act as a stepping stone for graduates into the industry.

For students, making the huge step from studying design to producing commercially viable product can be a challenge. Talented young designers can sometimes lack the business acumen necessary to bring their designs to life, or may not have the confidence or support to attempt to go it alone. With the creative job market growing increasingly competitive, this is forming a serious barrier for graduates and the industry alike. We need to act now to put measures in place to begin to solve this issue, and NDB is a great starting point.

“There is a definite disconnect between the student design community and the industry which they so crave to be a part of”

What networking benefits does NDB present?

As soon as a graduate is chosen as a finalist for the awards, they become part of an ever-growing community of NDB alumni. The alumni programme aims to connect finalists with previous winners and entrants, ensuring support for life for each of our finalists now, and in years to come.

Some of the NDB winners have gone on to have their products stocked by market-leading retailers such as Heal’s, John Lewis and Habitat, and have worked with design studios such as DeadGood and Capsbury on design projects, showing how far a little help really can go in an increasingly competitive market for young design talent.

In light of the cancellation of the May Design Series event, Furniture News will reveal details of the future of the NDB awards programme as soon as they are available.