KI Award Winners 2020

The winners of the 5th annual KI Award have been announced, with prizes going to students from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London for projects that offer creative solutions to improve future working or learning experiences

The winners of the fifth annual KI Award have just been announced. Awarded by furniture manufacturing group KI, the competition is open to final year MA students from the Royal College of Art (RCA)'s Design Products course, and the RCA/Imperial College London's Innovation Design Engineering. In line with KI's focus on improving working and learning environments, the award seeks to reward projects that offer the next generation of innovation in this area, whether relating to functionality, durability, sustainability or enhanced user experience. 

Jonathan Hindle, group managing director – EMEA, KI commented: 'We are delighted to directly support the creative talent on which the future of our industry depends. The UK furniture industry draws much of its competitive advantage from its investment in design, materials and production innovation. By encouraging students to seek careers in our industry, we are laying the foundations for a more prosperous, export- and investment-driven future led by a generation of forward-looking, entrepreneurial individuals.'

The award is part of KI's KICKSTART initiative, one of a number of sponsored programmes from the company created to support student talent. Awarded in the run up to the colleges' graduation shows – being held digitally this year due to Covid-19 restrictions – the cash prizes aim to help the recipients achieve better models and prototypes for their final projects. 

Four prizes were awarded to the students from the RCA/Imperial Innovation Design Engineering course, with Harry Barber and Kevin Chiam announced as joint winners for their respective projects, 'Sycamore' and 'Echo'; while Yuning Chan, with 'Mobius' and Yishan Qin with 'Sit Next To Nature' were both awarded runner up. 

From the RCA's Design Products course there were two joint winners: Anna Heck with 'Rapid Chair, and 'Unio' by Maria Ramon Vazquez; two runners-up: Carolina Hermenegildo with 'Have a seat', and FLOW by Freddie Keen, while a team of Andreas Kamolz and Andrew Scott were highly commended for 'SE17 Chair.'

The winners and a summary of their projects are below:

Royal College of Art/Imperial College London – Innovation Design Engineering

JOINT WINNER: Echo, by Kevin Chiam (main image)

99 red balloons for safer working and learning environments

Echo is a modular alarm and wayfinding system which facilitates safer, more effective evacuation of buildings in an emergency. Rather than panic, most deaths in building fires are a result of hesitation; people often dismiss emergency messages as false alarms. Acting as a secondary warning, Echo is manually activated upon confirmation of danger. Its rapidly inflating red balloon threatens to pop, inciting tension and discomfort which triggers occupants to evacuate promptly. Echo can have a positive effect beyond emergencies - it offers a subliminal reassurance of safety at all times, which has a profound effect on our psychology. By reducing anxiety and stress levels, it allows our minds to be better focused on other activities.

JOINT WINNER: Sycamore, by Harry Barber

Infinite possibilities with portable, renewable power

Sycamore is a portable wind power harvester that has been designed as a replacement for diesel generators. It generates energy using an inflatable kite that flies crosswind in a figure of eight pattern 100m above a base on the ground and the whole system can be packed down into a small box for transportation. By providing an alternative to fossil fuel-dependent generators, solar panels and wind turbines, Sycamore opens up a world of sustainable possibilities for distributed working, learning and living, even in remote locations.

RUNNER UP: Mobius, by Yuning Chan

Adaptive seating for agile spaces


Mobius is a chair that can adapt to the user’s form, embracing the natural flexibility and dynamics of human body. Constructed with robust steel, its fluent flexibility provides a delicate balance between friction, gravity and tension. Its fluent movement and auto locking in multiple positions mediates a natural and intuitive interaction, instead of the rather static interaction we have with most of our furniture. By supporting a ‘sit-as-you-like’ technique, Mobius can provide flexible seating for agile working and learning spaces.

RUNNER UP: Sit Next To Nature, by Yishan Qin

Create dynamic and diffuse light patterns from an invisible forest

Mimicking the effect of sitting in nature by using shadows, this chair brings dynamic and diffuse light patterns into a space - an important and often overlooked principle of biophilic design. According to research, perceptions of wellbeing can increase by up to 15% in spaces that incorporate natural elements. This is often done with the introduction of plants, which can be costly to both install and maintain. The fabric element of these chairs shifts with the user’s movements, causing delicate changes of the shadows created akin to a gentle breeze through an invisible forest.


Royal College of Art – Design Products

JOINT FIRST PRIZE: Rapid Chair, by Anna Heck

Pull up a chair, get comfortable – let’s talk

Rapid Chair is an affordable and intelligent folding seating solution designed to meet the needs of contemporary spaces, as well as optimised distribution models. Flexible, multipurpose spaces within offices or educational institutions require space-efficient seating that can be moved around and stored easily. Designed to be economical, flat-packed and mass-produced, Rapid Chair is a high quality, versatile and sustainable solution that provides a level of comfort and stability often compromised in folding chairs. By supporting both comfort and user control, whether in formal or informal contexts, the chair can help transform working and learning spaces that nurture creativity.

JOINT FIRST PRIZE: Unio, by Maria Ramon Vazquez

A toolkit for space personalisation

Unio is a furniture system formed of three groups of components that allows users to adapt and personalise their environments. The "main bodies" – largely static pieces of furniture which are rarely moved, such as tables or storage units, are enhanced with dynamic components such as lamps, pots and pinboards. These two units are brought together with "unions" which enable the user to easily clip on and move components, adding or modifying functionalities of the "main bodies". Supporting personalisation and user control has been shown to have a positive effect on engagement, sense of place and mental wellbeing. By supporting personal expression in a systemised way, Unio converts otherwise rigid objects around us in a playful, engaging and interactive way.  Instagram: @maria.rmvz

RUNNER UP: Have a seat, by Carolina Hermenegildo

The making of a maker-space - for the students, by the students

An open-source design for school furniture, 'Have a Seat' aims to facilitate local production for areas where local wood production & recycling facilities are available. This achieves multiple benefits – it empowers local production, enhances distribution efficiencies, improves comfort and performance within learning environments, and could also nurture modern project-based learning models. Local production and agency to invest in furniture is particularly beneficial in contexts where the alternative is a lack of seating in schools – for example rural Cameroon or Uganda. Utilising local plywood or timber and basic tools, this furniture can be flat-packed, assembled easily, and even dimensionally adjusted to suit students of all ages – making a direct, positive impact on learning outcomes.

RUNNER UP: FLOW, by Freddie Keen

Balancing privacy and isolation in agile spaces

FLOW provides separation, sound absorption and privacy without isolation. Created with soft textures and neutral tones, it adds to a gentler, lighter, and more uplifting space. Its natural materials and surfaces of ash and calico are customisable with an outer fabric that can be changed, removed, and easily cleaned. As working and learning environments look to facilitate more user control over space configuration, FLOW can be an intuitive and simple way to define spaces and reduce acoustic and visual distractions. An alternative to fixed or cumbersome space division such as booths and meeting rooms, it enhances acoustic management with a simple system of interlinking baffles. Easy to modify and move around, they can assist with flow and movement through a space in a dynamic way.

HIGHLY COMMENDED: SE17 Chair, by Andreas Kamolz & Andrew Scott

Trash to treasure - exploring alternative ways of production and consumption

There is an inherent value in what would often be considered waste. The SE17 Chair is the result of a process that utilises discarded materials to both create a useful object, and the tools with which to make it. Pallets from a nearby market and a discarded clothes rack were used to create a lathe. This lathe in turn was used to transform some downed green wood from a local park into a mortise and tenon chair frame. Plastic bags also discarded at the market were turned into rope, which was woven together to create a seat. This process demonstrates not just an aspect of a circular economy but is also an excellent project-based learning format. By instilling students with traditional craft techniques, innovative thinking, and sustainable practices, it could help them appreciate the bountiful material landscape all around them.
Andrew Scott, Instagram: andrewpiercescott
Andreas Kamolz, Instagram: andreaskamolz /


About KI

KI’s furniture helps the world’s leading organisations create happy, healthy, high performing working and learning environments for their people. Bringing together good design, advanced engineering and sustainable resources, KI’s products are durable, flexible and offer excellent value.

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