At the New Designers exhibition in July the Joseph Stannah Award was given to James Seal, a recent graduate in Product Design from Huddersfield University. James clinched the award – a £1000 cash prize – when the judging panel say his final year project, ‘Grace’, a new type of colostomy bag. He developed it after learning of the difficulties of living with a stoma from two members of his family.
As part of the award James was offered a six week paid work placement at Stannah headquarters in Andover with the Concept team. Working at Stannah was a great opportunity to see industrial design in practice after three years at Huddersfield. James has always had an interest in designing and creating things, encouraged by his practical father who had served in the Royal Engineers. Huddersfield University may not be the first university that comes to mind when you search for product design courses but he was attracted by the fact that the course was very industrially led. As he says “there’s no point designing a product if it can’t be manufactured” Most of his lecturers had worked in the field and many former students have gone on to big name companies like Dyson and Lego.
Before meeting the Stannah judging panel at the awards, James had heard of Stannah but hadn’t realised that the company had a rich heritage in more than just stairlifts. Although he had spent his final year working towards setting up his own company and bringing another medical product to market, James wasn’t sure what to expect when he started his Stannah work placement.
The Concepts team immediately put him at his ease. Giving him the opportunity to spend his first couple of days studying previous research that Stannah had conducted with an external company, James was able to develop an understanding of the perception of stairlifts in the wider public. Max Woodhams, Lead Product Designer was responsible for mentoring James during his placement. “We wanted James to think about how we could tackle people’s pre-conceptions about Stannah and stairlifts and he interpreted the research we had commissioned in an interesting and new way”. After brainstorming several ideas James settled on designing a new type of bespoke walking stick. “It’s rare to have such a short timescale for a project” commented Max “but James’ enthusiasm and the nature of the placement drove us to work in a particularly agile way”.
James spent a large portion of his time learning a 3D CAD program called CREO, an industry standard tool. Together with the use of clay, cardboard modelling and rapid prototyping techniques, he was able to create many prototypes. The culmination of his placement saw him presenting the walking stick and an associated website to a senior management panel including Jon Stannah, Group Managing Director and Ross Pascoe, Chief Technical Officer for Stairlifts and Platform Lifts.
James enjoyed the benefit of the wealth of experience of the whole Concepts team “I’ve learnt so much; non-academic things we could never have learnt at university, just by being able to talk freely with everyone”.
Following his placement James is hoping to be able to set up his own design business at some point, product design for him will always hold lots of possibilities. His advice for anyone studying or starting out in their career? “always ask the stupid questions, you’ll learn so much”
It’s clear James has a bright future ahead of him and we will watch his career progress with interest.