Event: The 24hr Design Challenge

Students at Brunel put their creativity (and ability to stay awake) to the test for a marathon of design.

Written by Jack Baker and Trevyn Rayner-Canham

Since its formation in 2014, Made in Brunel’s 24 hour Design challenge has taken Brunel University by storm.  The challenge sees students from across all levels working on live briefs from design companies and industry professionals.  Previously, the 24 hour Challenge was divided into multiple segments, each lasting a few hours.  However this year, participants were required to engage in the challenge for the entire 24 hours.

Starting at 5pm on Wednesday 13th February and ending at 5pm the next day, participants excitedly began to arrive at the Design Exhibition Centre (DEC), where they would be spending the majority of the next 24 hours of their lives locked into challenging and complex design briefs. Companies such as Lego, Precipice Design and Cambridge Consultants laid on a wide and varied range of design tasks for our teams to get stuck in to. The question was: what could they come up with in just 24 hours?

The first task of the day saw our participants arrive at the venue and assemble into their prearranged teams. Following a welcome talk from the MiB team and an ice-breaker session over takeaway pizza, it was time for the first briefs to be handed out. The tension that filled the room was palpable. The cries and whoops of excitement from our teams as they opened their envelopes containing their briefs marked that the time had come for the talking to stop and the designing to start. At 17:30 on 13th February 2019, the 24hr design challenge at Brunel began.

Almost instantly the room was filled with enthusiastic chatter and conversation, as Brunel’s young designers got stuck into the tasks at hand. The design process and creative thinking are key cornerstones of the design courses here at Brunel, and they were both in full effect as the teams began to research and discuss the possible directions that their briefs could take.

Fuelled by iced coffee from Jimmy’s® and various snacks laid on by nakd®, the hours began to slowly tick by. Concepts and sketches began to materialise amongst the clutter of each team’s research, like spring flowers blossoming after the hard graft of winter. 21:00 rolled into view, swiftly followed by 22:00, and before you knew it our students had clocked up 6 hours of work. But it’s in this time that the real effort and dedication would pay off come 5 o’clock on Thursday afternoon. It was fair to say this thinking was shared amongst the teams, as come 01:00 there were groups still going strong.

Ideation sketches from the 24hr Design Challenge

The next day, everyone continued to plough through their given briefs.  The expected bleary-eyed faces and yawning jowls were nowhere to be seen.  Instead the participants all seemed to be miraculously awake; evidently these all-nighter veterans are well versed in the art of giving sleep the middle finger, no doubt through experience of an all-nighter before a crucial hand-in.

Jack Day, a placement year student, had been working with his teammates on a brief from Lego to create a game which will take children away from screens and back to playing with their parents and friends. 

“We wanted to make [the product] educational, so we are looking at teaching young children empathy.” explained Jack.

A trio of first year students, William, Ollie and Ross, were given a brief by the strategic design consultancy Precipice Design (The nature of the brief being non-disclosable).  They have relied on “copious amounts of beer and coffee” to get through the day; a wall of Stella Artois bottles grace the corner of the room where they are working.

“We have been here for 24 hours and haven’t slept since yesterday morning.  It has been challenging but also fun and really interesting.” said Ollie, who was encouraged to take part in the challenge by second students who had attended in the previous year. 

“It’s good to see the turnout.  We went from no idea to a finished idea, concept and prototype within 24 hours, whereas normally we may not have that chance.” stated Ross.

Students hard at work as the hours tick closer to the deadine

Final year student Mark Mitchell had been tasked with developing a luxury lighting solution using recycled materials; a brief given by the luminaire design company Nulty Bespoke.

“We’ve been looking at pouring melted rubber over a cold melted dome.  We want to get a lovely glazed appearance from the rubber dripping down and then solidifying.  We will then paint the inside of the solidified rubber gold in order to achieve a satellite dish effect.” said Mark of his design.

In a bid to replicate this construct in the Brunel University workshops, Mark spent hours heating up hot-melt adhesive over an acrylic dome.  The result from this painstaking work was an incredibly smooth and elegant luminaire.

The end of the night saw the teams presenting their work to their peers. The outcomes were highly diverse, ranging from exquisitely technical design solutions to fun and avant-garde prototypes.   After completing such a feat, a common celebratory tradition for university students may have been to head to the pub, but my guess is that the participants of the 24 hour Design Challenge headed to bed instead.