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BA Graphic Design Communication: Sustainable toys that you never outgrow

Pale pink octopus like design
Pale pink octopus like design

Written by
Mica Lawrence
Published date
16 July 2020

We spoke to Conor Harmsworth, third year BA Graphic Design Communication student, about his UAL Graduate Showcase submission.


As the UK locked down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Conor counted himself very lucky to create his own studio outside in the sunshine on a large table a local pub was throwing away. His work style involves considered critical design which allows him to ask lots of questions and communicate ideas using inanimate objects.

Upturned green toy car against white wall

How have you adapted your practice in recent months?

I have been learning more digital skills, including coding and 3D modelling. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to experiment but with different materials, using whatever resources I have lying around the house I make prototypes and models.

Have these circumstances resulted in any unexpected opportunities, for example, a collaboration or a change in your usual practice and materials you use?

I’ve been lucky to collaborate with a good friend to make some two-metres-apart stickers used for floor and shop windows. We were commissioned by a client who saw some of our previous work online. I believe they are currently being manufactured and will be out shortly.

Stylised pale blue toy dinosaur

Tell us more about your Graduate Showcase submission.

My final project is called SomeThings. The work explores toys and the speed in which they often get disregarded. People wear out objects such as toys quickly. I believe that things such as toys shouldn’t get outgrown but rather grown into. What I mean by that is giving something more than one function can potentially increase the lifespan of that object.

We do love toys but just stuff them in the back of our cupboards after we get bored of them for serving little function. I designed a collection of objects that adapt with the user. Maybe it's a toy car at first then it can be a doorstop later its life, making it a more sustainable object. SomeThings adapts with the user as all these objects have unresolved functions.

What were the inspirations/idea behind it?

SomeThings questions the relationship between function and feelings. Sometimes what we perceive to be functional can be dysfunctional and vice versa. This is what led me to explore the subject of the purpose of objects and the temporary nature of design.

What processes and materials have you used?

I usually develop my work through the method of Praxis. I then create prototypes with loads of random materials, test, fail and then do it again until something good happens. From there I take those ideas and refine them until I am happy with the work.
Table displaying Conor's toys and some fruit

What career paths are you considering once graduating?

My aim is to work in the field of innovative and critical design. I really love the work of Dunne and Raby. I’m currently working on a program called Modual which is a cross-displinary workshop that focuses on making the world a better place. This is part-time as the course itself is very intensive, however extremely rewarding. I have no long-term plans at the moment, however I am in search of internships. I love trying new things so at the moment I am keeping my options open. If anyone sees this and likes my work please don't hesitate to contact me.

Room with white walls and Conor's toys

Do you have any tips for students – what has helped you remain positive and kept you creating during these unusual times?

My best advice is to remain patient. If I don’t feel like working, I take myself away and do another task, such as reading a book. When you do something else it still helps with your work indirectly. Sometimes I am better at working when I’m not even trying to do the work.

Do you have any advice for students considering studying BA Graphic Design Communication at Chelsea?

Realise that you’re embarking on a learning journey, where you will make mistakes which will teach you new things. Many things you may not think have any relevance to Graphic Design Communication are linked in many ways. Studying this course is the best opportunity to make and experiment in a safe, supportive learning environment.