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Double award for product designers at major London show

Toby Whelan (centre) with Simon Wiscombe (right), Senior Concept Designer at LEGO’s Creative Play Lab, and James Norwood (left), Senior Design Manager at LEGO Future Lab.

Toby Whelan demonstrates his MAKA product for Autistic children

Conor Shimizu with his Not On The High Street plaque and his Artemis aquarium/terrarium

Two Product Design students from the University of Sussex have won awards at the UK’s biggest show for new designers this week.

Toby Whelan won an award for ‘playful creativity’ from toy giant LEGO, and Conor Shimizu was chosen by online retailer Not On The High Street for a ‘product recognition’ prize.

Toby was chosen by LEGO ahead of 3,000 other students at the annual New Designers show, where the hottest new design talent mingles with industry leaders.

Senior designers at LEGO were impressed with Toby’s ‘MAKA’ concept - a make-your-own magnetic fidget toy for children with Autism.

Toby, who received £1,000 and a certificate, said: “A huge thank you to New Designers and LEGO for this amazing award, I am absolutely delighted.

“This is not only a great opportunity to kick-start my product MAKA but it is fantastic to be recognised for my product research too. I hope this is the start of a mutually fruitful relationship with LEGO.”

Head of Product Design at the University of Sussex, Diane Simpson-Little, added: “I am delighted for Toby - it is  great to see all his creativity and hard work being recognised by such a prestigious company like LEGO.

“They were particularly impressed by the depth of research, the communication, and the design process he undertook during the project - which is something that all our students excel at on the product design course at Sussex.”

Toby’s MAKA kit contains everything needed for a parent or teacher to connect with a child with Autism, creating a toy that will go on to act as a companion, aiding concentration and easing stress.

Toby said: “Kids are generally told to stop fidgeting, but we should fidget – we do it naturally. And lots of research has shown that children with Autism particularly benefit from toys that allow them to express themselves in this way.”

As well as being easy to pull apart and put back together – perfect for fidgeting - magnets introduce children to the world of science in a fun way. Toby says: “I’ve always been fascinated by magnets. They have this mysterious quality – they don’t behave exactly as we expect them to.”

Toby's fellow student Conor Shimizu also won an award, from online retailer Not On The High Street. Conor has developed a combined aquarium and terrarium – called Artemis - where users can keep fish as well as growing aquatic and non-aquatic plants. Conor’s design uses Japanese technology to paint growing surfaces with nutrients, encouraging plant growth.

Conor said  "I am delighted that I received the award and the fact that my idea followed their ethos and brand identity - I am looking forward to working with them in the near future and putting Artemis into production."

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By: James Hakner
Last updated: Friday, 8 July 2016