Is Studying Innovation At Bristol A Waste of Time? Or Will It Help Me Change The World?

The University of Bristol Innovation Centre was founded in 2016 on the belief that the next generation of innovators will need to bring together arts, science, engineering, humanities and enterprise to solve the world’s toughest problems.

The key theory I have learnt this year is the concept of ‘Design Thinking’. This is a tool that aims to develop new ideas and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with initial levels of understanding. You can see the design thinking process below along with an essay explaining its value.

Throughout the year I have been part of different multi-disciplinary teams that have been applying the process of design thinking to three separate briefs. In this blog I will show you my teams output for these briefs and will finish with whether I think this past year of innovation has been useful.

Brief 1: Reduce the Consumption of Single-use Plastics by Bristol University First Year Students

There is no single solution that will move us into a circular economy, instead there will need to be many changes. Single-use products like plastic straws, water bottles, and coffee cups are the most obvious examples of our disposable culture but these are already being looked at extensively by people all over the world. Therefore, our team decided to tackle plastic issues that are not already in the mainstream public consciousness.

Over 10 Billion Plastic Pens Are Sent To Landfills Every Year.

Plastic pens were one of the many things not being recycled but also nothing was being done to change that. To tackle this issue we aimed to develop a solution that would get people to consume less and re-use more.

After brainstorming and coming up with many ideas we converged on one – ReScribe. We would develop a pen made from 100% recycled plastics, with ink that could possilby be extracted from old car tyres or carbon emissions. This pen can be refilled by a small machine that we would put across the university, from lecture theatres to libraries. This would reduce consumption of new pens and thus cut down not just plastic waste but also carbon footprint.

Next to machine would be a pen deposit scheme that would allow us to collect old pens and dispose of them responsibly – perhaps turning them into new ReScribe pens.

Currently we are drowning in plastic. Let’s not let this happen. Let’s put waste to work.

Brief 2: Encouraging Serendipitous Connections In The New Bristol University Library

A new university library is being planned and the task was how we might encourage serendipitous interactions between students.

Below is a poster I made explaining our final idea.

Brief 3: Develop a Citizen Science Based Project Within One of Bristol’s Nature Reserves

Citizen science is where members of the general public get involved with some aspect of the scientific process. We aimed to find out how ordinary people using Troopers Hill Nature reserve could generate valuable scientific data.

In an interview with one of the nature reserves managers we discovered that the data on the sites plant species was over 20 years old, with the last survey conducted in 1999. Therefore, the focus of our ideation was on how we could get citizens to collect this data instead. We decided the best way to do this would be a game.

Once the app has been downloaded the user can go around troopers hill and scan any plants they can find. Once the plant has been scanned, open source software identifies what plant it is and this unlocks a new card that the player can use in a top trumps type battle. Players will run around troopers hill trying to scan as many plants as they can to build up their deck and display them in their virtual garden.

At any time, players can challenge one another and battle their friends. When this happens, a random card is drawn from both decks, and the attacker will choose a category that he thinks will have a higher score than the other player. e.g. The attacker draws a Nettle so he chooses Poison Level 8, which beats the defender’s Daisy, which has Poison Level 0. The winner gets to keep the other player’s card. Each plays 5 rounds being the attacker and the defender, and whoever wins overall improves their ranking against their friend group. The winner will also receive SunCoins which can be used to purchase items to customise their virtual gardens.

The game would provide scientists and conservationists with a real-time map of the different plant species at Troopers Hill, allowing them to make more informed management decisions.

In the future, we could expand this project to include the tracking of insects and even take it national to track plant and animal species across the UK. This could help increase our understanding of the effects that climate change and other forces are having on our planet.

Our team created a blog detailing our week by week journey to our final idea. Click Here To Check It Out.



At times studying Design Thinking can feel intangible compared with other knowledge and skills. However, it is only from applying it in action this past year where I have really seen its value.

By working in teams to develop solutions for real-world challenges you practise many different technical, business and interpersonal skills that cannot be taught out of a textbook.

So was this past year of innovation a total waste of time or will it help me change the world? Only time will tell…

What Is The Value Of Design Thinking?
Monitering Air Pollution Using Citizen Science
Is 3D Printing Revolutionary or Niche?
City Intervention Idea – Bristol’s Golden Record


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