Alan Hong is very modest about his design work. The 13-year-old would like to be a designer but only if people like his designs, he says. "I'm willing to compromise to make something everyone likes."
However, how an office worker could not like the office he has designed is difficult to imagine. His workplace has elevators that slow down time (in case you want a rest on the way to your office), robots that bring lunch, and interior walls on which scenes are projected that change according to the occupants' moods; a relaxing forest scene for the stressed, for example. A chill-out room provides a snooker table and there are conveyor belts to take people round the offices.
The building is solar powered and materials recycled. Alan is the winner of the Office of the Future design competition organised by design consultancy Metro for key stage 3 design and technology students. About 45 London schools took part, and among the judges were Daniel Taylor, managing director of Metro, Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, and Ian Williams, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority DT adviser. Prizes included Nike vouchers, a computer and a printer.
Though the competition was presented to his class, Alan was the only one who completed the project in his school, working on it in break and at home, sometimes until midnight. Before putting pen to paper, he asked office workers what they wanted. His presentation was document-based: two portfolios crammed with designs, which the judges "understood from start to finish and we could see the final vision emerging", says Daniel Taylor.
Students were given a budget (pound;200,000) and a spec: the office was 4,000 square feet, open plan, and had to accommodate 30 people. The fact that the competition was related to real life - albeit in the future - attracted many teachers: "We aim to promote designing through real-life situations," says Rutlish School head of design and technology Marie Campbell.
John Reid, DT teacher at Hounslow Manor School, where the third prize winning team came from, says: "I'm trying to find more relevant competitions which show pupils a real life application of design and technology skills and gets them away for a while from KS3 constraints. The competition allowed them to let their imaginations run unhindered, but also to see how elements of the KS3 curriculum relate to the outside world."
The three teams that entered worked in the lunchtime and at an evening club. Research was mainly done on the internet - the Design Museum website proved particularly useful - and they also looked at interior design magazines. They used several different materials and processes including vacuum forming, acrylic finishing and basic woodwork when working on prototypes and the finished product. After the competition, the school used modelling software which allowed them to design a three-dimensional object on screen that can be spun around. "It brings them closer to the working environment," says John Reid.
The winning team made models of remote-controlled chairs for an office waiting room. "It's so that people don't get bored waiting. They can swivel the chairs round to talk; or they can watch something on a screen or play games," says Amrina Rana (12).
Second prize was won by a team of four girls from Fulham Cross Secondary School, who designed and made a model for an office for the fictional "Hot Flush Music Studios" based on the elements earth, wind, fire and water. A room for launches and parties had water pouring down the walls with fish in a pool under the floor and a chill-out room aimed to give the impression that staff were walking on air.
The competition was introduced to a class doing DT GCSE and everyone in the class did some work on it, says David Sibbald, head of DT, but "the winning students took it a little further than the others and were pulled off timetable for two or three days to complete it".
Daniel Taylor too emphasises the need for pupils to deal with change. Based in London, Metro's approach places a heavy emphasis on emerging technology:
"We wanted them to think about what it would be like when they enter the workforce, things are changing very fast technologically.
"Our future relies on inspiring people like the Alans of this world to stay on as designers. Creative skills produce 8 per cent of the GDP of the country compared to construction which is 4 per cent". It is encouraging to note, he says, that many of the pupils considered environmental factors such as recycled materials or solar power in their designs.
To motivate students, Taylor took a PowerPoint presentation to all the schools that entered. During this talk, he described how his company had put together a purpose-built interior for the team that did the animations for the film Shrek. "I tried to convey how designers work and how it can be fun." The company intends to run the competition nationally next year.
Tips for assessing a good competition
Ian Williams, QCA DT adviser, says:
* Does it offer a DT experience as a professional would know it?
* Does it offer opportunities for developing ideas plus opportunities for working with equipment and components to produce quality products?
* Are there opportunities for pupils to evaluate the processes they are using?
* Is it related to the design and technology programmes of study?
* Sustainable Design award Aimed at AS and A-level www.sda-uk.org
* Audi Innovation Awards
11 to 14-year-olds can choose from six challenges. This year they include design a device for playing music and design a craft that can travel at extreme speed. www.audiinnovation.org
* Young Engineers for Britain
For 11 to 18-year-olds who are challenged to invent a marketable product that solves a need. www.youngeng.org about_yeb.html
* F1 in schools
Secondary school competition challenges students to design and make CO2 powered model racing cars (see page 22). www.f1inschools.co.uk
* 4x4 Technology Challenge
Team challenge to design and build remotely controlled four-wheel-drive vehicle. Can be a GCSE project. www.4x4inschools.co.uk
* Taste of SuccessActive Kids get Cooking
Pupils aged nine to 16 complete a food brief.
* Young Foresight
Year 9 pupils work in teams to design products and services for the future.
* BA Crest
Nationally-recognised accreditation scheme in science and technology. For 11 to 19s. www.the-ba.netthe-baResourcesforLearningBACRESTAwards
* IKB - Engineering award
Asks 14 to 18-year-olds to think about problems that face the world today.