Product Designer Nathan Hulman on Upcycling and Sustainable design

Nathan Hulman is an upcoming and talented product designer, specializing in upcycling and working with found materials, which he brings back to life by giving them a new purpose.

Nathan graduated from Nottingham Trent University, having studied a BA in Product Design and has been working as a product designer since. Nathan explains, whilst he always loved fixing and creating things, deciding his career path was a difficult choice.

“I’ve always been interested in creating new things and solving problems but took a while in deciding what career I wanted to go down. Having taken applied science, geography and product design as my A levels, I ended up doing an art and design foundation course before deciding on going to university to study product design full time. Since then I’ve helped Constellations, a furniture and interior design company, come up with new ideas for their range of storage products through a graduate internship.”

Bits ’n’ Bulbs Was Nathan’s final project for his foundation course. The idea behind this project was repurposing and upcycling to create usable lights. Upcycling is a way to transform old things in a way that turns them into something new without breaking the product down into its raw materials. Instead, upcycling gives new life to an old object, and this is exactly what Nathan achieved with his Bits and Bulbs project.

Bits ‘n’ Bulbs
Bits ‘n’ Bulbs
Bits ‘n’ Bulbs

In today’s society, more and more young designers are diverting their focus on to sustainable design and recycling/upcycling. Sustainable design is a new method of designing objects, the manufactured environment, and services to conform with the philosophies and values of social, economic, and ecological sustainability. The purpose of sustainable design is to reduce the harmful impact on the environment through clever and thoughtful design. Sustainable design must use renewable resources, impact the environment minimally, and connect people with the environment.

Bits ‘n’ Bulbs was Nathans first upcycling project so he says he had difficulty adjusting to the organic way of working and not having entire control over the finished product.

“I already had the components to use and hadn’t much control over what the finished product would look like, so it was a fun play on “form follows function” since it was reversed.”

Bits ‘n’ Bulbs
Bits ‘n’ Bulbs
Bits ‘n’ Bulbs

Nathan adds the challenge was balancing the aesthetics of the components in a way that works functionally and had to overcome challenges to ensure the finish product not only looks good but is fully functioning.

“One of the lamps uses a kettle as the lampshade which was too heavy for the base, so I used the wire from the bulb to anchor it in down which actually worked well aesthetically. I learned to be a bit looser in my design projects and see where any mistakes or unintended outcomes take the project.”

Bits ‘n’ Bulbs inspired Nathan to continue his investigation in to Upcycling when he got to university and kept on working loosely without restricting himself. He explains how embracing mistakes can work in your favor, how you can capitalize on them.

 “I was prototyping a desk lamp using foam, and halfway through I completely changed the design. A dent in the foam looked as if it could be a nice visual cue that the base is touch activated, and the loose stalk gave me an idea for how the lamp could be adjusted. In the end it turned out much better than I expected, and I found the unintended outcomes in finding a solution that don’t seem ideal can actually really help with coming up with new ideas.” 

Touch Lamp Prototype
Touch Lamp
Touch Lamp
Touch Lamp
Touch Lamp

You can keep up to date with Nathans work at


Student wins international award for sustainable toy design

A product design student from De Montfort University has scooped an international award for her sustainable toy design.

Elly Skelton designed a durable scooter, called ‘1 Toy for Life’, which is plastic-free and suitable for children from the age of two all the way to age 12. The toy was initially designed for the RSA Student design awards.  The RSA Student Design Awards is a global curriculum and annual competition for higher education students and recent graduates run by the RSA. Each year the Awards challenge emerging designers to tackle a range of design briefs focused on pressing social, environmental and economic issues.

Elly’s design is a result of the ‘Fair Play’ brief set by the RSA, which focuses on creating a sustainable toy. Given the finite resources of the planet and increasing rates of consumption by a growing population, current levels of waste are unsustainable. Just ‘using less’ and recycling is not enough. Designers need to completely rethink the manufacture and life cycle of products and their components, and design them in a way that eliminates waste. Sustainability is becoming a huge issue in todays society and young designers are having to learn how to adapt and develop their work in order to ensure its sustainability.

Elly’s design can be adapted as the user grows, so it can last for their entire childhood. She was inspired to create a scooter by her childhood memories of playing on scooters with her brother. The third year Leicester university student won £2,000 by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce after winning the Student Design award.


Elly from Milton Keynes said: “It’s amazing to have won the award. It is such an honour to be nominated and it was a great experience to go down to London to the RSA headquarters and present my design.” The toy is made from aluminium, which complied with Elly’s design brief.

She said: “I started looking into materials I could use for the circular economy and I thought of aluminium because it is so recyclable, 75% of aluminium ever created is still in use today, which is amazing.

“For both of my projects this year I have wanted to move away from plastics.

Elly aims to use her skills and experience in design to focus on sustainability and implements it in to other projects she’s working on. “My other major project is about eradicating plastic bags and hangers from retail stores. It all feeds into the anti-plastics sentiment.”

The  21-year-old was named as one of three winners in her category.

All the winners have been invited to an award ceremony in London on 27 June.


Copyright: De Montfort University, Leicester