There were several strong contenders for this year's Western District Student Merit Award, but Gabriel Lam, of California College of the Arts in SF edged out some strong competition with a combination of research, social engagement, aesthetic sensitivity, and thoughtfulness you don't usually get in a student portfolio.
The standout from his Saturday presentation was Miranda, a device supplying "Security for Civil Rights." First impression of the project is a marriage of personal passion with elegant design sensibilities; the small unit is simply a cheap video recorder with some flash memory and a 3-axis accelerometer, ruggedized with a Santoprene boot and blessed with clean, utilitarian styling reminiscent of early Peter Saville. As a recorder and protector for political protesters, it's a solution whose appropriateness is immediately obvious.
Lam's real thoughtfulness comes out in subsequent slides though, in which some fairly convincing staged photos depict not just protesters protecting their rights with the unit, but police officers using them as well to stave off false charges of police brutality. It demonstrates a willingness to really delve into the complexities of a meaningful design problem that's all too rare. Beyond all of that, Lam's remaining portfolio (a bit of which is posted here) is broad and uniformly well-resolved -- we wish him the best at the upcoming National Conference.