PhD Programme

The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design has launched its own Doctoral study pathway, in partnership with other RCA academic programmes.

Our approach to design research at PhD level is inclusive and interdisciplinary. We are particularly interested in developing novel design methodologies and studies that explore and enhance the relationship between designers and people. Candidates are jointly attached to the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and one other RCA programme.

Doctoral Study is organised in the centre’s three research labs: Age & Ability, Healthcare and Work & City.

Latest call for PhD Opportunities in Design Research at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design

Applications are invited for PhD candidates in the field of Design Research at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art.

The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design is a unique and world-class centre. It is a leader in the development of both new design methods and in the creation of the knowledge to optimise design for people. We are looking to recruit doctoral level students to join our existing team of outstanding researchers. Research opportunities for prospective PhD students currently exist in the following topic areas:

  • Healthcare design, in particular for:
    a) new, point of care, diagnostic devices 
    b) the generation of a methodological and evidence base for the design of ‘frugal’ healthcare innovations.
  • Designing for an ageing society, specifically in the community, the workplace and transport.
  • Developing methods to address digital exclusion.
Funding in the form of scholarships or grants may be available for the most highly qualified students. Funding schemes are highly competitive and the successful applicant is likely to have a 1st or a 2.1 class degree or equivalent. Applications are also welcome from candidates who have access to alternative sources of funding.

Preliminary enquiries: to be accompanied by a CV and a brief summary of research interests and sent by Email to the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design 

Official applications: applicants should apply to the RCA here:

The RCA values diversity and is committed to equality of opportunity

Applying to study

PhD students are attached to each of these labs and potential applicants for 2015/16 are advised to study the published agenda and design outputs of our three research labs to align proposals with the interests of the centre.

We invite applications from candidates in all design disciplines and encourage proposals that fall within the focus of our centre's lab structure.

For Doctoral research, your project should demonstrate innovation as well as critical awareness and theorised practice; critically, it must directly engage with people. Your proposal should show awareness of related work in your area of study, and you should discuss the methods by which you will carry out and evaluate your project.

Applicants must normally have obtained a good relevant postgraduate degree or an equivalent qualification. Exceptionally, other qualifications may be approved, providing that the RCA's Academic Board for Concessions and Discipline (ABCD) is satisfied that the applicant has the ability to pursue the programme of research successfully.

Current PhD candidates

Jointly with RCA Innovation Design Engineering:

Katie Gaudion:  
A Designer’s Approach: Exploring how Autistic Adults with Learning Disabilities Experience their Home Environment
Autistic adults with limited speech and additional learning disabilities are people whose perceptions and interactions with their environment are unique, but whose experiences are under-explored in design research. This PhD by Practice investigates how people with autism experience their home environment through collaboration with the autism charity Kingwood Trust, which gave the designer extensive access to a community of autistic adults that it supports. (Completed June 2015) 

Supported by The Kingwood Trust 

Jointly with RCA Architecture 

Imogen Privett: Workspace Interrupted 
Organisations are now operating within an increasingly networked global economy, with fundamental implications both for the way we work and the spaces that we occupy while doing so. With workspace design all too often governed by 'fad, fashion and faith', this study takes a critical look at emerging workspace typologies, seeking to analyse and understand the new environments needed to support radically transforming business practices. This PhD by Practice takes an ethnographic methodological approach and is centred on a new co-working space, the Birmingham Hub.
Supported by Haworth

Jointly with RCA Information Experience Design:

Ben Dalton
Demons and Sock Puppets: Metaphors of Personal Identity for Pseudonymity in Digital Public Spaces
Ben’s thesis argues that anonymous pseudonymity has a long and rich history within culture and society, and that digital resources and identity governance are tending to strip away its potential. Through interviews and projects, the research seeks to inform strategies to design for digital pseudonymity.

John FassStart Making Sense: Digital Archives and Narrative
John Fass is exploring the ways people understand digital experiences. Using the examples of browser history, social networks and email, this practice-led PhD allows for creative physical expressions of mental models. John’s research consists of public-facing, collaborative project work.

Susannah HaslamCultural Circulation: Towards producing knowledge that is unbound
Susannah is exploring the idea of knowledge mobilities in a context of contemporary art theory, government policy and rhetoric around knowledge exchange, and the participatory aspect of digital humanities. The Creative Exchange itself is a case study focus for her research.

Benjamin KoslowskiStaging Privacy
Ben’s PhD explores architectural representation as a tool to better understand individual privacy in digital space. He uses the theatre and its related notions of actors and audiences to unpick the shifting qualities of interaction, and to help individuals better understand their own position with this.

Veronica RannerKnowledge Exchange in Bio-Digital Public Space
Veronica is researching the expanding domain of the bio-digital, a converging knowledge space where digital and computational thinking meet biological matter. Her doctoral work couples speculative biomaterial strategies with information experience through design research.  

Jimmy TideyPhysical Space and Digital Communities
Jimmy’s study looks at how the ‘digital footprint’ of communities, generated through locally oriented digital public spaces (blogs, forums, Tweets and Facebook pages) can be used to inform local policy, measure outcomes and, importantly, improve communication among different social groups. 

Supported by the AHRC as part of The Creative Exchange project