Debbie is an internationally recognised designer and illustrator whose research is at the intersection of group analytical theory and social practice.
As an academic practitioner, Debbie has over thirty years experience in postgraduate education, teaching and research supervision qualifications, significant research-led knowledge exchange expertise, and notable achievement developing international partnerships to affect change.
Debbie has taught at the RCA since 1989 and been a tutor in Visual Communication since 2005. She led the Critical Forum programme in the School of Communication establishing a platform to discuss new thought in contemporary creative disciplines, their convergence and the impact this has in new contexts.
Between 2005 and 2020 Debbie established and led global partnerships with universities, government bodies and cultural organisations for Central Saint Martins, UAL. She worked intensively in Brazil curating projects, establishing residencies, and researching informal learning networks.
Her award nominated designs for the Royal Mail included centenary stamps for the series St John Ambulance (1987), commemorative stamp books for the Fox Talbot series (1989), Postal Transport (1993) and illustrations for Pioneers of Communication (1995).
Debbie’s educational research studies the benefits and effects of structured, interdisciplinary group learning. This identifies and examines the significant contributory factors in facilitating the development of shared thought in a postgraduate art and design environment.
She is interested in how practices engage with one another, and in fostering new layers of discourse that challenge habitual approaches within the disciplines. The focus is on how dialogue feeds into practice through the parallel roles of drawing and talking, and in how knowledge and perception develop in a similar way through each. Her research reflects on the frequently held opinion that voice is only used to articulate the ‘real work’; the work that happens by intuitively doing.
This research examines the relevance to, and use in, higher education of free or associative discussion amongst peers. It draws on psychoanalytical theory on the role of the self in the construction of knowledge and the definition of subjective knowledge. With its emphasis on personal truth, the research considers the way students come to know through the cultivation of the self in an art school environment.
Debbie is a member of the Group Analytic Society International and qualified from The Institute of Group Analysis, London in 2015.
While Debbie comes from a background in printmaking and textiles, it is her career as an illustrator for which she is best known. She began her career in journalism working at The Observer, The Guardian and both The Sunday and Financial Times. Debbie has worked extensively in the area of communication design, creating design and illustration for animation, books, newspapers, posters, advertising campaigns, TV graphics and museums, working for companies including IBM, HSBC, Penguin Books, the BBC, The Partners, Land Design Studio, Pentagram Design, Radio Times, Royal Mail, Singapore Airlines, and The Natural History Museum, London.
She is best known for her collaborative work with designers, and for her use of historical archives. Her expertise in archival recovery and interpretation has informed partnerships with Kyoto Institute of Technology, Japan (2016), Tate Archive (2019– ) and in peripheral communities in Sao Paulo, Brazil (2017–18).
Debbie has spoken about illustration on Radio 4, BBC 1 and lectured internationally. Her work is held in the permanent collection at Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Current and recent projects
Critical Forum: Talking Pictures (2012–)
Debbie is currently researching Jane Abercrombie (1909–84), a British psychologist who carried out pioneering research into the use of learning groups with students studying medicine, architecture and education. Abercrombie co-established The Group-Analytic Society International with S.H. Foulkes and used the methods and principles of group analytic psychotherapy in educational settings and to educational outcomes. Abercrombie’s success as a communicator often depended upon her awareness of the visual and the power of the non-verbal.
This research project reflects on the emancipatory power of the collective vision, and looks at student–led teaching situations where authority rests not on power or status, but on commonality of experience. It investigates a climate in teaching where the role of authority, the expertise and the creation of knowledge are lodged in conversation.
The initial outcomes were presented at Art meets Science: 16th European Symposium in Group Analysis in Lisbon (2014).
Plural Perspectives (2016–2020)
This cultural development project established partnerships between SESC São Paulo, Escola da Cidade, Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), Casa do Povo, British Council, Brazil and Central Saint Martins, UAL with an interdisciplinary focus on art, architecture, performance and participatory practice. The work critically engaged with site and context, rooted in the cultural ground of Brazil itself and local ways of working. The knowledge evolved through a conference co-curated with Lisette Lagnado, O Papel das Escolas e Universidades de Artes at EAV Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2016).
External collaborations and activities
Debbie Cook has been an influential voice in design education throughout the UK, notably at Central Saint Martins, and is currently external examiner for BA (Hons) Illustration at The National College of Art and Design (NACD), Dublin. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Manufacture (FRSA), Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a member of Group-Analytic Society International (GASI).
External examining and programme validation for:
- BA Illustration, National College of Art and Design (NACD), Dublin (2018–2022)
- BA Illustration and Animation, Kingston University (2014–2017)
- BA/ MA Illustration and Animation, University for the Creative Arts (2015)
- BA/MDes Illustration, University of Brighton (2008–2012)
- BA Illustration/MA Graphic Design, Middlesex University (2005)
- BA Graphic Design, Central Saint Martins (1997–2001)
- BA Illustration, University of Central England (1997–2000)
- BA Image-making and Design, University of Hertfordshire (1996–1997)