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Debbie Cook


  • Debbie Cook is an internationally recognised designer and illustrator. As a Senior Tutor on the Visual Communication programme at the Royal College of Art, Debbie Cook researches interdisciplinary group learning.    

  • Biography

  • Debbie Cook has worked extensively in the area of communication design, creating design and illustration for animation, postage stamps, books, newspapers, posters, advertising campaigns, TV graphics and museums. She has spoken about illustration on Radio 4, BBC 1 and lectured internationally. 

    Debbie Cook has taught at the RCA since 1989 and been a tutor in Visual Communication since 2005. She leads the Critical Forum programme in the School of Communication. This gives a platform to discuss new thought in contemporary creative disciplines, their convergence and the impact they have in new contexts. Her current research focuses on the scientist, educator and thinker M.L. J. Abercrombie as a visual communicator.

    Debbie Cook comes from a background in printmaking and textiles. In the 1980s she worked for the Observer newspaper and she developed her illustration career through journalism for publications including the Guardian, Financial Times and Sunday Times. She then worked for clients as diverse as IBM, HSBC, Penguin Books, the BBC and the Natural History Museum, London. Her designs for the Royal Mail include centenary stamps for the series St John Ambulance (1987), commemorative stamp books for the Fox Talbot series (1989) and Postal Transport (1993), and illustrations for Pioneers of Communication (1995). She designed iconography and animations for the new media installations for the Play Zone in the Millennium Dome, London. Her practice subsequently expanded into consultancy, curating, and commissioning for design. As consultant to the design agency St Luke’s she commissioned the site-specific installations for London Green Map (2003), and curated Think Print (2001). Her collaboration with Vitsoe explored ideas surrounding English domestic interiors and responded to the 606 Universal shelving system designed by Dieter Rams.

    Her work is held in the permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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  • Practice

  • Debbie Cook is interested in the role that autobiographical inheritance plays in influencing our work and sense of identity. As a designer and illustrator, she is particularly interested in how we can draw on our own private experiences to bring a sense of authenticity to the stories we are asked to tell in our role as commissioned artists.

    She is best known for her collaborative work with designers, and for her use of historical archives. Carefully researched and composed, her work has a narrative focus based on factual themes. She has a particular fascination for the object and how that can be used to convey narrative.

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  • External collaborations

  • 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 Animation at Kingston University. 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). 

Selected work


Research interests

Debbie Cook’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. Her focus is in 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.

Current and recent research

Jane Abercrombie as a Visual Communicator

Debbie Cook is currently researching Jane Abercrombie (1909-1984), 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 The Group-Analytic Society International with S.H. Foulkes and used the methods and principles of group analytic psychotherapy in education settings and to educational ends. Abercrombie’s success as a communicator often depended upon her awareness of the visual and the power of the non-verbal.

Thinking Pictures

This research project investigated interdisciplinary student-led learning. It 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. Research into collaborative learning investigates a climate in teaching where the role of authority, the expertise and the creation of knowledge are lodged in conversation.

The outcomes were presented at Art meets Science: 16th European Symposium in Group Analysis in Lisbon 2014 as part of the Conducting as Art and/or Science group paper presentation.