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Dr Rob Phillips


  • Dr Rob Phillips is Senior Tutor in Design Products at the RCA. He is a product designer working commercially and independently with expertise in how research acts as an interface with Government and commercial funders. His main interests include ‘Engaging Design’ how we can actively encourage public participation to mitigate against our negative impacts. He facilitates user-orientated solutions and creates design workshops intent on educating and applying design approaches to commercial and academic situations. His PhD research at the RCA investigated the relationship between open design and citizen science, and was funded through the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute.

  • Biography

  • Rob has an Industry career of 18 years with research papers, five international patents and two start-ups (Upgrade Bikes and d3o Materials Lab). He is PI on Citizen Naturewatch (CN), a £1m EPSRC-funded collaboration between the RCA and Goldsmiths University investigating socially responsible design approaches to users, teens and families documenting wildlife in community spaces with DIY digital technologies. The project successfully broadcast on BBC SpringWatch, reaching national and international audiences. Dr Phillips has substantial experience in giving voice and power to participants evident in his work with BBC SpringWatch, encouraging participants who had no prior relationship with technology to create digital outputs. His approach to design was recently published by Thames and Hudson in a book, FutureKind: design for and by the people. His research seeks to ‘engage design’, to decrease people’s impact, gaining insight into what people really do… and not just what the ‘world of design’ does… thinking how we can be 'future kind' to human kind.

    His PhD aligned new methodologies in open design, citizen science and practical public engagement, establishing the Bee Lab (funded by Horizon) openly monitoring hives nationally and being used in HMS prisons to teach technology creation. He runs schools workshops for Google and the BBC and has run workshops globally in Plots, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, and Cornell lab of Ornithology in the US; and wildlife trusts, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, water agencies, national Fab Labs and maker spaces in the UK. He consults for international manufacturing businesses (Upgrade Bikes & Unilever) and runs contextual workshops for organisations including: Nike, Puma, Team GB, Victorinox. Background running sustainable design projects mitigating waste materials in; India, Nigeria, Canada, Tokyo and Amsterdam. Prior to this, from 2006 until 2009, he was a designer for d3o with responsibility for impact material, distilling user insights into product opportunities for international sports teams, including Team GB, and riot police. From 1998 until 2014, he was a designer for Upgrade Bikes, designing for international manufacture and mass manufacture. 

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  • Practice

  • Rob is a Product Designer with 18 years experience, working commercially and independently with broad experience (to date) including; five international patents, large scale manufacture with more than £3m products in retail, life-saving fire and ballistics equipment, revolutionary material developments, user orientated proposals and involvement in design for team GB. During his PhD he informed a relationship between Open Design and Citizen Science, resulting in methods taught at MIT Media Lab, Stanford, Cornell and the BBC. 

    His work to date has raised over £2.5m pounds for research projects. His latest EPSRC Funded (collaborative) project with Goldsmiths, Interaction Design Research Studio ( uses distributed design to foster people’s interest in the natural world around them and was broadcast (earlier in the year) on the BBC’s SpringWatch programme. His research seeks to ‘Engage Design’, to decrease people’s impact, gaining insight into what people really do… and not just what the ‘world of design’ does…  thinking how we can be 'future kind' to human kind.

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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Publications

    Phillips, R., Abbas-Nazari, A., Tooze, J., Gaver, B., Boucher, A., Ovalle, L., Sheen, A., Brown, D., Matsuda, N. and Vanis, M., 2019, July. Design and Deploying Tools to ‘Actively Engaging Nature’. In International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 513-531). Springer, Cham.

    Phillips, R., 2019. FutureKind: Design by and for the People. Thames & Hudson.

    Gaver, W., Boucher, A., Vanis, M., Sheen, A., Brown, D., Ovalle, L., Matsuda, N., Abbas-Nazari, A. and Phillips, R., 2019, April. My Naturewatch Camera: Disseminating Practice Research with a Cheap and Easy DIY Design. In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (p. 302). ACM.

    Phillips, R. and Kau, K., 2019. Gaming for Active Nature Engagement Animal Diplomacy Bureau: designing games to engage and create player agency in urban nature. The Design Journal, 22(sup1), pp.1587-1602.

    Phillips, R., Abbas-Nazari, A., Gaver, W., Boucher, A., Orvalle, L., Sheen, A., Brown, D., Matsuda, N. and Vanis, M., 2019. Encouraging Young People to Engage In Their (Immediate Backdoor Nature), Through Cinemas.

    Phillips, R., 2019. Design insights for socially-led interventions. Journal of Design, Business & Society, 5(1), pp.7-33.

    Phillips, R. and Roberto, F., 2018. Design Research in Professional Practice: Contextual Empathy, The Indian Train Network. Insight 2018.

    Martindale, S., Bedwell, B., Phillips, R. and Pedros, M., 2017, June. Proof in the Pudding: Designing IoT Plants to Promote Wellbeing. In Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (pp. 529-540). ACM.

    Phillips, R., Brown, M. and Baurley, S., 2016. Social responses to nature; citizen empowerment through design. Journal of Design, Business & Society, 2(2), pp.197-215.

    Phillips, R., Dexter, M., Atkinson, P. & Baurley, S. (2014) 'Standard Deviation: Ensuring Quality and Reliability in Open Design Practice' 

    Tooze, J., Phillips, R., Smith, S., Foote, E., Silve. S & Baurley, S (2014) 'How Open is Open?' (Design Journal accepted)

    Phillips, R. & Baurley, S. (2014) ‘Exploring Open Design for the Application of Citizen Science; a Toolkit Methodology’, 8th Design Research Society conference: Design’s Big Debates. Umea, Sweden 16-19 June 2014

    Phillips, R., Silve, S. & Baurley, S. (2014) ‘Citizen Science and Open Design: Workshop Findings’, Design Issues, 30:4, 52–66

    Phillips, R., Blum, J., Brown, M. & Baurley, S. (2014) ‘Testing a Grassroots Citizen Science Venture Using Open Design, “the Bee Lab Project”’, ACM. CHI’14: Proceedings of the 32nd International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, May 2014, 1951–56

    Phillips, R., Lockton, D., Baurley, S. & Silve, S. (2013) ‘Making Instructions for Others: Exploring Mental Models Through a Simple Exercise’, Interactions, 2013, 20: 5, 74–79

    Phillips, R., Ford, Y., Sadler, K., Silve, S., & Baurley, S. (2013) ‘Open Design: Non-Professional User-designers Creating Products for Citizen Science, a Case Study of Beekeepers’, Human Computer Interaction International, United States: Springer, 54

    Phillips, R., Silve, S. & Baurley, S. (2013) ‘What Are The Opportunities in Partnering Open Design with Citizen Science for Bespoke Monitoring within Hobby or Niche Communities?’, Rescon 13, London: Brunel University

    Phillips, R., Silve, S., & Baurley, S (2013), ‘The Practical Maker: Investigating the Definitions and Requirements of and Exploring the Motivations Behind Bespoke Making’, Crafting the Future, 10th European Design Conference (EAD), Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg

    Davis M., Phillips R.D. (2012) Finger Toy Interaction Device, UK Patent

    Phillips, R., Silve, S., & Baurley, S. (2012) ‘The Trust of a Maker and Making to Trust’, Future Everything 2012, Manchester: Future Everything

    Mason D., Phillips R.D. (2011) Suspension Device For Un-motorised Bike, Taiwanese Patent

    Gaver, W., Boucher, A., Bowers, J., Blythe, M., Jarvis, N., Cameron, D., Kerridge, T., Wilkie, A., Phillips, R., Wright, P. (2011) ‘The Photostroller: Supporting Diverse Care Home Residents in Engaging with the World’, CHI’11: Proceedings of the 29th International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Vancouver, British Columbia

    Mason D., Phillips R.D. (2010) Inter-rotational Bearing Assembly, Taiwanese Patent

    Phillips, R.D. (2005) Lid, In Particular For A Disposable Cup, UK Patent: WO 2005/014425 A1


    Digital Design weekend, London Design Week, Victoria and Albert Museum, September 2013

    Maker Faire, Corn Exchange, Brighton, 2012

    Future Everything, Victoria Baths, Manchester, 2012

    Design Interventions, ExLibris Gallery, Newcastle University, June 2010

    Creative Partnerships, Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, June 2010

    UX Brighton, May 2010

    Pecha Kucha, Brighton, November 2009

    International Fire-X, Birmingham NEC May 2009

    Vieltag, shop installation, Zurich, November 2006 – February 2007

    Canary Wharf, window installation, November – December 2006

    Fly Pitch, ICA and ICON magazine, ten-minute stand-up presentation, 23 September 2006

    Tea & Prosperity, Truman Brewery, London, Design Week 2006

    Golden Lane Estate, community project, London Design Week 2006

    Conran Head Office, London, selected works from RCA, 2006

    RCA Design Products Show, 2006

    Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, Nigeria, March 2006

    British Council Office, Lagos, Nigeria, February 2006

    KOKUYO, Tokyo Shinagawa office showroom, 17–18 November 2005

    Designers Block, London, September 2005

    RCA, window exhibition, bus route 52, 9 and 10 June–July 2005

    Brighton Festival, Biscuit Studio, Hove, May 2003, 2004, 2005

    Salone di Mobile Satellites, Milan - April 2004, 2005

    Design Workshops

    Assembling technology kits with beekeepers, Technology Will Save Us 2013

    Designing with Beekeepers, Honey Club Wolff Olins 2012

    Users as Designers, Digital Shoreditch 2012

    Users creating devices for citizen science, Future Everything, Manchester 2012

    Users as Designers, Clip-it-on, 3D printing in retail, Look Mum No Hands 2012

    User centred banking, Barclays, Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, 2012

    What is Good Design? PS I am 6, Ocklynge School, 2012

    HCI Thinking in Schools, mixed schools, Google 2011

    Design a Fish: Approaches to Conceptual Design, University of Sussex, 2011

    Design for Protection, Riot police, Belgium, d3o, 2011

    Design Interventions, Newcastle University, 2011

    Design for the Everyday, Supernormal, University of Plymouth, 2011

    Creativity Through Play, six secondary schools, 2010

    Design for Disability, staff training at the BBC, 2008–9

    Let's Make, mixed schools, V&A, 2006–8

    Devices for the Elderly, Nokia, 2005

    Made in Nigeria, The British Council 2005

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  • Awards and Grants

  • EPSRC Future ICT-enabled manufacturing – cross disciplinary research clusters (EP/K014234/1) involving Premier Foods - Baurley (PI), Phillips (CI) 

    Into the Garden Project (£35,000, IT as utility programme) involving the National Allotments Association, Phillips (PI)

    Citizen Naturewatch £1M collaboration RCA & Goldsmiths Interaction Research Studio (EP/P006353/1) exploring socially responsible design approaches to documenting wildlife in community spaces with DIY technologies, Phillips (PI). 2017 

    Bee Lab, project funding, awarded by Horizon Digital Economy Research £35,000, 2013, Phillips (PI)

    Ispo Design Award for Best Apparel, Quicksilver & d3o, 2007

    Snowdon Award for Disability Projects, Highly Commended, 2006

    Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Design for Future Selves, shortlisted, 2006

    Kokoyu Okuyuki Design Award, 2006 (following a project in Tokyo)

Selected work


Research interests

Rob's research seeks to engage design to decrease people’s impact, gaining insight into what people really do and not just what the world of design does thinking how we can be futurekind to humankind.

Current and recent research

My Naturewatch is a collaborative design research project between the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths University and the Design Products Programme at the Royal College of Art, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

We are designing DIY devices that support new ways to engage with nature (and technology too). We’ll be publishing everything you need to make them here, including links to shops for their parts, all the software you need, and easy-to-follow recipes to show you how to make them. 

Rob's Google Scholar Profile