Dr Sarah Teasley


  • Dr Sarah Teasley
  • Area

    School of Humanities


    Head of Programme (RCA) (from 2015/16)

  • Dr Sarah Teasley is Head of Programme (RCA) for the V&A/RCA programme in History of Design.

    Her research takes historical case studies from product, furniture and architectural design and manufacturing in Japan since the late nineteenth century to consider broader questions around design, technology and society. She is particularly interested in the roles that technical mediation and policy play in the adoption of new processes, materials and technologies, and in design as a perspective into political economy.

    Sarah’s teaching and research supervision covers the design and manufacture of objects and spaces in the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries, within Europe and North America as well as East Asia. Her other research and teaching interests include critical theory, the history and philosophy of technology, gender and design, globalisation and the design of mass production and other large systems.

    Full-length publications include Global Design History (Routledge, 2011) and 20th Century Design History (Petit Grand Publishing, 2005). Sarah publishes and lectures actively in East Asia, Europe and North America. In 2012 she was the recipient of an Arts and Humanities Research Council Early Career Fellowship for a monograph on regional economic development, geopolitics and the furniture industry in Japan, 1890–1960.

  • Biography

  • Dr Sarah Teasley received her PhD from the Department of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies of the University of Tokyo. She also holds degrees from Princeton University and Musashino Art University.

    Prior to joining the Royal College of Art, Dr Teasley was assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and Northwestern University. She has been a visiting researcher at the University of Tokyo Interfaculty Initiative on Information Studies (2007) and at Musashino Art University (2009), and is a research associate of the Japan Research Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She is associate editor of the journal Design and Culture and the recipient of external grants and awards from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy, Design History Society, Association of Asian Studies, Society of Architectural Historians, Myers Foundation, Housing Research Foundation (Japan), British Columbia Ministry of Education and the Japanese Ministry of Education. She is an Honorary Mellon Fellow and Fulbright recipient.

    Recent talks include workshops and public lectures at Parsons the New School for Design, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Columbia University, the School for Oriental and Asian Studies, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, as well as papers at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, the International Conference on Design History and Studies, and European Association for the Study of Science and Technology.

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  • External collaborations

  • In addition to her research and teaching, Dr Sarah Teasley has consulted for design firms, media organisations, industry associations and publications including nendo, Sato Taku, Sato Masahiko, Philips de Pury, Sotheby’s, Carpenters Workshop Gallery, NHK, Designers Workshop, IDEA: International Graphic Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum. She coordinated a three-month collaboration between the Royal College of Art, the V&A and architect Fujimori Terunobu to help build and furnish the Beetle House, a project by Fujimori for the V&A’s 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces exhibition (2010).

    As part of an ongoing inquiry into history’s applications for design, manufacturing and public policy, she is an active member of the Materials and Design Exchange and member of the History and Policy initiative. She was a contributor to the 2010 British Academy Summer School on design and ageing, hosted jointly by the Royal College of Art and Tsinghua University, and she speaks on design-led innovation for economic development and social change.

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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Teasley, S. (2012) ‘Tange Kenzo and Industrial Design in Postwar Japan’, in: S. Kuan and K. Lippit (eds), Tange Kenzo, Zurich: Lars Muller

    Teasley, S. (2013) 'Design and material culture in Japan, 1750–1900' and 'Design in Japan, 1900–2000', in: P. Kirkham (ed), A History of the Decorative Arts and Design 1400–2000, New Haven and London: Yale University Press

    Teasley, S. (2012) 'The Gender of Beauty in Architectural and Interior Design Discourse in Modern Japan’, in: A. Yuen Wong (ed), Visualizing Beauty: Gender and Ideology in Modern East Asia, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 113–30

    Adamson, G., Riello, G. and Teasley, S. (eds) (2011) Global Design History, London: Routledge

    Teasley, S. (2011) ‘Always already postmodern? Japanese design and architecture in the 1980s’, in: G. Adamson and J. Pavitt (eds), Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970–1990, London: V&A Publishing, 248–53

    Teasley, S. (2011) ‘The contingency of weight: How a laptop becomes a desktop, and other stories’, in: G. Hollington (ed), Rightweight, London: Materials and Design Exchange, 2011, 19–24

    Teasley, S. (2010) ‘History’s curves: Modernist furniture, manufacturing technology and craft in modern Japan’, in: Design and Craft: A history of convergences and divergences, Brussels: Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van Belgie, 442–45

    Teasley, S. (2010) ‘The simple beauty of thin black lines and blurry white surfaces’, in: Thin black lines and Blurry white surfaces, London: Phillips de Pury and Saatchi Gallery, np

    Teasley, S. (2009) ‘Travel-Writing the Design Industry in Modern Japan, 1905–25’, in: M. Mitrasinovic and J. Traganou (eds), Space, Travel, Architecture, London: Ashgate, 103–24

    Teasley, S., et al. (2008) ‘Anata ni totte no dezain myujiamu to ha? [What, for you, is a design museum?]’ Dezain myujiamu rinku [Design & Museum Link] 1 (1), 4–15

    Tanaka, A., Teasley, S., Nakatani, R. and Uchida, S. (2007) ‘Japanese Houses in the United States c. 1900’, in: Annual Report of the Housing Research Foundation, Tokyo: Housing Research Association, 99–110

    Teasley, S. (2007) ‘Denka seihin no dezain no riyo to bashosei: Taiheiyo ryogawa no seikatsu bunka ni oite tenkai suru gijutsu riyoho [Localness and the Design and Use of Household Technology on Two Sides of the Pacific]’, Technological Innovation in Japan Collecting Experience and Establishing Knowledge Foundation, Report of the 3rd International Symposium, Tokyo: National Museum of Nature and Science, 191–201

    Teasley, S. (2005) ‘Home Builder or Homemaker? Reader Presence in Articles on Homebuilding in Commercial Women’s Magazines in 1920s Japan’, Journal of Design History 18 (1), 81–97

    Teasley, S. and Watabe, C. (2005) 20th Century Design History, Tokyo: Petit Grand Publishing

    Teasley, S. (2004) ‘Reforming the Inside Out: Kogure Joichi on Furniture and Architecture’, Design History 2, 75–114

    Teasley, S. (2003) ‘Furnishing the Modern Metropolitan: Moriya Nobuo's Designs for Japanese Domestic Interiors, 1922–1927’ Design Issues 19 (4), 57–71

    Teasley, S. (2001) ‘Nation, Modernity and Interior Decoration: Hybridity and Identity in the 1922 Peace Commemoration Tokyo Exposition Culture Village Houses’, Japanstudien 13, 49–88

    Teasley, S. (2001) ‘The National Geographics of Design: The Rhetoric of Tatami in 1920s and 30s Japanese Interiors’, in: S. Accach (ed), De-Placing Difference: Architecture, Culture and Imaginative Geography, Adelaide: University of Adelaide Centre for Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture, 267–76

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Selected work


Research interests

Dr Sarah Teasley’s research uses case studies in design and architecture practice, production and policy in Japan since the late nineteenth century to investigate the political, social and economic roles of design, media and technology in a global context. Past and current projects address topics including the formation of furniture design and manufacturing as a distinct profession and scientific practice; technical drawing and design thinking; gender and agency in architecture and interior design; the impact of the American Occupation of Japan (1945–52) on industrial and furniture design and manufacturing practices; Japanese design in the post-war United States; and post-Bubble Japan (1991–) through the lens of design practice.

Current and recent research

Designing Modern Japan

A chronological, critical history of design in Japan since the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Designing Modern Japan (forthcoming from Reaktion Books) charts the relationships between developments in domestic design industries (product, graphic, furniture, fashion and interior), changes in the material culture of everyday life in Japan and perceptions of ‘Japanese design’ overseas. The first English-language resource to comprehensively narrate and analyse the history of design in Japan from the nineteenth century to the present day, Designing Modern Japan provides a new perspective on the history of modern Japan and on the history of design in the modern world.

Stress Points: Furniture Design, Policy and Manufacturing in Modern Japan

This research, which will result in a book-length monograph, explores the relationship between state- and corporate-sponsored materials research, furniture design and regional manufacturing in modern Japan, from the onset of imperial expansion in the 1890s to the Cold War. The project analyses the impact of geopolitics, strategies for economic development and human networks on attitudes and activities surrounding wood as a commodity and material, within a broader spectrum of attempts to modernise the design and manufacture of wooden furniture in Japan. Areas explored include state-sponsored materials research initiatives, woodworking and design education, the adoption of new technologies and standards under the American Occupation and post-war, modernist furniture manufacturing in the context of economic reconstruction and growth.

Global Design History

This three-year project, led jointly with Dr Glenn Adamson (Victoria and Albert Museum) and Dr Giorgio Riello (University of Warwick), was the first to investigate the applicability of global history methods for design history, and vice versa. The project convened 26 historians, designers, sociologists and anthropologists working in the UK, Europe and overseas to consider key questions and methods for writing histories of design in global networks, and was published as an edited volume with Routledge in 2011.

Design/Drawing: Process, Practice, Representation, Thought

This research into changes in technical drawing for furniture design and manufacturing in Japan c. 1900, in relation to early modern Japanese carpentry drawing practices, larger changes in the design and woodworking industries after the late nineteenth century and the emergence of design drawing in industry and compulsory education, considered the relationship between drawing as a physical practice and the ‘design thinking’ engendered by the need to plan and represent the manufacturing process in 2D. The research has been funded by an Early Career Fellowship from the AHRC.

The Post-War Politics of Japanese Design

This project takes case studies in prominent exhibition activities and human networks in post-war Japanese product and furniture design and its representation in the United States to investigate the relationship and relative impacts of local political, economic and social concerns and global or transnational ones on collaborative projects between different communities. To date, the project has generated three articles, all of which are forthcoming. Two analyse political and economic concerns underlying mutual and divergent motivations among the organisers of two exhibitions: Japanese House and Garden (Museum of Modern Art, 1954–55) and Japan: Design Today (Walker Art Center/Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibitions, 1960–2). The third explores the relationship between architects, designers and manufacturers in 1950s Japan, with a focus on architect Tange Kenzo and designer Kenmochi Isamu.

Post-Bubble Design and the Political Economy of 1990s Japan

This large project, now in initial development, analyses the responses of actors in established and emerging areas of design practice including product, graphic, furniture, fashion, vehicle, interaction and service design to political, economic, technological and social change and challenges in Japan following the end of post-war high economic growth in 1991. Because design industries depend upon and are integral to the functioning of Japan's manufacturing base and consumer economy, mapping and identifying strategies for adapting in new circumstances will provide insight into an important period in Japanese history, generate methods for writing contemporary history through design and can inform design-led innovation in changing conditions elsewhere, including Britain today. Elements of the project are in development as an exhibition with the Victoria and Albert Museum, and as a collaborative research project with colleagues in Japan.


Research students