Dr Sarah Teasley


  • Dr Sarah Teasley
  • Area

    School of Arts & Humanities


    Head of Programme (RCA)

  • Reader in Design History & Theory

    • History of Design
  • Dr Sarah Teasley is Head of Programme (RCA) for the V&A/RCA programme in History of Design and Reader in Design History and Theory. She is a social historian who works at the interface of history and design research.

    Her research takes an artefact-led approach to the social history of modern and contemporary Japan, with particular focus on design, manufacturing and  communities. She is particularly interested how different social groups interact at times of historical change, and how these values and behaviours, alongside material and environmental factors, influence mid- and long-term trajectories. Research topics include policy-making as a design process, the history of design education and professions, the design history of immaterial artefacts and theories of sociotechnical change in relation to artefact-based history.

    Sarah’s MA teaching and PhD supervisions cover the history of design, industry and technology in modern and contemporary East Asia,  Europe and North America, with particular emphasis on social and economic histories of design industries, and on the cross-pollination of design history, history of technology,  STS, environmental humanities and design research. Other research and teaching interests include gender and design, local practice in global networks, complex systems as designed artefacts and design as a perspective into political economy.

    Key publications include Global Design History (Routledge, 2011) and 'Design and Society in Modern Japan', a special issue of the Review of Japanese Culture and Society (2017). Sarah publishes and lectures actively in East Asia, Europe and North America.

  • 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 taught at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and Northwestern University. In 2018 she was Ishibashi Visiting Professor at the Heidelberg University Institute of East Asian Art History. She has also been a visiting researcher at the University of Tokyo Interfaculty Initiative on Information Studies, Musashino Art University and Tokyo Zokei University. She is a former associate editor of the journal Design and Culture and has received external grants and awards from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy, the Design History Society, the Association of Asian Studies, the Society of Architectural Historians, the Housing Research Foundation (Japan) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

    Recent talks include workshops and public lectures at Heidelberg University, the National Center for Scientific Research/EHESS (France), the Central Academy of Fine Arts (China), Tsinghua University Academy of Art and Design, Nanjing University,  National Taiwan University of Arts, the Open University, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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  • External collaborations

  • As part of ongoing work in design history’s potential contributions to policy-making and public thinking around design, industry and communities, Dr. Sarah Teasley has been a speaker at events organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group, the Cabinet Office, the Design Policy Network and the Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE) at Oxford University.

    Consulting includes advising on communications, branding, content and curricula for arts organisations, design firms, media organisations and museums including the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, nendo, Sato Taku, Sato Masahiko, Carpenters Workshop Gallery, Dunhill, Toyota, NHK, Designers Workshop, IDEA: International Graphic Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

    Media appearances include BBC Radio 4 Start the Week and You and Yours, CNN and Monocle Radio. 

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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Book Sections

    Teasley, S. (2018) ‘Contemporary, Design, History’, in: A. Massey (ed.), A Companion to Contemporary Design. London, Blackwell. 

    Teasley, S. (2018) 'Methods of Reasoning and Imagination: History’s failures and capacities in Anglophone design research', in: A. Rose and M. Kelly (eds), Theories of History: History Read across the Humanities. London, Bloomsbury Academic. 

    Teasley, S. (2018) 'Design Recycle meets the Product Introduction Hall: Craft, locality and agency in northern Japan', in: S. Luckman and N. Hughes (eds), Craft Economies. London, Bloomsbury Academic.

    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, pp. 324–337 and 499–513.

    Teasley, S. (2012) ‘Tange Kenzo and Industrial Design in Postwar Japan’, in: S. Kuan and K. Lippit (eds), Tange Kenzo. Zurich, Lars Muller, pp. 157–175.

    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, pp. 113–130.

    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, pp. 248–53.

    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, pp. 103–124.


    Teasley, S. (forthcoming) Designing Modern Japan. London, Reaktion Books.

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

    Edited Volumes

    Adrisola, I., Traganou, G. and Teasley, S. (eds) (2017), 'Design and Society in Japan', special issue of The Review of Japanese Culture and Society.

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

    Journal Articles

    Connor, S., Corby, T., Nafus, D., Redler Hawes, H., Smith, M. and Teasley, S. (2018) 'Numbers/Data: A Roundtable', Journal of Visual Culture, 16 (3). pp. 355–385.

    Adrisola, I., Traganou, G. and Teasley, S. (2017) ,  'Design and Society in Modern Japan: An Introduction', in Adrisola et al. (eds), 'Design and Society in Japan', special issue of The Review of Japanese Culture and Society.

    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, pp. 99–110.

    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), pp. 81–97.

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

    Teasley, S. (2003) ‘Furnishing the Modern Metropolitan: Moriya Nobuo's Designs for Japanese Domestic Interiors, 1922–1927’ Design Issues 19 (4), pp. 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, pp. 49–88.

    Conference Proceedings

    Lupo, E., Teasley, S. and Volonte, P. (2015), 'Nurturing Culture, Nurturing Design', in: L. Collina, L. Galluzzo and A. Meroni (eds),  The Virtuous Circle: Design Culture and Experimentation. Milan, McGraw-Hill Education (Italy), pp. 3–9.

    Teasley, S. (2014) 'Why furniture is a global concern: Local industry and global networks, through the lens of Shizuoka furniture-making', in: J. Kaner and F. Ioras (eds), Current Issues in Global Furniture Proceedings of the 2013 Biennial Conference of the Furniture Research Group. National School of Furniture, Buckinghamshire New University, pp. 41–64.

    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, pp. 442–445.

    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, pp. 191–201.

    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, pp. 267–276.

    Other Publications

    Briggs, J., Lury, C., and Teasley, S. (2015) 'Creative Temporal Costings: A Proto-Publics Project with Leeds Creative Timebank', project report.

    Teasley, S. and Watabe, C. (eds) (2014- ) 'Design History of Now: Addressing the Contemporary in Research and Practice', website.

    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, pp. 19–24.

    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.

    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), pp. 4–15.

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  • Awards and Grants

  • Sarah Teasley is the recipient of grants, awards and fellowships from organisations internationally including the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Association of Asian Studies, the British Academy, the British Columbia Ministry of Education, the Design History Society, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan and the Society of Architectural Historians.


Research interests

1. History of design in modern and contemporary Japan

Design history as a lens for histories of social, economic, political, cultural and environmental change and conditions, within Japan and for Japan in  East Asian regional and global networks, from the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries.

2. Bringing historical research to bear on contemporary work in community resilience and collaboration

Contemporary design history research relevant for policy-making, community activism and design research to support economic and social sustainability and wellbeing.

3. Design history as public practice

Research into design history as a method and perspective applicable in other disciplines such as design research, environmental humanities and history, the history of technology, economic history and social history. Sets out an agenda for design history to engage more deeply and publicly with debates and practices outside the discipline.

Current and recent research

Designing Modern Japan. Book manuscript, Reaktion.

‘Modern technologies of production, trade and knowledge 1 (art, industry, science, design, nature)’, book chapter in Laura Hein ed., The Cambridge History of Japan Volume III The Modern Japanese Nation and Empire (1876-2011), Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press, publication expected 2020.

The Social Life of an Industrial Policy: Design, regional manufacturing and communities in Japan, 1890-1970. Book manuscript.


Research students