Dr Sarah Teasley


  • Dr Sarah Teasley
  • Area

    School of Arts & Humanities


    Head of Programme (RCA)

  • Reader in Design History and 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.

    Her research takes an artefact-led approach to historical case studies from community-based design and manufacturing in modern and contemporary Japan to consider broader questions around design, technology and society, historically and today. She is particularly concerned with the impact of culture on interactions between different stakeholders at times of historical change, and how stakeholders' values and behaviours influence mid- and long-term trajectories. Other research interests include policy-making as a design process, how communities experience policy as a designed artefact, and the impact of policy, mediation and local conditions on the adoption of new processes, materials and technologies. An attention to artefacts and our relations with them underlies her research, as part of her practice as a design historian.

    Sarah’s teaching and research supervision address the history of design, industry and technology in modern and contemporary East Asia,  Europe and North America, with particular emphasis in three areas: social and economic histories of design industries; cross-pollination between design history,  history of technology,  STS and design research as research methods; and design history's engagement with contemporary political, economic and social issues. 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 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, Musashino Art University and Tokyo Zokei University. 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, 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 the National Center for Scientific Research/EHESS (France), the Open University, Tsinghua University Academy of Art and Design, the Central Academy of Fine Arts,  National Taiwan University of Arts, 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 writing larger histories of social, economic, political, cultural and environmental change and conditions. I have a particular focus on Japan, 19–21st centuries, within regional and global networks, and a strong commitment to testing and implementing research methods and perspectives from cognate areas of practice including science and technology studies (STS), history of technology, economic history, philosophy and design research.

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 practice 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

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.

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.

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. 

'Design Recycle meets the Product Introduction Hall: craft, locality and agency in northern Japan'

This book chapter, based on material from a 2012 AHRC Early Career Fellowship, explores how design, craft manufacturing and policy communities in one city in northern Japan have responded to changing social, economic, political and technological conditions in Japan since the 1990s. It focuses on the different cross-disciplinary and cross-industry networks that actors created in response to difficult conditions, and argues industrial policy aimed at stimulating economic growth and social sustainability through design-led interventions in light manufacturing has a century-long history in the region, and that that these new initiatives must be understood within this longer context. The article draws on oral history, site visits and artefact analysis as well as archival research and quantitative (economic) data.

Creative Temporal Costings

This report, available in print and online, summarises and analyses findings from a community-academic collaborative and interdisciplinary sprint research project on the relationship between formal time-based economies (case study: the Leeds Creative Timebank) and money-based economies in the creative sector. Findings from historical research into collaboration and communication systems and outcomes in design and manufacturing communities (AHRC 2012 Early Career Fellowship) generated research questions and analysis. The study was one of two outcomes from a project funded through the AHRC project ProtoPublics: Developing Participation in Social Design (April–September 2015), and is partnered with a creative publication.


Research students