Dr Sarah Teasley


  • Dr Sarah Teasley
  • Area

    School of Arts & Humanities


    Head of Programme (RCA)

  • 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 and how communities experience policy as a designed artefact, and in 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 and history of technology and STS approaches to historical research, 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.

    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, Musashino Art University and Tokyo Zokei University, and is a research associate of the Japan Research Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), 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, 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, industry strategy and public thinking around design, manufacturing and public policy, 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 and exhibition and gallery content 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

  • Teasley, S. (2017) 'Design Recycle meets the Product Introduction Hall: Craft, locality and agency in northern Japan, in: S. Luckman and N. Hughes (eds), Craft Economies: Cultural Economies of the Handmade, London, Bloomsbury, in press

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

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

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

    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), 3-9

    Teasley, S. (2014) 'Why furniture is a global concern: Local industry and global neworks, 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, 41-64

    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, 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, 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, 113-130

    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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  • 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.

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. She has a particular interest in the impact of stakeholder culture on interactions and mid- and long-term outcomes at times of historical change,  in artefact analysis as a technique for writing social and economic history and in connecting historical research to contemporary challenges. 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.

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.

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.


Research students