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“Design is all about people, it’s all about empathy, it’s all about how we build compassion with each other. I think objects, products, help us do that. We must remember the context they sit within and our sustainable trajectories forwards to inform design outputs.”

Dr Rob Phillips Senior Tutor, MA Design Products

Dr Rob Phillips is a Senior Tutor on the RCA Design Products MA programme, so named, as he explained ‘because the design is more important than the products.’ Students come to the programme from diverse backgrounds, where they are given the tools to develop independent practices as creative design thinkers.

‘We attract international students that have a completely different way of thinking, we develop their critical practice, and I think that’s really exciting’ Rob added. His RCA MA students have raised in excess of £1.5 million through crowdfunding for their projects over the last few years.

Supporting ecological citizens

A collaboration with Oppo and the White Stork Project (durrell Trust) on the infamous Knepp Estate, rewilding project.

Rob’s research uses design to decrease people’s impact, gaining insight into what people really do and not just what design does. He has collaboratively raised over £3.5 million for research projects, through EPSRC and Arts Council Funding, and run over 50 design workshops with interdisciplinary teams, cultures and international participants.

Currently Rob is leading the Ecological Citizens NetworkPlus, a newly established EPSRC funded initiative in collaboration with the University of York's Stockholm Environment Institute and Wrexham Glyndŵr University. This network aims to tackle the ecological and climate crisis by using the digital economy to catalyse sustainable change beyond individual actions.

The network will mobilise diverse groups of people to make impactful change through accessible technology and community-focused approaches – including citizen science, activism, collective learning, advocacy, design strategies, manufacturing, environmental science and engineering practices.

Giving communities agency

My Naturewatch, a research project led by Dr Rob Phillips (School of Design)

The establishment of the Ecological Citizens Network builds on Rob’s prior research including the My Naturewatch project. A collaboration between the Interaction Research Studio based at Northumbria University, and the RCA, My Naturewatch uses distributed design to foster people’s interest in the natural world.

It’s typical of Rob’s approach, which looks at ways that design can be used to, in his words, ‘give communities agency over themselves and what they do.’ My Naturewatch does this through making DIY digital technologies accessible to enable people to document wildlife in a way that is adaptable and responsive to different communities and situations.

Building a holistically sustainable design practice

The BeeLab project, part of Phillips PhD, under the supervision of Prof Baurley. Open workshops, run in collaboration with the Horizon Digital Economy and Technology Will Save us.

In his teaching at the RCA, Rob draws on over 20 years’ of experience working commercially and independently as a product designer. To date, this has included five international patents, large scale manufacture with more than 3 million products in retail, leading research papers, life saving fire and ballistics equipment, revolutionary material developments, user orientated proposals and involvement in design for team GB.

During his PhD research at the RCA Rob aligned methodologies from open design, citizen science and practical public engagement. This took the form of Bee Lab, a project that made it easier for beekeepers to care for bees in an unpredictable environmental landscape. The research resulted in methods that are taught at MIT Media Lab, Stanford, Cornell and the BBC.

Rob’s book ‘FutureKind, design for and by the people’, published in 2019 by Thames & Hudson, presents over 60 innovative, socially and environmentally conscious design projects. It is a culmination of his research interests and belief that design practice should be holistically sustainable.

Meet the RCA Rob Phillips screen shot

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My Naturewatch, a research project led by Dr Rob Phillips (School of Design)