Please upgrade your browser

For the best experience, you should upgrade your browser. Visit our accessibility page to view a list of supported browsers along with links to download the latest version.

RCA Launches Design Lab in Collaboration with University of Tokyo

The Royal College of Art is delighted to announce a new collaboration with the University of Tokyo – Design Lab Tokyo. This partnership, which has been developed by the School of Design’s Professor Miles Pennington, Visiting Professor Kinya Tagawa and Tutor Tim Corvin, is launching with a prototype Design Lab located within the Institute of Industrial Science (IIS). 

This collaboration was formally announced at Design-Led X – a symposium organised by the University of Tokyo on 20 December 2016. Professor Miles Pennington delivered a presentation at the event attended by over 200 people from industry and academia. 

The prototype Design Lab will start in January 2017 and run for three months, culminating in a public exhibition of the results in Tokyo. Designers, scientists and engineers will work together to develop meaningful and deployable innovations and to kick-start the careers of a new generation of innovators. This will be the first stage of establishing an ongoing, collaborative research space at the intersection of science, engineering and design.

IIS is the largest research institute in the University of Tokyo, with over 100 staff and 500 researchers and research students. Based in the Komaba campus and led by Professor Teruo Fujii, it carries out fundamental research activities across a range of areas from micro-manufacturing and nano-technology to robotics, big data, additive manufacturing and bio-engineering. While ISS has world-leading expertise in science, technology and engineering, the additional advantage gained by collaboration between the RCA and IIS will be in developing compelling public-facing product and service propositions in design-led innovation.

Professor Miles Pennington remarked: ‘The School of Design at the RCA offers unique approaches to design and innovation that complement the outstanding scientific and engineering research at the University of Tokyo. Together we aim to create more holistic and ground-breaking, real-world innovations to meet some of the strategic global challenges faced by Japan and the world beyond. The Design Lab is a collaborative, research-focused opportunity and will be a great post-graduation destination for students at the RCA.’

Initially the Design Lab team from the RCA will consist of IDE graduates Charlotte Furet, Yuri Klebanov, Catherine (Ka Hei) Suen and Christian Felsner, who will work with four research students or members of staff from the University of Tokyo. For Charlotte it will be an enormous learning opportunity as it will be her first time working in Tokyo. Charlotte, who came to the IDE programme from a background in architecture, is currently a freelance designer for the Design Impact Group at Dalberg, carrying out human-centred design research and design for social impact. Christian is a 2016 IDE graduate with a background in model-making for the automotive industry, who is currently working for Lovegrove Studios as Director of Automotive Design and Form Evolution.

Catherine and Yuri will be putting to use their previous experience working in Tokyo. Catherine, who studied industrial and product design in Hong Kong, currently works for Microsoft Research as a freelance product engineer and recently took part in a project developing Internet of Things prototypes for Fujitsu. While studying at the RCA Yuri, who is currently a creative tech developer at Hirsch & Mann, spent three months in Tokyo working as a creative developer at Takram – a design innovation firm, run by IDE Visiting Professor Kinya Tagawa.

School of Design Tutor Tim Corvin says: ‘This is a great opportunity for some of our best graduates to work in a different culture and within a first-class research institute. They will have the opportunity to work with new technologies developed through cutting-edge research at the University of Tokyo. From these and more design-led starting points they will create real-world applications that have the potential to create transformational innovations.’

The Design Lab will exist in a developmental meeting space between commerce and academia, providing room for design innovation, prototyping and product development, alongside fostering the exchange of ideas between the two institutions by mixing diverse skill-sets and experiences. Through initial links to industry, the team will respond to specific briefs, as well as broader “Innovation Themes” to create innovation opportunities for IIS research. While the initial phase will involve a team of IDE graduates, there is potential for the Design Lab to involve expertise from all disciplines at the RCA. For example, future collaborations may come from the Fashion and Textiles programmes, working on briefs to create wearable robotics or developing applications for smart fabrics. 

Through bringing in graduates from the RCA, the Design Lab will create a new diversity of thought and culture, providing a melting pot for the exchange of ideas. The aim is for it to become a community space within the institution, facilitating collaboration and networks within the university and local community. The Design Lab will also act as an education academy, where training in innovation and design methods will take place for corporations and other commercial entities.

This new collaboration with University of Tokyo enables the College to gain access to new types of advanced technology research, strengthen its reach and profile in Japan and deliver high-impact research outputs. For designers and researchers visiting Japan from the UK, the Design Lab will also offer the opportunity to learn from the way Japan is using technology in response to challenges that may become future scenarios for the UK, such as an ageing population and the finitude of limited natural resources.

Professor Naren Barfield, Pro-Rector said: ‘The collaboration with the University of Tokyo further enhances the RCA's position as a global authority on design innovation, increasing the important role that RCA education and research play in global knowledge exchange, fostering academic and industrial links and helping to create new opportunities for the UK economy. It also offers incredible opportunities for graduates  of the College to be involved in live innovation projects, providing exceptional access to world-leading research in science and engineering at one of the top-ranking universities in Asia.’

The initial stage of the project is supported by funding from the Japanese government through the Cool Japan initiative. The prototype Design Lab aims to attract interest from potential partner businesses from Japan, the UK and the rest of the world.