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Meet Dr Rob Phillips, Senior Tutor, Design Products

From designing food on the go, to working with a co-operative of Bolivian miners to develop safety equipment that is easy to make and repair locally, Dr Rob Phillips’ approach to design focuses on user and planet orientated solutions. As he puts it: ‘design is all about people, it’s all about empathy, it’s all about how we build compassion with each other, and 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. 

At the RCA Rob is a Senior Tutor on the 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 able to transform industries. ‘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. 

In his teaching at the RCA, Rob draws on 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. 

Bee Lab by Dr Rob Phillips
Bee Lab, Rob Phillips
His PhD from the RCA aligned new methodologies from open design, citizen science and practical public engagement. This took the form of Bee Lab, a project that enhanced the practice of beekeeping by making 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 has collaboratively raised over £3.5 million for research projects, through EPSRC and Arts Council Funding. He has run over 50 design workshops with interdisciplinary teams, cultures and international participants. His research seeks to use design to decrease people’s impact, gaining insight into what people really do and not just what design does. His latest book ‘FutureKind, design for and by the people’, published by Thames & Hudson, presents over 60 innovative, socially and environmentally conscious design projects, and is a culmination of his research interests and belief that design practice should be holistically sustainable. 

My Naturewatch, a collaboration between the Interaction Research Studio Goldsmiths and the RCA, is Rob’s most recent project and 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.

Learn more about Dr Rob Phillips and discover more about MA Design Products.