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PhD Programme

The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design PhD programme aims to develop independent researchers in inclusive and people-centred design. 

Please note the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design does not offer funding for PhD research. Successful applicants and candidates will need to source their own funding. Funding opportunities at the RCA can be found here.

Design research at PhD level in inclusive and interdisciplinary. We welcome proposals that explore inclusive design within the themes of people, place and technology (please see below for current and former PhD projects). Candidates are jointly attached to the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and an associated RCA programme / school. We accept PhD research by project or thesis. Please see this link for more details on application for PhD research to the RCA, including key dates,particularly the round 2 application deadline of Wednesday 5 February 2020, 11:59pm (GMT). 

Find out more about the Helen Hamlyn PhD Programme at the Research Centres PhD Programmes Open Evening on Wednesday 22 January, 2020.

Initial enquiries regarding the HHCD PhD programme should be sent to [email protected]. Your enquiry should include an outline 1000 word proposal and CV. Proposals should include:

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Research background and questions
  • Key texts and approaches in the field
  • What your project may contribute to existing work in the field?
  • How does it extend our understanding of particular questions or topics?
  • Which Inclusive Design theme (people, place technology) your proposal is aligned to
  • Research methods
  • What resources will you use or need? 
  • Any organisations you have approached to undertake inclusive research with
  • Is your study interdisciplinary? 
  • What theoretical resources do you intend to use and why? 
  • What forms of textual, historical or visual analysis are relevant to your topic/field? 
  • What forms of practice will you use and why?
  • How will you set about answering your research questions?
  • Schedule of work (within three to four years - full time)
  • Bibliography in a standard format such as Harvard

Please see section 7 of the RCA’s webpage on applying for PhD research for more details on writing the research proposal. 

Current PhD Candidates

Will Renel

Sonic Inclusion: exploring the relationships between sound and social inclusion in creative urban environments. How can an inclusive design researcher work in collaboration with a creative urban environment (such as a theatre) to make their building more socially inclusive using sound? Will’s research considers the proximal and distal effects of engaging communities in collective creative acts through technological means and questions if equal access to collective creative engagement, through an exploration of technological design methodologies, can develop and sustain more inclusive communities. His practice-led study aims to generate innovative models of inclusive community development through new understanding of technological interfaces for collective creative engagement.

Supervisors: Dr Jo-Anne Bichard (HHCD) and Tom Simmons (School of Communication)
Funded by Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and LDOC Programme

Laura Salisbury

Fashioning Stroke RehabilitationThis PhD research project deploys inclusive design methods in the area of Fashion Technology. It explores user-led design solutions to the challenges most frequently experienced by stroke survivors. It aims to: explore in detail the experience of post stroke rehabilitation with a focus on dressing as an ADL recognised by the World Health Organisation; test and develop the methods of user-led design practice; demonstrate the agency of new uses of materials and technologies; gather data on specificity of experiences of cross sensory modalities of touch, tactility, kinetic and proprioceptive experience.

Supervisors: Dr Chris McGinley (HHCD) and Professor Ashley Hall (School of Design) 
Funded by Stavros Niarchos Foundation

Silke Hofmann

Rethinking; Improving post mastectomy lingerieSilke is a womenswear designer and university professor at Mediadesign University of Applied Sciences, Germany. She holds a BA in Fashion Design (Magna Cum Laude), from the Fashion Institute of Technology and an MA in Fashion Knitwear (with Distinction), from Central Saint Martins. While working as a designer for international prêt-à-porter houses, Silke developed creative content which recognises that perception of beauty and femininity is highly personal and diverse. In her academic work Silke investigates the relationship between a garment and its wearer, looking at the psychological impact of clothing. Her work has been featured in I-D magazine, Wallpaper* magazine, Paris Vogue,, among others.

Supervisors: Dr Chris McGinley (HHCD) and Dr Anne Toomey (School of Design) 
Funded by Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and LDOC Programme

Imogen Privett

Workspace//Interrupted: The effects of co-working on workspace design practice: What effect has co-working and its associated cultures of community collaboration and co-creation had on existing models of workspace design practice? Traditional corporate structures – both in terms of space and process – struggle to deliver the level of responsiveness required to compete in a globalised knowledge economy, tending to be internalised, inflexible and hierarchical.  In response to this changing landscape, this study uses the rise of co-working and the values associated with it as a lens through which to look at the broader workplace, with a particular focus on how people behave in these new working environments and how these designed spaces are briefed and commissioned. This PhD by Practice takes an ethnographic methodological approach and is centred on a new co-working space, the Birmingham Hub.

Supervisors: Professor Jeremy Myerson (HHCD) and Dr Harriet Harris (School of Architecture)
Supported by Haworth

Bastian Beyer

The textile microbiome and its utilisation for autopoietic composite matrices. This project investigates specific microorganisms and their utilization as bio-receptive composite materials for design and architecture. The research draws upon the textile microbiome, an active microbiological community colonizing specific fibrous structures and accounts for the distinct reactive behaviours under certain conditions. Through the biological process of metabolization, microorganisms are able to generate a wide range of by-products which can potentially be harnessed for composite matrices. Hereby, spatial textile scaffolds can serve as a host material for such microorganisms to propagate and deposit a second material layer on the fibrous system. This process ultimately alters the global behaviour of the textile composite system as a whole. In contrast to electronic, chemical or mechanical means of activating textile materials, the strategy incorporated in this research proposes to harnesses biology’s intrinsic adaptive and responsiveness for novel fibre-based composite materials.

Supervisors: Dr Jo-Anne Bichard (HHCD) and Ian Higgins (School of Architecture)
Funded by ArcInTex ETN and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions European Training Network   

Nick Bell

Design as part of a preventative strategy for mental health. Nick is researching the use of participatory design methods as part of a place-based preventative strategy for mental health. This practice-led PhD explores making-led forms of situated co-reflexive practice – carried out with community group members – that are equitable and inclusive but also sensitive to power, agency and ownership dynamics operating when designers intervene. Using co-reflexive practice workshops to unlock group member capabilities – and drawing on Transition Design, Scandinavian methodologies of socio-material assemblies – this study looks at the potential for steering the mental health trajectories of community group members away from possible future illness by helping them to make changes to the things they do day-in, day-out (so-called everyday-life-practices) that they identify as potential contributing factors.

Supervisors: Professor Teal Triggs (School of Communication) and Dr Jo-Anne Bichard (HHCD)

Wenbo Ai

Design literacy and engagement in healthcare: designing for active practices in Chinese community hospitals. This PhD research examines how communication and service design could contribute to a healthier workplace, better quality health services, and increased community participation in China through Health Promotion Hospital (HPH) projects. HPH is a World Health Organization (WHO) project, involving a process of interventions that enable or empower people, increasing their ability to exert control over and to improve their health (WHO,1991). The Chinese government initiated HPH strategies and started pilot projects in 2013. My practice will be guided by WHO policy and be conducted within the aegis of the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China and National Health Centre. My practice will be implemented within local hospitals in Henan Province, where low literacy patients still make up significant numbers.  This study uses ethnographic, participatory design methods, with a patient-centred, user-experienced community design approach. This should help shift the roles and cultures of hospitals from passive / reactive treatment to more active, participant health community centres. The research will offer a design framework which could contribute to HPH development, situated specifically in the Chinese context, and this bottom-up strategy will offer an example, specifically to new and innovative management organisations in the Chinese context.

Supervisors: Professor Teal Triggs (School of Communication) and Dr Jo-Anne Bichard (HHCD)

Past PhD Candidates

Katie Gaudion

A Designer’s Approach: Exploring how Autistic Adults with Learning Disabilities Experience their Home Environment
Autistic adults with limited speech and additional learning disabilities are people whose perceptions and interactions with their environment are unique, but whose experiences are under-explored in design research. This PhD by Practice investigated how people with autism experience their home environment through collaboration with the autism charity Kingwood Trust, which gave the designer extensive access to a community of autistic adults that it supports. (Completed June 2015) 

Supervisors: Professor Jeremy Myerson (HHCD) and Professor Ashley Hall (School of Design) 
Supported by The Kingwood Trust 

John Fass

Externalising Instruments: Making sense of digital experience through design

John is exploring the ways people understand digital experiences. Using the examples of browser history, social networks and email this practice-led PhD allows for creative physical expressions of mental models. John's research consists of public-facing, collaborative project work, which has application in the fields of design research and human computer interaction.

Supervisors: Dr Kevin Walker (School of Communication) and Professor Jeremy Myerson (HHCD) 
Funded by Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and The Creative Exchange

Benjamin Koslowski

Staging Privacy: architectural representation, theatre and thresholds in digital public space . Staging Privacy explores architectural representation as a tool to better understand individual privacy in digital space. Psychological notions of privacy have not yet been successfully adapted to the various overlapping sites of digital social interaction; this investigation uses the theatre and its related notions of actors and audiences to unpick the shifting qualities of interaction, and to help individuals better understand their own position with this.

Supervisors: Professor Jeremy Myerson (HHCD) and Professor Neville Brody (School of Communication) 
Funded by Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and The Creative Exchange

Jimmy Tidey

How can Local Government use Social Media to Inform Policy?

Jimmy’s research is considering the ‘digital footprint’ of communities, generated through locally-oriented digital public spaces (blogs, forums, Tweets and Facebook pages). By investigating the collection and processing of such data, this PhD aims to find out how it can be used to inform local policy, measure outcomes, and, importantly, improve communication among groups of people within UK society. 

Supervisors: Professor Jeremy Myerson (HHCD) and Professor Neville Brody (School of Communication) 
Funded by Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and The Creative Exchange