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Research Themes

The College has four research themes which bring together researchers with shared interests: Cultures of Curating; Design, Innovation & Society; Dialogues of Form & Surface and Image & Language. These themes encompass the cross-disciplinary, experimental and innovative nature of research from across all of the academic programmes in the four Schools of the College, as well as the Creative Exchange hub and The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.

Image & Language

The Image & Language research theme embraces the study and practice of the image as representation and positions the Royal College of Art at the forefront of innovative interdisciplinary research into the significance of the image. Researchers engage with still or moving images across painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, film, communication and their interpretation in literature, philosophy and the study of language and signs. We are interested in how language apprehends the visual and how visual representations challenge articulated language.  Research contributes to an understanding of visual representations and their effects, aiming to question received notions of the visual and the verbal as separate entities. Outcomes primarily take the form of publications, seminars, performances, artefacts and exhibitions in leading institutions and cultural organisations. Together, this research contributes to a deeper understanding of changing perceptions of cultural value. 

Design, Innovation & Society

One of the leading challenges for researchers in art, architecture and design disciplines is to engage with major changes in society and the environment. The Royal College of Art is at the leading edge of research that shows the practical application of design to areas of great social need. Challenges such as population growth, changing demography, urban living, sustainability, quality of life and health care are addressed by our researchers and much of the research is practice-led. Design research frequently involves strategic partnerships to bring world-leading designers together with expert collaborators in relevant fields from other universities and industry. Research can range from critical and speculative design and design as discourse, commissioned artefacts for museums and galleries, to innovative STEM-related research with immediate impact on manufacture and the economy.

Dialogues of Form & Surface

Innovation in art and design through materials and processes is of central importance and represents a vital research theme at the Royal College of Art. Outcomes of this enquiry can have significant implications for an individual maker or the future direction of major industrial application. Many art and design researchers employ the methods of material science to investigate the properties and behaviour of particular materials or processes. This can involve experiment in laboratory settings as well as the studio and workshop. Tests, samples and prototypes, often developed through iterative stages, garner important data and evidence. The application of their findings can lead to the realisation of new artefacts – prototypes, finished artwork or designs, frequently present through exhibition. A further dimension is to investigate the relationship between materials and human experience, leading to important insights to advances in the area of health and well-being.

Cultures of Curating

The research theme of Cultures of Curating embraces the broad range of curatorial approaches at the Royal College of Art and their impact on the wider world. It spans the interdisciplinary fields of art, design, architecture, craft, photography, fashion, film, textiles, graphics, science and technology, new media and digital futures. Emphasis is on the exhibition as a form of critical and creative practice. Research undertaken in Cultures of Curating examines curation and criticism as discursive practices. Without exception, these are seen as informed by theoretical positions, values and assumptions. Questions include: ‘what is the object of curation?’ and ‘where is its cultural location?’ Researchers question the authority of selection manifest in curatorial practices and strategies for publication and the ideas that surround, support and interrogate art and design, or develop their artistic practice to reflect on critical concepts. Together, this research contributes to a deeper understanding of changing perceptions of cultural value.

See also academic Staff, where you can filter by Research Theme to find those who contribute research and professional practice of international significance on these themes.