LDoc Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDA) RCA x IBM

The London Doctoral Design Centre (LDoc) and RCA are pleased to announce calls for applications for a new CDA project to commence in September 2018. 

Application deadline: Tuesday 28 November 2017 

This practice-led proposal seeks to explore how adaptive forms of design might address the complexities of conversational communication in digitally mediated contexts in people’s public and private lives. Artificial (or Augmented) Intelligence (AI), for example, is increasingly integrated into our daily activities and interactions such as phone marketing and customer support, IoT devices and services, smartphone and personal computer virtual personal assistants, and online aggregated news generation. IBM predicts that ‘the relationship between humans and computers will remain interactive and collaborative.’ (IBM 2017) As the speed of technological innovation threatens to overtake the human-centred design of AI there is a sense of urgency for exploring the ways in which design might shape and inform new kinds of communication interactions and experiences. As such, the research asks: how do we approach the design of human and machine conversations in the near future? 

The project aims to provide opportunities to explore through communication design practice, approaches and methods, the design of verbal and contextual conversations and to prototype the potential objects, contexts and/or experiences in which they may be embedded. This will be achieved through a scoping of emerging contexts, forms of analysis, models, qualities and/or characteristics of human and machine conversational systems, and preliminary testing of protocols, interfaces and experiences. 

Equally central to the research are the following sub-questions: how will the situations and contexts in which AI might be applied to human and machine conversations, interfaces and experiences address complex ethical, legal and policy challenges. For example, how do we design-in ‘trust’, ‘empathy’ and ‘privacy’ to human-machine conversations and the contexts in which they take place? In what ways might we design-in and maintain a human-centric approach? How might diverse sensory and neurological conditions be incorporated into the design of ‘inclusive’ conversational models, systems, agents or robots? And how might conversations remain human-driven; that is, fluid and responsive? What is the role of multimodality in new kinds of communication interactions, and how might conversational AI models accommodate non-verbal as well as verbal actions and cues? And finally, how should we design for multi-person/machine and social aspects of conversational interactions, characteristics and behaviours? 

The scope of this PhD allows for a range of opportunities for the candidate to help shape research in the emerging field of adaptive communication. The partnership between the RCA and IBM iX will facilitate access to developing ‘conversational AI’ research within an applied context – specifically, with one of the UK’s leading retail banks and the customer research lab. It is anticipated that the candidate will have relevant expertise for working at the intersection of linguistics, human behaviour and AI technology with a focus on design of the human experience. 

IBM iX will gain in working with a PhD candidate and supervisors who are able to dedicate in-depth, high-level research in relevant fields in which the organization is now investing. The candidate will inform new, novel and/or experimental ways of thinking and designing for Artificial Intelligence – a field in which IBM iX is a world leader. The PhD candidate will be exposed to the latest technological and design thinking in this world leading digital-agency. The candidate and will have the opportunity to engage with supervised ‘live’ projects in the field as part of the research process and have access to knowledge from IBM iX experts (in addition to the project’s IBM iX supervisor).

Application Process 

Students wishing to apply for this CDA should first read through the project description and selection criteria in this document and the LDoc application documents. In selecting applicants, the panel will be looking for proposals that directly address the themes and concerns outlined. All applications for this CDA must be received by RCA no later than noon on Tuesday 28 November 2017. Applications should comprise of an LDoc application and an online RCA application with supporting documentation. More information is available here. 

This is a 2-step application process: 

Stage 1
Applications will be considered by a panel convened at RCA and the selected applicant will be offered a place at RCA. This offer will include full supervision, mentoring and support from both RCA and IBM for the duration of their studies. 

Stage 2 
The selected applicant, together with CDA applicants from UAL and Kingston University, will be submitted to the LDoc Selection Panel, where they will be considered for LDoc funding. The criteria for selection at this stage are in line with the standard LDoc selection process (please see the LDoc Application Student Guidance Notes for more information). 


  1. Applicants offered funded studentships will receive a full fee waiver from their university and, where eligible, an AHRC stipend (for 2017/18 this was £16,553 for full-time students). 
  2. LDoc CDA Studentships are further supported by an additional payment of £500 per annum to cover travel and expenses incurred through the partnership. 
  3. Full Time and Part Time (50% FTE and above) applications will be considered. 

Please Note Applicants must be aware that success in stage 1 of the process (the offer to pursue the project at RCA) does not guarantee LDoc funding, but does guarantee supervision, mentoring and support from RCA and IBM. 

Submission Requirements 

  • Completed LDoc application form, outlining your proposal in answer to this CDA
  • Copies of your transcripts or certificates • Two references (to be sent directly by your referees)
  • Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form 
  • Completed RCA online PhD application and supporting documentation 

Application Timeline 

Applications open: Monday 16 October 2017 

Application deadline: Tuesday 28 November 2017 

Stage 1 successful applicant confirmed: Friday 8 March 2018 

Stage 2 funding outcome: Friday 4 May 2018 

Studentship begins: September 2018