Stephen Hall

MRes RCA: Communication Design Pathway, 2016–

Why did you decide to pursue a research degree at the RCA?

For me, this course is about repositioning myself as a creative practitioner, specifically as a communication designer and illustrator. I think research is a crucial skill for a designer today and is expected professionally – and the MRes programme provides you with the essential tools and methods for research-based practice.

I also teach design across University of Arts London and I see this research degree as professional development to further my teaching career. Having teaching experience means I know how to make good use of the environment, but it also means that I have had to make a conscious effort to be the student!

Can you describe what it’s like studying on the MRes programme?

There are two scheduled contact days and the research requirements are very intensive. I teach one day a week, but I wish I could be here full time. On Mondays students from across the programme come together to learn different research methodologies, while the second day is pathway specific. We also overlap with the MPhil and PhD students for lectures and seminars.

As a teacher, I know that this kind of peer-to-peer learning is really important. It encourages a ‘community of practice,’ which is the ideal environment for research.

What have you found to be the main differences between your expectation of the programme and the reality?

I expected to have to write extensively for my final presentation, but actually found that you can choose to pursue something practical alongside a smaller written contingent. What that can be is quite broad – it could be a business proposal, for example – which suits my thinking well. For me the context should be practically directed towards illustration and design and I can pursue that here.

What are your ambitions for your research this year and after graduation?

My research involves collections and collecting. I am collector myself of natural objects and I am interested in taxonomy, biodiversity and connections between living organisms. I am considering both how information can be presented visually for the use of scientists and how complex knowledge can be communicated to the public.

I would like to base myself professionally in a museum context and embed my work within the science community. I am currently making those work connections with museums and studying at the RCA has been helpful in building professional bridges. Conducting research within an institution like this gives you a better platform from which to project your work into the world.

What have you found most rewarding about your time at the RCA?

To an extent, the experience is what you make of it. You need to take advantage of what’s on offer, which is a lot. I always had a clear sense of the research I wanted to pursue, but the structure of the course has exposed me to different research methods and different ways of thinking.

For example, I worked on a collaborative project on the future of publishing in relation to libraries with students from other courses and on my pathway. It was an opportunity to unpack how people engage with knowledge through different technologies. It’s a pertinent topic when libraries are being closed down across the country.

I also think that overall I am much more engaged in general. I feel rejuvenated as a person and in terms of my practice. Successful research requires passion for what you are doing and I feel that I am pursuing a sincere expression of my own practice here at the RCA.

"I feel rejuvenated as a person and in terms of my practice. Successful research requires passion for what you are doing and I feel that I am pursuing a sincere expression of my own practice here at the RCA."
Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall