Please upgrade your browser

For the best experience, you should upgrade your browser. Visit our accessibility page to view a list of supported browsers along with links to download the latest version.

Hui-Ying Kerr

PhD Work

Envisioning the Bubble: Creating and Consuming Lifestyles through Magazines in the Culture of the Japanese Bubble Economy (1986-1991)

In the late 1980s, Japan experienced an economic bubble of such proportions, it was later called the ‘Bubble Economy’. Accompanying the stock and property boom was a correspondent consumer frenzy, in which Japan frenetically participated in the collective dream of its own global destiny. While only lasting a few years, the crash accompanying the boom had repercussions for the following two decades, showing the scale of the Bubble through the length of its fall. Nevertheless, although inarguably influential, the Bubble has largely been studied in economic terms, while the cultural nature of the Japanese Bubble has been much less so.

This research explores the Japanese Bubble Economy as a cultural phenomenon through consumer lifestyle magazines of the late 1980s and accompanying oral histories. Bringing together narratives of Japanese cultural, economic and design histories, it focuses on the young working Japanese men and women at the forefront of the economic and consumer bubble, also called the salaryman and office lady (OL) respectively.

Through the themes of work, leisure, and the international, it posits that the Japanese Bubble was more than a hollow peak of Japanese economy, but had essential implications for its consumer-citizens in terms of nationalism, internationalisation, gendered cultures of work and leisure, masculinity, femininity, travel and tourism, sport, sub-cultural forms of retro and kawaii, resistance, dissention, and ultimately relationships with time itself.

Wider implications of this study include the repositioning of Japan’s 1980s as a time of change and momentum-gathering; not only as a period significant for signalling the end of extended economic growth, and the beginning of a new era of consolidation and self-exploration, but also as a necessary catalyst for cultural metamorphosis and development of later soft power. Using approaches that are deliberately interdisciplinary, intertextual, material, and discursive (Adamson, Riello, Teasley, 2011; Lees-Maffei, Howze, 2010), it engages with that of the non-West and the transnational, contributing to a narrative of a uniquely East-Asian reclamation of modernity. Furthermore, positioned against the context of other cultures of economic bubbles, it contributes to other global design histories of consumer cultures in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.


  • PhD


    School of Humanities


    History of Design, 2010–2017

  • Hui-Ying is a former product design practitioner turned design historian. Specialising in the culture of the Japanese Bubble Economy of the late 1980s, her research interests include the cultural impact of economic bubbles as materialised through lifestyle, material culture and design; postmodernism and consumer culture; gender; work and leisure cultures; East Asia, and the intersectionality of encounters of the local with the international.

    Prior to her PhD, Hui-Ying has been a product designer, playground designer, and more recently lecturer and researcher in the departments of Product Design and Fashion at Nottingham Trent University. In 2012, she was an AHRC IPS Visiting Researcher at the National Museum of Ethnology (Osaka, Japan). Hui-Ying is currently a senior lecturer in product design and module leader for design studies at Nottingham Trent University.

    Hui-Ying holds an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) with the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Her PhD thesis explores consumer cultures of the Japanese Bubble Economy through 1980s lifestyle magazines, with a focus on those of the Japanese salaryman and the office lady (OL).

  • Degrees

  • MA, Architecture and Critical Theory, University of Nottingham, 2007; BSc (Hons), Computer Aided Product Design, Nottingham Trent University, 2005; BTEC Foundation in Art and Design, University of Arts London, 2001
  • Experience

  • Senior lecturer in Product Design, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, 2016, current; Visiting researcher, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka Japan, 2012; Senior lecturer in Design and Visual Culture, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, 2009, 2010; Research assistant to the Associate Dean of Art and Design, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, 2009; Playground designer, Proludic Ltd, Nottingham, 2005, 2006
  • Exhibitions

  • Mould Map 6 Terraformers, Magazines of the Japanese Bubble Economy, Bonington Gallery, Nottingham, 2016
  • Awards

  • College Art Association (CAA) Membership and Conference Fees Grant, Design History Society Fund, 2017; Nottingham Trent Student Union (NTSU) 2017 Outstanding Teaching Awards Winner, Outstanding Teaching Staff; Architecture, Design, Built Environment (ADBE) Category, 2017; Royal College of Art Research Student Conference Travel Grant, 2013; Arts and Humanities Research Council International Placement Scheme (AHRC IPS) with the National Institute of Humanities Japan (NIHU), Visiting Researcher Travel Grant, 2012; Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Award (AHRC CDA), 2010, 2012, 2013
  • Conferences

  • The Well-Travelled Woman: Hanako Magazine and the Internationalised Women of the Japanese Bubble Economy, Modern Living in Asia 1945 – 1990, University of Brighton, 10th – 11th April 2017; Materialising Knowledge: Design Studies for All!, Success for All: Advancing Inclusive Curricula and Pedagogies, Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) Nottingham Trent University, 5th April 2017; Bubble Dreams and Bubble Living: Magazines and Consumer Lifestyles of the Japanese Economic Bubble (1986 – 1991), Mould Map 6 Saturday Special 15/10/16, Terraformers, Bonington Gallery, Nottingham, 15th Oct 2016; Consuming leisure, consuming lifestyle: Women’s access to the Bubble through the lifestyle magazine, Hanako, in the Japanese Bubble Economy (1986-1991), Postgraduate Workshop, Japan Foundation and British Anglo Japanese Society, 6th Feb 2014; Design in the Japanese Bubble Economy (1986-1991), Arts and Humanities Research Council International Placement Scheme Early Career International Fellowship Showcase, University of Westminster, 15th Nov 2013; Consuming Nostalgia in the Japanese Bubble Economy (1986-1991), Nostalgias: Visualising Longing, Canterbury Christ Church University; University of Arts London (UAL), 9-10th Nov 2013; Researching the Japanese Bubble Economy (1986-1991), Arts and Humanities Research Council International Placement Scheme (AHRC IPS) Showcase, University of Leeds, 2nd Nov 2012
  • Publications

  • What is kawaii – and why did the world fall for the ‘cult of cute’?, The Conversation,, 23rd Nov 2016