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PhD study in Design and Innovation at the Open University
The Design Group at The Open University (OU) offers a vibrant research environment. We are located in the Venables building on the OU campus in Milton Keynes. You can read about the history of design at the OU here. The Design Group offers interaction across a spectrum of design cultures drawn from the arts, sciences, humanities and social sciences. A wide variety of people have successfully graduated from the Design Group with a PhD (full list).
The Design Group encourages applications for full- and part-time PhD research, which frequently involves practical design activity. Strong candidates can be considered for an Open University full-time studentship. Please see the research areas specified below for particular opportunities in the Design Group.
If you have a different area of interest or are simply interested in studying full-time or part-time for a PhD in design research please look at the Open University Research Prospectus for general information. For more specific information please contact Dr Emma Dewberry.
We supervise a broad range of part-time PhD projects and are interested in hearing from people with a first degree who would like to propose a research project. For many part-time students this relates closely to their work and career aspirations.
Tuition fees and grants
The Design Group at the Open University is part of the Department of Design, Development, Environment and Materials. There are a limited number of full time 3-year research studentships in the Department, which provide a maintenance grant of at least £13,590 per year plus academic fees. Further, scholarships to cover full time fees may be available. Part-time students will be predominantly self or industry funded and are fully integrated with research student support in the Department and University.
There is a comprehensive training programme in key skills for all PhD students and you may register for any of the OU undergraduate courses free of charge. Design and Innovation provides excellent support and guidance throughout the PhD programme with a first class research environment in which you will participate with the students, staff and researchers across projects and disciplines. There is a thriving series design seminar series. More information on research support is available here.
Design Group's research themes
Design Processes and Products
The group has a long record in understanding, guiding and supporting design processes and in developing better tools for designers and for the management of design processes. Our work focuses on a number of key areas including: creativity, design computation, design representations and design thinking and ethics.
Exemplar areas for PhD projects:
To embed generative design tools in design processes and to create generative design methods in rapid prototyping
To understand the constraints and creativity in approaches to design and innovation
To better identify change processes in engineering design across platforms and technologies
To understand how ethical codes are constructed and enacted in processes of design and innovation.
Creativity - a major driver in invention and innovative design. We study creative people to understand the thinking and representations in creative design processes.
Design computation concerns the computations applied to visual representations and physical objects as they are transformed, evaluated and tested during design process
Design representations are the lifeblood of the design process. We investigate how designers generate new designs from explicit representations, existing products or the structure and rules embedded in them.
Design Thinking and Ethics is concerned both with individual cognitive activity during the process of design as well as thinking 'projected' into the world in the form of talk and discussion.
At the OU we see design as a fundamental agent of change in society. Our work in sustainable design and innovation focuses on the broad agendas of social and ecological transformations in society including: low carbon living in the built environment; sustainable energy; sustainable products and services; and sustainable transport systems.
Exemplar areas for PhD projects:
The integration of user centred and inclusive approaches to design and innovation
The role of design and innovation in sustainability, e.g. in adaptation and mitigation to climate change
The exploration of low carbon living e.g. energy products and systems of energy use in the built environment and low carbon transport technologies
The role of design in interrupting current approaches to business and in fostering new types of innovation and leadership.
Low Carbon Living in the Built Environment embraces multidisciplinary research that focuses on assessing and reducing the footprints of housing and households, including via technical changes such as the adoption of low and zero carbon products, vehicles and systems and via behavioural changes in peoples’ lifestyles and consumption.
Sustainable Products and Services themes use cross-discipline approaches to develop novel and useful insights on a range of topics including product service system design for sustainability, transitions to sustainable design and innovation, participatory approaches to sustainable design, design for resilience, eco-literacy, the study of power, politics and ethics in sustainable design and innovation.
Complexity Science and Design
Research focuses on the designs, policies and modelling of complex socio technical systems. Key themes address the applications of complexity science in design theory, methods and practice and in identifying, measuring and managing complexity of design processes, products, and organizations. Areas for further research include: complexity in design thinking, processes and artefacts; complexity science, society and technology; and kinematic design and robot applications.
Exemplar areas for PhD projects:
The development and analysis of intelligent machines such as cooperating and swarm robots, education and entertainment robotics, and autonomous robotic space systems.
The relationship between design and complexity in, for example, the development of multi-level network analyses of organisations and artefacts
The theoretical and empirical explorations of neuropsychology in processes of design.
Complexity in Design Thinking, Processes and Artefacts Product designers, architects, engineers, urban designers, policy makers – in fact, designers from all fields – increasingly use the word ‘complexity’ to characterise both the design activity and its outputs. In all different domains, the ‘complexity’ of design thinking, processes, outputs and organizations is one of the biggest challenges for designers today but also an intrinsic characteristic of design activity.
Complexity Science, Society and Technology The complexity and design group has been leading a variety of projects aiming to coordinate research in complexity science across Europe and the World, with an emphasis on future technologies and on cultivating engagement with societal issues, sustainability, education and policy making.
Page Last Updated: 23 February, 2013