Complexity and design

Qualifications Duration Start dates Application period
(MPhil also available)
Full time: 3–4 years
Part time: 6–8 years
February and October January to April
PhD (MPhil also available)
Full time: 3–4 years
Part time: 6–8 years
Start dates
February and October
Application period
January to April

Complexity and design as a research theme at the Design Group encompasses a broad spectrum of investigations and interpretations including:

  • ‘complexity as characteristic of design and innovation’ (e.g. studying complex phenomena and processes such as social innovation, teamwork, cognitive processes, or policy design)
  • ‘complexity as a critical problem in design’ (e.g. studying and developing methods to manage and reduce complexity in design teams or processes)
  • ‘complexity as a set of methods and tools for design practice and research’ (e.g. studying and applying complexity methods such as multi-agent systems or neural networks to generate design ideas, solve design problems or simulate design phenomena)
  • ‘complexity as a theory of design and innovation’ (e.g. using complexity as a set of epistemological concepts that can help us approach reality and understand design processes, design capabilities, design products, design transitions).

Research in complexity and design includes various topics such as:

  • application of complexity theory and hypernetwork theory in the design of sociotechnical systems, social design processes, innovation, design process
  • development of approaches, methods and computational tools to address complex issues that arise in design
  • simulation and modelling of very large sociotechnical systems (e.g. cities, transportation systems); simulation and modelling of design cognition, design teams and organisations
  • development of complexity theory of design and innovation in relation to wide areas of design including social design, policy design, collaborative design, sustainable design, community-led design, social innovation, cities, product design, engineering design and manufacturing
  • design of autonomous machine systems, including cooperating and swarm robots; education and entertainment robotics
  • machine vision and intelligent geometry; pattern recognition; computer vision.
  • theoretical approaches to design such as Actor-network Theory

Entry requirements

Minimum 2:1 undergraduate degree (or equivalent). If you are not a UK citizen, you may need to prove your knowledge of English.

Potential research projects

If you are interested in discussing the possibility of undertaking a PhD in any area related to the topics above, please do get in touch with one of the listed supervisors. Check our individual research pages, interests and publications to see who might be the best fit for you; or get in touch with Prof Jeff Johnson and Dr Theodore Zamenopoulos if you are not sure. You will need to develop a research proposal, and do some background reading around your topic.

Current/recent research projects

  • The principles of systems thinking and complexity science.
  • Automating change through graft-oriented design.
  • Designing a Process and Tools to Dynamically Evaluate Innovation Policies.

Potential supervisors

Fees and funding

UK fee International fee
Full time: £4,786 per year Full time: £15,698 per year
Part time: £2,393 per year Part time: £7,849 per year

Some of our research students are funded via the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership; others are self-funded.

For detailed information about fees and funding, visit Fees and studentships.

To see current funded studentship vacancies across all research areas, see Current studentships.


Abstract image illustrating complexity and design

How to apply

Get in touch

If you have an enquiry specific to this research topic, please contact:

Professor Jeffrey Johnson; Dr Theo Zamenopoulos
Email: stem-ei-phd

Apply now

If you’re interested in applying for this research topic, please take a look at the application process.