Design education

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

The Design Group at The Open University has led innovation in distance and online design education since its inception in the early 1970s. Educating designers at a distance requires a completely different starting point and approach to traditional studio models. even though both modes share many properties and features. These different frames ‘make visible aspects’ of learning and teaching in design, meaning the OU is a unique place to undertake design education research.

The Design Group have ongoing interests in the following areas of design education scholarship and research:

  • Representation and inclusion in design education
  • Social learning mechanisms in design education
  • Distance and online design education methods, strategies and practices
  • Online design education technologies, systems and services
  • Studio pedagogy, theory and practice
  • Design assessment practices and approaches
  • Design education theory and philosophy

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

With over 3000 students studying design, the Design School at the OU is a unique place to undertake scholarship and research in design education.

We have current research interests in:

  •  Emancipatory, inclusive and plural design education
  • Co-design and community-based design education
  • Design studio pedagogy in different modes and sites of design education
  • Design education theory applied to design knowledge and practice
  • Creative ecoliteracy and traditional wisdom
  • Design practices in developing countries and marginalised communities

Current/recent research projects

  • Re imaginando el taller de Diseño como espacio educativo en el futuro: co-design of contextualised distance design education methods based on Chilean educators’ experiences during and immediately after the pandemic, leading to the production of a localised version of the Creating Distance Design Courses guide.
  • Hyperlocal: La Campana Education program and pilot using Raspberry Pi to create local digital networks around physical making activities in La Camapana, Mexico. Collaboration with Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, local FabLab.
  • Studio Propeties. Book writing and teacher support project with a consortium of  global researchers in studio based education. 
  • Understanding the mental health retention and awarding gap in Design modules. Deep qualitative study of the specific challenges and barriers experienced by Design students with mental health difficulties throughout their study.
  • Audio Feedback Project. E&I funded research project exploring the use of audio feedback to support tutor-student relations through assessment and tuition feedback.
  • FabLab Nepal: Challenges and Opportunities. E&I funded research project investigating the potential of the digital crafts in Nepal. Collaboration with Nepal FabLab/Impact Hub Kathmandu.
  • Pluriversal Fashions: Towards an Anti-Racist Fashion Design Pedagogy (AHRC DesignStar Centre for Doctoral Training)
  • How does creative thinking enable distance design learners to maintain their mental wellbeing? (self-funded PhD)

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.


Design workshop

How to apply

Get in touch

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

Dr Katerina Alexiou; Dr Nicole Lotz
Email: stem-ei-phd

Apply now

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