Apply for a studentship

Applications are no longer being accepted; the competition is now closed

Academic qualifications and experience

You must hold a first or a very good upper second class undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, and hold or be completing a Master’s degree, or have relevant professional experience.


You must be a United Kingdom citizen to hold a full AHRC Design Star studentship.  EU applicants who have not been resident in the UK for the three years prior to the start of their studentship are only eligible for a fees-only award; however, Design Star aims to offer EU applicants selected for awards full or part maintenance grants from our own institutional funds. We are governed by the Research Councils UK’s Conditions of Research Council Training Grants. Its residency requirements are:

43. To be eligible for a full award a student must have:

  • Settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long they can stay and
  • Been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the studentship. This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences) and
  • Not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals).

44. To be eligible for a fees only award:

  • Students from EU countries other than the UK are generally eligible for a fees-only award. To be eligible for a fees-only award, a student must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU, in the same way as UK students must be ordinarily resident in the UK. Note: These eligibility criteria are based on the Education (Fees and Awards) (England) Regulations 2007 and subsequent amendments.

What an AHRC Design Star studentship covers

We provide our award-holders with a comprehensive and attractive package of financial support over the duration of their studies:

  • A tax-free maintenance grant set at the UK Research Council’s national postgraduate rate
  • Full payment of tuition fees during your period of supervised study
  • Financial support to attend our cohort-building events
  • Financial support to incorporate short-term placements, international study visits and specialist training events in order to develop your skills (if possible please highlight potential needs in your initial application).

Part-time award-holders receive a maintenance grant at levels that are pro-rata to their time commitment, which is usually 50%.

How to apply

Apply for a PhD place . . .

  1. Get in touch with staff at one of the Design Star universities to discuss your research area and proposed topic.
  2. Submit an online application form for a PhD place at one of the Design Star universities. This will include your research proposal and you will need to attach electronic copies of documents such as your academic transcripts. References will also be required. University of Brighton Goldsmiths Loughborough University The Open University University of Reading

… and apply for Design Star funding

***The competition is now closed***

  1. Apply for Design Star studentship funding by filling in the Design Star application form. Send this, and a one page CV, as a PDF to the Design Star contact in the university to which you have applied, and also to Polly Harte, the Design Star Administrator.
  2. If your application for a PhD place is accepted by the University you will told that you have been offered a place, and you will be entered for the Design Star studentship competition automatically.

How we choose Design Star students

At a special meeting, members of the Design Star consortium will consider your application for a PhD place and your Design Star studentship application against the following criteria:

  1. The originality, quality and practicality of the proposed research project, and the contribution it is likely to make to advancing the discipline (evidenced by the proposal and the references);
  2. The extent to which the project provides scope for a student to develop a range of subject specific and generic skills;
  3. The fit between the applicant, the proposal and the aims and objectives of Design Star.

The scores for each candidate will be used to form a ranked list. We will allocate studentship funding (from AHRC and university match funding) starting at the top of the list and will continue down the list until the funding runs out. A reserve list will then be made.

If you are successful in the studentship competition you will receive a formal offer of funding from the Design Star administrator.

The content and structure of the proposal will inevitably vary depending on the discipline area and the nature of the project you wish to pursue.

The general guidance, and suggested headings, provided here should help you to structure and present your ideas clearly in your proposal.

Your overall aim is to produce a research proposal that is clear and coherent in every respect. You should therefore avoid the use of overly long sentences and of technical jargon. It is important that the proposed research is realistic and feasible so that the outcomes can be achieved within the scale of a typical research degree programme, which is typically three years full-time for a PhD. Although you should write the proposal yourself, it is best if you discuss its contents with your proposed supervisor before you submit it.

Your proposal should be no longer than 2000 words.  In addition, and if relevant, you can include up to 5 pages of illustrative material, which should be captioned to indicate its relevance to your research topic.

Research context

You will need to explain the context in which you research sits, explain its significance and locate it within the relevant literature. Questions might include:

  • What is the general area in which you will be working and the specific aspect(s) of that area that will be your focus on inquiry?
  • What is the problem, shortcoming, or gap in this area that you would like to address?
  • What are the specific objectives for the proposed research that follow from this?
  • Why is the proposed research significant and why does it matter (either theoretically or practically)?
  • What are the specific objectives for the proposed research that follow from this?
  • Why is the proposed research significant and why does it matter (either theoretically or practically)?

Your research question 

For most projects there is usually one main question that you would like to address, which can sometimes be broken down into several sub-questions. You will need to state your main research question(s), explain its significance, and locate it within the relevant literature (remembering to refer only to research that is directly relevant to your proposal). You will probably need to address questions such as:

  • What is the general area in which you will be working and the specific aspect(s) of that area that will be your focus on inquiry?
  • What is the problem, shortcoming, or gap in this area that you would like to address?
  • What is the main research question or aim that you want to address?
  • What are the specific objectives for the proposed research that follow from this?

Research design 

You will need to explain how you will go about answering your question (or achieving your aim), and why you will use your intended approach to address the question/aim. Questions you might need to cover include:

  • What steps will you take and what methods will you use to address your question?
  • How will your proposed method provide a reliable answer to your question?
  • If your project involves an experimental approach, what specific hypothesis or hypotheses will you address?
  • What specific techniques will you use to test the hypothesis, such as laboratory procedures, interviews, questionnaires, modelling, simulation, text analysis, use of secondary data sources, etc.
  • What practical considerations are there; for example, what equipment, facilities, and other resources will be required?
  • What relevant skills / experience do you have with the proposed methods?
  • Are there particular ethical issues that will need to be considered (for example, all projects using human participants require ethical approval)?
  • Are there any potential problems / difficulties that you foresee (for example, delays in gaining access to special populations or materials) that might affect your rate of progress?


You will need to provide a rough time line for the completion of your research to show that the project is achievable (given the facilities and resources required) in no more than three years of full-time study (or part-time equivalent) for a PhD.

Expected outcomes

You need to say something about what the expected outcomes of your project would be.

How, for example, does it make an original contribution to knowledge, how does it advance theoretical understanding, how might it contribute to policy or practice?

List of references

You will need to provide a list of any sources, such as key articles or texts, that you have referred to in your proposal. The information provided must be complete and accurate.

Proof reading

It is important that you carefully check your proposal for typographical and spelling errors, consistency of style, and accuracy of references, before submitting it.

For 2018/19 the Design Star CDT is looking for applicants to work on PhDs connected with particular topics, some providing an exceptional opportunity to collaborate with non-academic partners. This is in addition to proposals that are submitted as part of the open competition.

Prospective applicants interested in the research topics listed below should prepare a research proposal in the usual way, as we are looking for projects that are student led, so that your ideas complement the topic areas listed below. The academic contact/supervisors listed can provide you with more information.

Proposals will be assessed in the Design Star studentship competition along with proposals submitted as part of the open competition.

 1. Creative expression and active engagement through letterforms and print  (In association with the National Trust)

This PhD would use as a starting point the National Trust house and gardens at Snowshill Manor (Gloucestershire) to investigate the function of graphic communication (in the form of handwritten and printed ephemera, and the use of lettering more broadly) in the domestic environment, as decoration, information, planning, recording and locating, and latterly in enhancing the visitor experience.

This would be essentially a spatial and functional analysis of the role that graphic communication plays in the country manor house in the C20 (using Snowshill as a case study and placing in broader comparative context). It will consider

  • representation of cultural ideas and social referencing (eg lettering as a component of the external environment, and ornament on objects)
  • evidence of collector intention and source(s) of material; ‘stories’ about objects or sets of objects evidenced through correspondence, notebooks and printed materials
  • the extent to which the information recorded reflects the conventions of the time in relation to lettering style, conventions of visual organisation
  • presentation of collections (labels, notices, wayfinding, signage) including ways in which lettering is used to enhance and stimulate the visitor experience

Academic contacts: Sue Walker and Rob Banham (Reading)

2. To build on the work of the AHRC-funded Information design and architecture in persuasive pharmacy space: combating AMR

IDAPPS is an inter-disciplinary project bringing together academics and practitioners in graphic and information design, architecture, ergonomics and human factors, and pharmacy to consider how to support one of the strategic aims of the UK 5-Year Antimicrobial Resistance strategy 2013-18: how to ‘improve the knowledge and understanding of antimicrobial resistance’.

IDAPPS introduces ‘persuasive space’ in thinking about the presentation of information, its situation within an environment, and how users interact with it, in the context of a community pharmacy. Community pharmacies are socially inclusive and convenient, and today play a key role in delivering public health. They are places where people wait for prescriptions to be filled or to see a pharmacist, and offer a persuasive space to raise awareness of the dangers of Anti-Microbial Resistance.

Applicants are likely to be interested in pursuing a PhD in the area of information design, human factors or user-centred design.  The research question should relate to ways in which knowledge and understanding about antimicrobial resistance might be improved. IDAPPS has focused on community pharmacy as a base for exploration of ways in which the general public has engaged with designed interventions. We are looking for projects that clearly define a particular user group, for example, people with English as a second language; older people; children.

Supervisors: Sue Hignett (Loughborough) and Sue Walker (Reading)


  1. Enabling everyday sustainable prosperity through product-literate interactions

This research proposes that developing new types of product literacy provide opportunities to live better lives; where better is more equitable and less resource intensive. Underlying this idea is a question of whether informed consumption and ‘wise’ use behaviours can be nurtured through designing products, and product systems differently. We propose that theories of sustainable transition, sustainable consumption and eco-philosophy provide insights into establishing a new form of product literacy to support sustainable prosperity. The focus of this doctoral research would 1. explore and understand a landscape of different discipline theory informing debates on sustainable prosperity, transitions and consumption; and 2. translate these findings into different product literacies that help create sustainable prosperity. The research explores the theoretical and practical constructs of prosperity through product literacy – a term that connects to both the designed product attributes and interactions in use. This is an opportunity for an applicant who has an interest in sustainability and design to explore the role of products in influencing sustainable change.

Supervisors: Emma Dewberry (Open University ) Derek Jones (Open University) Bill Gaver (Goldsmiths College, London) Matt Sinclair (Loughborough University)


  1. The scope for product longevity to challenge current patterns of production and consumption

The PhD builds on an EPSRC/ESRC funded network feasibility study that created business scenarios focusing on different types of people interaction across product lifespans. This research specifically focuses on the theory and practice of product longevity strategies in defining new spaces for both production (e.g. distributed making) and consumption (e.g. repair and hacking). The research will explore the commonalities and challenges that exist between different bodies of knowledge, namely Design for Sustainability, Product Service Systems and Circular Economies. The work will seek to identify how societal, organizational and personal concepts of longevity can provide alternative ways of using and un-using natural resources in creating resilient and adaptable patterns of production and consumption.

Supervisors: Emma Dewberry (Open University), Matthew Cook (Open University)


  1. Exploring the relationship between material change and sustainable behaviour’

Building on the EPSRC Closed Loop Emotionally Valuable E-waste Recovery (CLEVER) and the “ENabling Designers to Understand mateRial changE” (ENDURE) Project, this PhD would seek to explore the role materials can (or do) play in influencing or preventing more sustainable user behaviour. Potential focal areas include the effect of perceived or actual contamination, traces of use, odours, wear, ageing and / or accumulated dirt on material surfaces on users willingness to buy used or refurbished goods; their propensity to access shared or leased services or their willingness to retain products for longer thereby enabling product lifespan extension.

Supervisors: Debra Lilley, (Design School, Loughborough University), plus TBC


  1. Bio-inspired Design – Methods & Applications

 This area of research aims to add knowledge to studies in biomimetics, biomimicry and bionics where inspiration for innovative design is drawn from sources of naturally evolved functions. These can be established through the interpretation of a combination of tangible form, connectivity, systems and behaviours. As an emerging field of inquiry in Design, biomimetics is providing opportunities in technology applications, materials, and evolutionary processes for optimisation and manufacture. Many challenges exist in establishing understanding and knowledge transfer between Life Science and Design and in establishing Design Methods underpinning transdisciplinary research projects between scientists and designers.

The research question should relate to ways in which biological systems can be analysed and interpreted to form new knowledge and understanding of function and in creating explorative techniques in Design methods. This can include virtual modelling and tangible prototyping. It is anticipated that research actions can be undertaken through a combination of conventional design practice and empirical studies.

Supervisors: John McCardle & Abby Paterson (Loughborough)


  1. Re-inventing the journey experience: ‘life on board’ the autonomous vehicle of the future

Future autonomous vehicles will provide the opportunity for drivers and passengers (occupants) to engage in many activities unrelated to the driving task (e.g. reading, work communication/social networking on mobile technologies, watching films) leading to benefits in terms of pleasure and productivity. There is also potential to improve musculoskeletal comfort and wellbeing by eliminating the need for the fixed, static posture normally associated with driving.

Future vehicles will therefore provide scope to re-invent the journey experience. The proposed research questions will focus on occupant needs (for work, leisure, health and well-being, socialising) and the innovative design of future vehicles to support such new occupant requirements.  This PhD is in collaboration with an automotive manufacturer and applicants should be interested in autonomous vehicles and pursuing a PhD in design ergonomics.

 Supervisors: Diane Gyi and Andrew Morris, (Design School, Loughborough University)


  1. Creating Sustainable Prosperity through Social innovation and Digital Manufacturing

The need to improve the lives of everyone on the planet, with particular emphasis on reducing the inequality and tackling poverty by those living in developing countries is increasingly recognised by businesses, organisations and governments around the world (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2015; Design Council, 2016). A variety of industrial strategies have been proposed as capable of addressing these challenges (e.g. Eco-design, social sustainable design, open source design and distribution) have been working towards this end for the past four decades now. More recently, the need to collaborate with multidisciplinary and cross-cultural approaches has been identified in addressing why previous attempts to tackle these longstanding, complex and diverse issues have failed. A grass-roots approach (social innovation), together with a participatory visioning of desired futures, is pivotal for triggering successful socio-technical transitions that fit users’ aspirations, cultural context and values and delivers long-term, sustainable prosperity. However, to date, little published literature is available in the design discipline. This research would begin to apply more rigorous approaches to investigating the use, application, and impact of social innovation in the appropriation of digital fabrication technologies by those from disadvantaged communities (economically deprived, educationally deprived, geographically remote, etc). It would focus on identifying solutions appropriate to local needs, developing capacities for learning, reducing resource scarcity and creating greater levels of sustainable prosperity. It is envisaged that research questions in the following areas would be addressed: new organizational models, grass roots innovation, design for re-distributed manufacturing and design for sustainable prosperity.

The intention would be for the research to strengthen existing LDS and OU relationships in Mexico, Colombia, Chile and South Africa and emerging relationships in India. Empirical research would be conducted in the UK and at least one of these other countries.

 Supervisors: Carolina Escobar-Tello, Matt Sinclair (Design School, Loughborough University), Emma Dewberry (Open University)


  1. Future Telling and Innovation within Distributed Product Development Teams

Recent social, economic and industrial trends mean that design is an increasingly international and interdisciplinary activity. The Design Skills Advisory Panel noted the scale and importance of the challenges stemming from having designer working with ‘others’ and design for ‘others’: …’working globally and in partnership (both remotely and face to face) with overseas designers and suppliers will require language and communication skills that go way beyond current needs, while designing in, and for, different cultures and contexts will stretch designers’ abilities and methodologies to the limits.’

It is these shifting trends in the organisation of design as a key component of globally networked New Product Development (NPD) teams that provide the condition for this proposal. Its key aim will be to explore the challenges, opportunities and necessary conditions for successfully implementing distributed innovation networks. This will involve addressing research questions such as:

How are design innovation processes managed in globally and organisationally distributed NPD teams?

How can the success of distributed innovation networks be measured?

Which futures methods are employed within distributed innovation networks

How might the formal education of designers and other NPD professionals provide more effective distributed innovation outcomes?

Supervisors: Erik Bohemia, Matt Sinclair (Design School, Loughborough University)


  1. Design for Sustainable Behaviour

Design for Sustainable Behaviour (DfSB) is an established activity under the banner of sustainable design which aims to reduce products’ environmental and social impacts by moderating how users interact with them. Building on over 10 years of research expertise in the field of Design for Sustainable Behaviour, Loughborough Design School are seeking a PhD researcher to explore the application of Design for Sustainable Behaviour to a new field or problem space. Potential areas of focus include; healthcare, wellbeing, resource consumption reduction, social inclusion/isolation or crime reduction – or an area of the students own choosing. Studies which involve cultural cross-comparisons of behaviour and interventions for change are particularly welcome as are projects with an applied (practice-based) element.

Supervisors: Debra Lilley, (Design School, Loughborough University), plus TBC


  1. The Future of Home Energy

This PhD will investigate the role that design can play in the construction of speculative, user-centred future energy scenarios and develop novel ways in which these scenarios can be prototyped and evaluated through a practical design case study.  The research will contribute to Loughborough Design School’s ongoing work into user-centred design for energy demand reduction, however, the focus of the research topic is relatively open, and can be adapted to the specific interests and disciplinary background of the successful candidate

Supervisors: Garrath T. Wilson, Val Mitchell (Design School, Loughborough University)


12. Research Through Designing

You will have a background in industrial/product design and desire to answer topical questions about the nature of artefacts in terms of technology, users, aesthetics or the way we design. The scope of this PhD is intentionally broad and you will play a central role in formulating the research questions based on areas of personal interest. Answering these questions will be supported by the creation of functional/useable/desirable products that make full use of Loughborough Design School’s world-class model making and prototyping facilities. This PhD will employ the University’s practice based research degrees route that requires a written component of 40000 words plus practical elements.

Supervisors: Dr Mark Evans, Loughborough Design School and second supervisor with expertise relevant to area of study


13. Creative Economies for Emerging Economies  –  A Practice Based Industrial/Product/Textile Design PhD

Emerging economies have significant material resources and craft capabilities but struggle to commercialise these in global markets. This PhD will explore approaches by which industrial/product and/or textile design methods can transform indigenous materials and crafts into desirable export products that support supply chains and employment opportunities i.e. contribute to the alleviation of poverty. Recent Research Council UK funded projects awarded to Loughborough Design School have provided networks and materials knowledge in Indonesia, Kenya, Botswana and Uganda and these countries may be integrated into the research activity. This will employ the University’s practice based research degrees route that requires a written component of 40000 words plus practical elements that make full use of the world class workshop facilities of Loughborough Design School and School of the Arts.

Supervisors: Dr Mark Evans, Loughborough Design School and second supervisor with expertise relevant to area of study


14. The Pedagogy of User Experience (UX) Design

As the profession of the user experience (UX) designer continues to evolve, demand for capable practitioners increases, with industrial/product designers being identified as possessing a particularly close-fit in skills and knowledge. Despite high demand for practitioners, there remains a lack of dedicated educational provision in the discipline or pedagogy underpinning. This PhD will explore the nature of UX design and pedagogic approaches to deliver the required level of skills and knowledge for the future needs of the profession.

Supervisors: Dr Mark Evans,  Loughborough Design School and second supervisor with expertise relevant to area of study


15. Home hacks for dementia

Following a diagnosis of dementia, there is limited and often inaccessible information available to patients and their carers about how to adapt their homes to enable them to cope with the condition and carry on with everyday life at home. While there are assistive devices available, accessed through healthcare services, many people with dementia and their carers intuitively make their own adaptions, or ‘hacks’, e.g. labeling controls on appliances in their home.

This PhD aims to understand the lived-experiences of the intuitive and informal ways in which people adapt their homes when living with dementia.  It will use experience design and prototyping, participatory and ethnographic approaches to understanding the design hacks which people with dementia and their carers make to their homes.  At the same time, engagement with the retail sector could present opportunities for impact through the development of new tools and approaches to empower people to creatively adapt their homes.

Supervisors: Rebecca Cain and Garrath T. Wilson, Loughborough Design School


16. Socio-technical design decisions and their carbon consequences in building developments

The built environment, and its construction, are together responsible for about 40% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, according to the latest UN report.  28% of this is from ‘operational’ energy use in existing buildings, with an additional 11% comes from the construction, refurbishment and demolition of those buildings and supporting infrastructure, which together make up the ‘embodied’ impacts.

However while regulation over the last few years has encouraged the increasing reduction of the first of these, through improving energy efficiency in buildings, the parallel political focus on embodied impacts is non-existent. Academics have been calculating both embodied and operational impacts, assuming that once quantities are known, rational policies and decisions will follow. But the odd split in policy focus cannot be explained by this techno-rational framing; the use of numbers to support an decision turns out to depend less on the numbers than on the power of the actor using them (Moncaster, 2012).

This project will trace decision processes and their outcomes through the lifecycle of a building.  It will identify actors and technologies, their impact on decisions and the differential power which determines which are successful, and finally the material consequences of those decisions in terms of embodied and operational carbon. The project will thus combine research into the technical causes of whole life energy use and carbon emissions (the ‘what?’ commonly asked in quantitative research), with that into the socio-political reasons behind those causes (the ‘why?’, more often asked in qualitative social science research).  Analysis approaches could include actor network theory, social power theory (Lukes, 2005), or Design Ecologies, and will include Life Cycle Assessment of energy and carbon (Birgisdottir et al, 2017).

Supervisors: Alice Moncaster and Derek Jones, Open University


17. Towards co-creation of the urban built environment: using Participatory GIS to give an equal voice to women and other under-represented groups

This project will investigate the potential of Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PGIS) to empower women in the co-creation of their urban environment. PGIS is a method which has been used increasingly to include communities in planning for the mitigation of risk from natural disasters, while ‘co-creation’ is increasingly used to describe the participation of communities in the user-centred design of public goods, and the creation of social value.

6.4 billion people are predicted to be living in urban areas by 2050, an increase of over 60% compared with today (UN, 2014).  Nearly 90% of this increase will be concentrated in Asia and Africa, with increasing numbers of megacities of over 10million inhabitants. This rapid urbanisation is likely to affect women adversely and disproportionately.  This is because women are more likely to be the primary care-givers for children and the elderly, more likely to be responsible for daily collection and provision of food and water, and are often at greater risk to their personal safety. They are also more likely to be the most impoverished.

Formal urban planning and design processes give power to professional expertise over lay knowledge and lived experiences. Within these systems women are poorly represented within the decision-makers, making up only a small fraction of policy-makers and professionals and clustered at the lower levels. In many developing countries rapid urban expansion is often instead through informal settlement processes; here there are other causes of gender inequalities, often exacerbated by other intersectionalities with race, religion, social status, education and wealth.  Over twenty years since the Beijing declaration, women are still more likely to be in poverty and excluded from power than men, in both the developing and developed world (UN 2015).

The UN New Urban Agenda (2017) recognizes many of these issues, and acknowledges the critical need to rethink ‘the way we the way we plan, build, and manage our urban spaces’, proposing to empower ‘all individuals and communities while enabling their full and meaningful participation’. This research will consider one method by which this could be enacted.

Supervisors: Alice Moncaster, Carol Morris, Sara DeJong, Open University


When you send your PhD proposal to the University you want to study with, you need to apply to Design Star for funding. You should not wait to see if your proposal has been accepted by the University that you are applying to.


Include your name and answer the following questions (max 2 sides A4):

  1. Which Design Star university have you applied to? What is the provisional title of your thesis?
  2. Who are your supervisors?
  3. Are you studying part-­time or full-­time?
  4. Why will being part of Design Star be important for you, and for your research? Design Star has a strong student voice. What do you hope to contribute?
  5. Which of our external partners is most aligned with your research topic and how might you engage with them to enhance it?
  6. What would you hope to gain from a placement with one of our external partners?


*** We are no longer accepting applications***


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