Dr Sarah Rhodes

Research Fellow Creative Lenses

University of the Arts London


Dr Sarah Rhodes is a design researcher, maker and educator, currently working on the Creative Lenses project, a four-year European action research project which aims to strengthen and develop the business capacity and sustainability of European cultural and arts organisations.

She previously worked on the AHRC-funded Public Collaboration Lab, a design led collaborative project exploring the potential and value of strategic collaboration between design education and local government to innovating public services and policymaking - co-creating place based solutions to local challenges.

Her AHRC-funded, practice-based PhD was completed at Central Saint Martins (CSM) in 2014. It culminated in the research exhibition The Craft of Ubuntu: an exploration of collaboration through making, shown at both the Izkio South Africa National Gallery and CSM. She developed this further with the research symposium Bridging the Divide: developing and applying design methodologies for cross-cultural collaboration.

Sarah has contributed chapters on international design to two books: Cultural Threads: transnational textiles today (Hemmings, 2014) and Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective (Skinner, 2013). Her jewellery has been exhibited internationally including at the London Design Festival and she was commissioned to design the SS09 collection for fair trade jewellery company Made, sold in Topshop, Whistles and House of Fraser.

A background in art and design teaching led to working for many years in Sub-Saharan Africa at grassroots level, facilitating community development and social innovation for a variety of marginalised communities including San|Bushmen, people living with HIV/AIDS, disadvantaged women, street children and vulnerable youth.

Research interests

Co-design, collaboration, making, design anthropology, participatory design, community, culture, the agency of the craftsperson, craft and ubuntu. 

Research statement

Rhodes' AHRC-funded, practice based PhD research reframed collaboration between designers and African craft producers through the lens of design process, using a participatory design perspective rather than the usual paradigm of product design development. It looked to determine how craft and design practices can act as tools for communication and exchange, how to foster meaningful collaboration when the relationship of those involved is inequitable, and subsequently developed a co-creation methodology for practice, capitalising on the differing skills, experiences and cultures of those involved. It illustrated how co-creational agency, through equitable, creative exchange can engender successful outcomes.

Rhodes has published work and exhibited internationally. She is an experienced external examiner and her research has been supported with funding from the AHRC and the Design Research Society.

Rhodes has a continuing research interest in participatory design process, particularly in its use to bridge the divide between marginalised groups, and its utilisation for social innovation and sustainable practices.

Project awards, and grants

2013 AHRC Collaborative Skills Development Award

2013 Design Research Society Travel Bursary

2010-2013 AHRC Doctoral Award

Selected research outputs