Professor Janet McDonnell

Professor of Design Studies & Associate Dean of Research

Central Saint Martins


McDonnell was originally educated in engineering at Imperial College London. She practiced as a chartered engineer designing engineering information systems, before holding a series of academic posts in departments of Computer Science. She joined CSM in 2006. She holds a PhD for work on elicitation and computer modelling of design knowledge. For the last 25 years she has published research in information and knowledge representation, design expertise, expertise acquisition, and empirical studies of collaboration in design practice. She is the editor-in-chief of the journal CoDesign.

Research interests

Design, design processes, creative collaboration.

Research statement

McDonnell's research interests are in studying design and other kinds of creative practice in natural settings where many competing pressures are at play. The focus of work is on bringing practices to notice: making practices ‘visible’ e.g. the methods in use, the decision-making behaviour, how ideas get introduced and established, the informational bases (sources, uses and quality) that individuals and groups rely on, and the influences of assumptions and norms. The overarching themes uniting different studies are an interest in supporting critical, reflective design practice, enabling user engagement in design, and understanding how effective collaboration occurs. She is currently working on a series of studies of long term creative collaborative practice.


Current students & thesis titles

Mike Harkins, Contemporary processes of text typeface design.

Joana Casaca Lemos, Beyond Made in: Exploring made by and empathy as a means to trigger conscious consumption.

Giorgio Salani, Making craft: Towards a global taxonomy. A practice-led enquiry into the production of tableware in British and Japanese pottery.

Elena Brebenel, Can biomimicry help design furnishings for the domestic environment that improve air quality?

Completed students & thesis titles

I have supervised more than 20 students (within UAL and at other universities) who have successfully completed their PhDs. I am an experienced PhD examiner and examination chairperson (e.g. examined for University of Kent; Imperial College; Birkbeck College and Goldsmiths College, University of London; University of Cambridge; Queen's Belfast; Hong Kong Poly U; University of Grenoble).

UAL students supervised to completion:

Brian Dixon, A Novel Graphic Syntax: An investigation into how a GPS-enabled wayfinding interface can be designed to visually support urban recreational walkers’ situation awareness.

Jane Scott, Programmable Knitting.

Pedro Almeida, Brand Archives: The rescuing of locally specific brand imagery as a graphic design response to the globalization of visual identity.

Annegrete Molhave, Enhancing the transformation of information into diagrammatic construction within scientific learning material for school pupils: a practice-based case focusing on closed-loop cycles.

Claire Tomlins, The Digital Corporate Presence Strategies as part of the Corporate Identity Mix.

Jonathan Milo Taylor, Immersion: A dynamic digital environment for creative interaction with archival sound art material.


Selected research outputs