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Tom Fisher

Tom Fisher


Nottingham School of Art & Design


Tom Fisher is Professor of Art and Design in the School of Art and Design. His research spans disciplines and forms of skilled practice. It is informed by his direct experience of craft practice as a furniture maker and latterly a musical instrument maker, drawing on theory and methods from the human sciences. His work has been published in Design History and Archaeology. His background in craft practice gives him a strong connection to the Digital Craft and Embodied Knowledge research group. His interest in skilled practices in the history of technology means he contributes to the Lace Heritage Research Group. His interest in the ethics of Design has resulted in Tricky Design: the ethics of things, published by Bloomsbury in 2019.

Tom has led research funded by the AHRC and Defra, participating in work funded by WRAP. He has been a member of the AHRC Peer Review College and reviews research bids for AHRC, ESRC and EPSRC. He is treasurer of the Design Research Society and leads the Special Interest Group OPEN (Objects, Practices, Experiences, Networks).

He applies his expertise in Art and Design research training to his teaching on the School's. He has supervised 26 PhDs to completion and is currently supervising five students. He he wrote and developed NTU's submission to REF 2014 Unit of Assessment D34, Art and Design, History, Theory and Practice.

Career overview

Professor Fisher's recent PhD supervision is related to the following topics:

  • craft practice.
  • the history of art education in the UK and China.
  • textile Heritage and contemporary practice.
  • consumption and social practice.
  • fashion and ageing.

Research areas

Professor Fisher's background is in Fine Art, Design and Sociology. Having worked as a designer and maker of furniture he wrote his PhD on the role of plastic materials in consumption experiences, in the sociology department at the University of York. Over recent years he has developed a practice as a musical instrument maker, exploring innovation in brass instrument design and production which supports his strong interest in skilled practice in the heritage field.

All his research interests share a focus on human/object relationships. This includes specific interactions with materials in craft and design processes and in consumption as well as the larger scale consequences of these interactions for the sustainability of contemporary patterns of consumption.

Research projects have included:

National Lottery Heritage  Fund Grant, 'Textile Tales' - leader of this £70K oral history project collecting stories of the working lives of people who worked in the East Midlands textile industry from 1980 - 2005.

AHRC Research Grant, 'From Invention to Consumption: Electronic Textiles' AH/L013843/12014 – Principal Investigator on this £48k network grant that is part of the AHRC’s 'Design in Innovation' programme. The work is a collaboration between Advanced Textiles at NTU, Textiles in Computing at Goldsmiths and Material Culture at UCL. It has two aims: to build an electronic textiles network that spans applied science, creative practice and design; to produce an academic review of the role of design in the 'innovation ecosystem', using case studies from electronic textiles.

AHRC Research Grant, Nottingham lace: capturing and representing knowledge in people, machines and documents.AH/K005952/1
2013 – Principle Investigator on this £97k research project working with the last remaining machine-lace manufacturer in England using the Leavers process, in collaboration with Victoria and Albert Museum, Manchester Metropolitan University, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries.

WRAP (Waste Resource Action Programme) RNF100-012 Clothing design for longevity2012 - Team member in this £30k project to promote clothing longevity through design, led by Prof. Tim Cooper at NTU bringing together design skills, industry and consumer insights.

EPSRC Research Grant, Smart Materials – Designing for Functionality EP/I016414/1
Co-Investigator on this £200k Feasibility Account for collaborative work between Design and Science at NTU, centring on smart materials.

Science and Heritage (EPSRC/ AHRC) research cluster ‘Understanding Complex Structures: the conservation interpretation and display of lace and natural objects’2009 – Principal investigator in this £30k collaboration between Nottingham Trent University, the V&A Museum, Natural History Museum and Nottingham City Museum and Galleries. The cluster uses lace and natural objects as a focus to inspect issues of conservation, display and interpretation, creating the opportunity for specialists from many fields of interest to meet, exchange skills, experiences, resources and scientific knowledge and to generate a range of topical insightful research questions. Participants include: physicists, conservators, curators, technologists, cultural practitioners and designers, drawn from universities, museums, archives, SMEs and other institutions.

Defra research contract 'Public Understanding of Sustainable Clothing'2008 – Led this £60k research contract for the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Awarded by competitive tender and conducted in association with Sheffield Hallam University this work was part of the Sustainable Clothing Roadmap in Defra’s Sustainable Consumption and Production programme.

White Rose Network for Affective Communication in Consumer Product and Exhibition Design2005 – 2008 Participant in this £350k EPSRC funded research network. Contributed to and named as co-investigator in a successful resulting bid for £0.5m under the AHRC/ EPSRC 'Designing for the Twentyfirst Century' scheme for My Exhibition - Designing for Affective Communication, Personalisation and Social Experience.

AHRB Research Training Network2004 - Led £10k AHRB funded Research Training Network with Leeds Metropolitan University, Nottingham Trent University, Manchester Metropolitan University Coventry University and University of Lincoln to develop 'ADIT' – Art and Design Index to Theses.

Current PhD Students

External activity

  • Hon. Treasurer of the Design Research Society (DRS); convener of DRS Special Interest Group 'OPEN: Objects, Practices, Experiences, Networks'.
  • PhD external examiner at University of Central England, London Metropolitan University, University of Lancaster, University of Brighton, Royal College of Art, Northumbria University.

Sponsors and collaborators

Research collaborators have included the Victoria and Albert Museum, The National Archives, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, The Natural History Museum. Since 2017 he has developed an East Midlands Textile Heritage Network of museums and businesses near to Nottingham.

Professor Fisher's commercial consultancy has included work for leading packaging manufacturers including Crown Plc and Amcor Flexibles to uncover consumers' interpretations of physical features of containers and plastic packaging materials.


Full list of publications can be found by clicking on 'go to publications' link above.

Tom Fisher and Lorraine Gamman (eds), 2019, Tricky Design: the ethics of things, London: Bloomsbury, pp248, ISBN 978-1-47427-718-1

Tom Fisher and Janet Shipton., 2009. Designing For Re-Use: The Life Of Consumer Packaging, London: Earthscan, pp.188, ISBN 978-1-84407-487-7

See all of Tom Fisher's publications...

Press expertise

Professor Fisher's areas of expertise are:

  • Crafts;
  • Design (sustainable design);
  • Design History;
  • Material Culture;
  • Care and maintenance (history of);
  • Plastics (in everyday life);