Tom Fisher

Tom Fisher


School of Art & Design


Professor Tom Fisher is Research Coordinator for the School of Art and Design, representing research on the School Executive Group. In this role he wrote and developed NTU's submission to REF Unit of Assessment D34, Art and Design, History, Theory and Practice, working across the college to include colleagues in the Sustainable Consumption and Product Design research groups.

He has led research funded by the AHRC and Defra, participating in work funded by WRAP. He is a member of the AHRC Peer Review College and reviews research bids for AHRC, ESRC and EPSRC. He is a member of the Design Research Society Council 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 Masters courses, as well as the University's credit-bearing Professional Research Practice course. He has supervised 18 PhDs to completion and is currently supervising five students.

Professor Fisher's research is distinctive in its span of disciplines, building from his direct experience of craft practice through theory and methods from the human sciences - he has been published in Design History and Archaeology. His work in sustainable design means he works closely with the Sustainable Consumption Research Group. His background in craft practice has been a platform for a strong connection to the Digital Craft and Embodied Knowledge research group.

Professor Fisher is interested in supervising PhD students, if you are interested please select the Research tab to see more information about his research field.

Career overview

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

  • consumers' understanding of sustainability
  • clothing and self-identity
  • craft practice and fashion design
  • the history of art education in the UK and China
  • textile Heritage and contemporary practice
  • consumption and social practice
  • fashion and ageing.

He would welcome enquiries from prospective students for projects that cross between art and design and everyday life, including those where art and design practice forms part of the methodology. This includes projects in Sustainable Design, Craft Theory and Practice, Textile Heritage.

Research areas

Professor Fisher's background is in Fine Art, Design and Sociology. Having worked as a designer and maker of furniture and led an MA in Art and Design he wrote his PhD on the role of plastic materials in consumption experiences, in the sociology department at the University of York.

His current research centres broadly on human/object relationships and his research, research supervision and consultancy engage with the materiality of everyday experiences and particularly their relationship to the design of objects. 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.

Professor Fisher's interest in consumption stems from his experience as a designer and his perspective is informed by sociological and anthropological approaches to the subject.

Professor Fisher can provide commercial consultancy in consumer orientated research. The distinctive feature of this work is the close relationship it can have to the design process by combining methods that attend to the formal properties of objects – their shape, proportion, texture, colour – with methods that can investigate the context of their use. Using design-led qualitative methods insights can be gained into consumers' relationship to objects at and beyond the point of purchase.

Research projects have included:

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 available at Sheffield Hallam University.

Current PhD Students

Anna Sadkowska ( Director of Studies) PhD student

External activity

  • Member of the Design Research Society (DRS); convener of DRS Special Interest Group 'OPEN: Objects, Practices, Experiences, Networks'.
  • Member of AHRC Peer-review college
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
  • PhD external examiner at University of Central England, London Metropolitan University, University of Lancaster, University of Brighton.

Sponsors and collaborators

Research collaborators have included the Victoria and Albert Museum, The National Archives, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, The Natural History Museum.

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.

FISHER, T. 2013. The death and life of plastic surfaces: mobile phones. In Jennifer Gabrys, Gay Hawkins and Mike Michael (eds), 2013. Accumulation: The Material Politics of Plastic, London: Routledge (Forthcoming 2013)

FISHER, T. and SHIPTON, J., 2009. Designing For Re-Use: The Life Of Consumer Packaging, London: Earthscan, pp.188, ISBN 978-1-84407-487-7

FISHER, T., COOPER, T., WOODWARD, S., HILLER, A. and GOWOREK, H., 2008. Public Understanding of Sustainable Clothing: A report to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. London: Defra, pp.71

FISHER, T. and NORDLI, H. 2008. Emotions As Discourse - Intimations Of A Socio-Cultural Approach In A Reductive Method. In DESMET, P.M.A., van ERP, J. and KARLSSON, M., (eds) 2008. Design And Emotion Moves, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp.126-140, ISBN 978-1-4438-0016-7

See all of Tom Fisher's publications...

Press expertise

Professor Fisher's areas of expertise are:

  • Crafts;
  • Packaging;
  • Design (sustainable design);
  • Design History;
  • Clothing (sustainable clothing);
  • Material Culture;
  • Care and maintenance (history of);
  • Plastics (in everyday life);
  • Waste;
  • Pollution.