School of Design celebrates success at REF 2021

The results of the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) highlight the intellectual vibrancy, creativity and real-world impact of art and design research at the University of Leeds.

Art and design bridges the research of the School of Design with that of the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies (FAHACS).

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 results recognise the ambition, scale and high quality of our art and design research, with 81% of the submission rated as “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”. The results highlight the strength of the research environment, with a 100% rating as “world-leading”, and the impact, 90% of which was rated “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”. 

This result stems from the collegiality, creativity, rigour and teamwork of everyone in the School. It shows how our excellence extends beyond the academy to both industrial and cultural sectors.

Head of School Professor Maria Lonsdale

The School of Design is a unique meeting point between science, technology, art and design. Research in the school is focussed on addressing real-world problems as applied to industry, the arts and health and wellbeing. Collaboration and connectivity are at the root of the work we do. Our staff routinely work with a wide range of partners outside of academia and the value of this collaborative approach is reflected in our results.  

Our research includes an extraordinary breadth of approaches and outcomes, from cutting-edge research on textile and colour technologies, to the complexities of practice research, the impact of design innovation, and the rigour of design history and cultural studies. 

Our researchers have produced a vast range of publications, the majority being peer-reviewed articles for academic journals, but also including sole-authored books, artists’ books, edited volumes and chapters for collections. As creative artists, designers and curators, our researchers have had exhibitions of designs, paintings, sculpture, poetry, bookwork, installations, and audio-visual art.  

Perhaps the AHRC-funded national Creative Industry Cluster we hosted, Future Fashion Factory, best epitomises our collaborative approach, in the way its academics explore and develop novel digital and advanced textile technologies and then collaborate with more than 500 industrial members, including IBM and Burberry, to help develop a sustainable textile and fashion supply chain.

Notable successes in REF include:  

  • Submission achieving 100% ‘world leading’ status for the research environment
  • 90% of the impact case studies scored as “world leading” or “internationally excellent” 
  • 72% of the research outputs submitted - publications, patents and practice research - rated as “world leading” or “internationally excellent”. 

Researchers in the School collaborate with a wide range of external partners to translate their research into solving real-world problems: partnerships are forged through our spin-out companies, collaborations with local and global businesses, communities, the third-sector, policy-makers and artists. View example case studies of University of Leeds research impact submitted for REF 2021.

Key strengths in the art and design research environment include: 

  • A significant increase in  research income, which increased to £13,765,213 for the REF 2021 period from £5,307,560 (over the REF2014 period). This includes one of the nine national Creative Industry Clusters, hosted by the School of Design, the £5.4 million Future Fashion Factory.  
  • A research-active staff cohort producing 393 peer-reviewed journal articles; 46 books/monographs, 156 book chapters, 108 peer-reviewed conference papers and 106 exhibitions and performances. 
  • A thriving postgraduate research environment, in which we supervised a total of 135.9 PhDs to completion, with 184 PhD registrations in the period. 
  • A focus on impact development through collaborative themes across the unit: addressing change in the areas of Culture, Economy, Environment and Ethics, and Health and Wellbeing. 

We look forward to building on these successes as we pursue our vision of an inclusive and productive future for all our staff and students.  

The University is a values driven organisation that works with academic, governmental, industrial and third sector partners to deliver world changing research and create a fairer future for all.   That is why it is so encouraging that the REF 2021 results show we continue to provide research that is shaping the world around us for the better.   The results are a testament to the hard work of our researchers, professional services staff and Unit of Assessment leads. I thank everyone who was involved in this monumental effort.

Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds

Further information  

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View the University of Leeds results for all units of assessment