Dr Robert Harland

PhD Architecture (Social Sciences) at University of Nottingham
BA(Hons) Information Graphics at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham

Pronouns: He/him
  • Reader in Urban Graphic Heritage
  • Director of Staff Development

Rob's expertise is in how urban environments function through their graphic objects. His career spans design research, education, and practice across three overlapping phases.

The current phase (c. 2015 to present) is focused on DESIGN RESEARCH into how urban environments function through their graphic objects, explored through the lens of graphic design as urban design. Urban places sensitive to heritage is the main focus and through collaboration with Nelson Mandela Foundation, UNESCO-UK, and Shanghai UNESCO City of Design, he has led several cross-disciplinary research projects. This provides the underpinning for a forthcoming monograph (Bloomsbury, 2026) following his earlier book ‘Graphic Design in Urban Environments’ (Bloomsbury, 2016). Since 2018 he has led the University’s Urbanism research building on his role as a founding member of Leicester Urban Observatory (2015). He also established the Graphic Design Research Unit (2019), an international network of researchers in Australia, Brazil, China, South Africa, and UK.

The middle phase (c. 2000–2015) concentrated on DESIGN EDUCATION through learning and teaching at three contrasting universities. Rob undertook several roles; undergraduate and postgraduate programme leader, international franchise coordinator, and school academic director. His pedagogic research resulted in several published papers on assessment. He subsequently became the inaugural chair of the Graphic Design Educators’ Network (2014–19) and was invited to guest edit a special issue of Art, Design and Communication in Higher Education (2017). During this phase he also completed a PhD in Architecture (Social Sciences) with the thesis title ‘Graphic design as urban design: Towards a theory for analysing graphic objects in urban environments’ (2011). Throughout this period he organised several research workshops and symposiums.

The early phase (c. 1985–2000) was devoted to DESIGN PRACTICE in London’s creative industries where Rob ran Harland Design (1991–2001) and was one of the founding directors of the environmental graphic design practice Placemarque (1998–2001). He learned his ‘trade’ as a graphic designer at Tatham Pearce (1987–1991), then one of London’s leading graphic design studios. His expertise was in typography, annual reports, literature systems, corporate identity, and environmental graphics. During this time over 1000 projects were undertaken for public and private sector clients in Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, The Netherlands, and UK, for major corporations, companies, and individuals.

Before studying in higher education – the first in his family to do so – Rob grew up in North Wales and South Australia. He has since lived in London and the East Midlands in the United Kingdom for most of his adult life.


Urbanism, Graphic Design and Cultural Heritage.

Robert's research is guided by the question: How do graphic objects facilitate the function of cities and urban places? He uses the lens of graphic design as urban design to understand the people-place interface at the macro, meso, and micro scale.

Urban heritage is a current focus of attention. He was recently Principal Investigator on a £250,000 Newton Fund project ‘Repositioning Graphic Heritage’ in partnership with Tongji University, Shanghai. This has led to further funded collaboration with the United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO, and most recently with Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa.

Since 2018 he has led the Urbanism theme for the University’s Built Environment Beacon, and in 2019 he established the Graphic Design Research Unit at Loughborough.

He is a peer reviewer for leading journals, publishers, and learned societies: The Design Journal; Design Studies; International Journal of Design; She Ji – Journal of Design, Economics and Innovation; Journal of Research Practice; Journal of Communication Design; Visual Communication; Third Text; The Poster; Space and Culture; Bloomsbury Academic; DRS; DRS/Cumulus; IASDR.

Robert teaches research, masters, and undergraduate students and has played a leading role in establishing an aligned approach to graphic design at Loughborough.

Robert has extensive experience of working with industry and not-for-profit organisations.

His recent research into urban graphic heritage led to collaboration with Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa, United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO (UKNC), Bradford UNESCO City of Film, extending earlier collaborative work with UNESCO Creative City (Shanghai) Promotion Office.

Robert has participated in several high-profile international events. For example, he was recently invited by UKNC to chair and co-organise the ‘Inclusive and Sustainable Cities’ session at the Heritage and Our Sustainable Future: Research, Practice, Policy, and Impact 2021 UNESCO conference.

He is also one of the founding voluntary members of the Leicester Urban Observatory (since 2015), actively leading and participating in events (e.g. summer school, workshop, and public lecture). The most recent initiative he is leading is a series of Urbanism in Focus events in collaboration with LCB Depot in Leicester. Furthermore, the currently co-leads The Impact Hub with Dr Falli Palaiologou and Dr Asya Natapov.

These interactions beyond academia benefit from the extensive experience gained in industry (1986–2001) when he worked on more than 1000 design projects for world-leading organisations.

Robert has supervised eight PhD candidates to completion, and examined at: Aalto University; Anglia Ruskin University; Bournemouth University; Birmingham City University; University of Leeds; University of Limerick; University of Reading (twice); Manchester Metropolitan University; The University of Nottingham (twice); Plymouth University.

He welcomes research proposals that explore the research question: How do graphic objects facilitate the function of cities and urban places?