Dr Robert Harland

Pronouns: He/him

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

  • Senior Lecturer

Robert is an international expert on how urban environments function through their graphic objects. He has extensive experience in academia and professional practice and joined Loughborough University in 2008 where he has since undertaken several roles across research, knowledge exchange, and teaching. His research is said to have "redefined graphic design as a spatial practice." He is regularly invited to share his research, undertake peer reviews for leading design research journals, publishers, and conferences.

In his early career he spent 15 years working in the creative industries in London, where he ran Harland Design (1991–2001) and was one of three founding directors of the environmental graphic design practice Placemarque Ltd. (1999). Before then he worked as a designer at Tatham Pearce Ltd. (1987–1991) where he gained formative experience working across several areas of design (e.g. annual reports, brochures, corporate identity, literature systems and signage systems).


Urbanism, Urban Design, Graphic Design and Heritage


Robert spent his childhood in North Wales and South Australia. He then studied in Nottingham before his early career living and working in London for 15 years. At the turn of the millennium he resettled in the town of Market Harborough in the East Midlands with his family and has lived there since.

Robert's research is guided by the question: How do graphic objects facilitate the function of cities and urban places?

This is framed by a longstanding interest in graphic objects as urban objects, and he uses the lens of graphic design as urban design to understand the micro, meso and macro scale at which people, place, purpose, and performance, are interrelated.

Heritage has recently become a further 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 collaboration with the United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO, and Bradford UNESCO City of Film, to apply the research findings.

Prior to this he led a three-year study into representations of Fascism in early twentieth century new town development in the Latina Province, Italy, with Dr Antonia Liguori. Through this internally funded project he established the Loughborough Urban Graphic Object Archive for research collaboration and doctoral study.

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.

His external commitments include the following activities.

  • Design Research Society Council Member (2017–20).
  • Peer reviewer (various dates): 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; and AHRC
  • PhD examinations (various dates): Aalto University; University of Reading (twice); University of Limerick; The University of Nottingham (twice); Bournemouth University; Birmingham City University; Anglia Ruskin University; Plymouth University.

Robert teaches research, masters, and undergraduate students and across these three levels he has played a leading role in establishing an aligned approach to graphic design at Loughborough. He currently leads the Postgraduate module ACP105 Design and Research.

Throughout his academic career Robert has committed a third of his research to pedagogic research. This has been reported through several high-quality journals and conferences. His interest in pedagogy underpins his teaching practice and he has applied this to several curriculum design exercises.

He is known for research into art and design education, concerning: (1) epistemological stances on graphic design; (2) analysis of graphic design’s research performance the national Research Excellence Framework; (3) assessment criteria and standards in art and design.

He has regularly initiated national and international events and activities for graphic design education, and in 2017 he was invited to guest edit a special issue of Art, Design and Communication in Higher Education about ‘Territories of Graphic Design Education’. He was the inaugural chair of the Graphic Design Educators' Network (2014–19).

He has undertaken undergraduate and postgraduate programme external examination roles at: University of Leeds (since 2021), Open University (2020–22), Northumbria University (2014–18), Bath Spa University (2008–12), University of Chester (2011–14), and was inaugural chair of the Graphic Design Educators’ Network (2014–2019).

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

His recent research into urban graphic heritage led to the Research England Higher Education Innovation Funded project, Design Outreach: Utilising Graphic Heritage for Heritage Interpretation, with the United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO (UKNC). This has spawned further collaboration with Bradford UNESCO City of Film, extending earlier collaborative work with UNESCO Creative City (Shanghai) Promotion Office.

He has participated in several high-profile international events. For example, he was 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). For example, he was recently an invited guest speaker at ‘The future of city centres’ as part of the Leicester Planning Series in Love Architecture 2021 festival.

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 8 PhDs to completion and is currently lead supervisor for a further 3 candidates. Topics have included 'colour as place identity' and 'cultural factors in graphic wayfinding design'. He has examined 10 PhDs externally, both nationally and internationally.

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