About our Art and Design Research

We are a diverse group of research staff and a vibrant PhD research community of around 45 researchers.

Collectively we interrogate a broad spectrum of creative inquiry, through theoretical and applied research with impactful knowledge exchange.

We nurture individual exploration, intra-disciplinary investigation across subject thematic groups and interdisciplinary collaboration with research units across the university.

Ulster’s Art & Design research is ranked 3rd in the UK for its world-leading 4* research and joint 7th for overall GPA.

We enjoy a vibrant research environment recognised as 100% internationally excellent and world leading with 80% at 4* and 20* at 3* (REF, 2014).

The Belfast School of Art Research Unity has a long-standing relationship and influence on the regional creative community. Our outputs are among the most diverse in the university ranging from Journals, conference proceedings and books (monograph and photobooks) to artefacts, performances, exhibitions, or designs, patents and software. These world leading outcomes occupy many of the world's leading collections and archives (Tate, New York Met, Imperial War Museum) or have influenced the development of world-leading industry and innovation (axial3D, CDE Global and HUMAIN).

Thematic groups

While our research unit is a single coherent unit often collaborating, our research aligns with the following thematic groups responding to contemporary issues and challenges.

Art, Conflict and Society

Working with community groups, government, those affected by the troubles, museums and other organisations applying art practice to conflict situations.

Art, Design & Health

Working with HSC Innovations, C-TRIC, MOIC, NI pain society, NI Pain forum and other participant groups, stimulating or challenging topical debate or driving innovative solutions for better healthcare or personal experience.

Arts, Space and Place

Engaging with the creative community in topics interrogating historical, geographical, cultural identity and sustainability issues.

Creative Industries

Design-led investigation engaging with industry bodies, the public and private sector and the interdisciplinary Research Knowledge Exchange activities with the creative sector.

Our Impact

Over 70% of our research impact was peer reviewed to be 'outstanding' influencing culture, society and the economy (REF, 2104). In Research Knowledge Exchange Ulster is recognised as a leader in excellence, with 30% of our KTP programmes assessed as ‘outstanding’ compared to the national benchmark of 21% (Innovate UK, 2019).

Our outputs have been recognised internationally, for instance, the winning public sculpture commission for PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (2018), finalist at the THELMA’s Knowledge Exchange initiative of the year (2018) and the Tate Modern acquisition of Martin Parr’s 12,000 Photobook collection (2017).

Art & Design have two spin out companies including Tactility Factory and HUMAIN and our current research expands the workforce and innovations of the award winning axial3D, another of Ulster’s spin out successes.


Beyond the activity outlined in the thematic groups, staff representation includes peer review committees (AHRC), REF subject panels (REF2014, REF2021) and national ethics committees (OREC NI).

Collaborative research agreements are in place with NMNI and as a member of the Northern Bridge Consortium for PhD research, our research communities converge.

We actively engage with the CHEAD on national research issues. We nurture and promote art practice through sustained engagement for example with Bbeyond and widening access of Art through ‘Art Unwrapped’ with NMNI.

Art & Design staff are co-investigators on the AHRC Creative Cluster, Future Screens NI engaging with diverse industry partners across film and broadcast, animation, games and immersive technologies.