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John Thackara (born 6 August 1951, Newcastle upon Tyne) is a British-born writer, advisor and public speaker. He curated the celebrated Doors of Perception conference for 20 years – first in Amsterdam, later across India – and is a Senior Fellow at the Royal College of Art in London. Thackara writes about live examples of what a sustainable future can be like with a special focus on social and ecological design. He has published online since 1993 at thackara.com and in books; his most recent title is How To Thrive In the Next Economy (Thames & Hudson 2015).
Thackara studied philosophy, and trained as a journalist, before working for ten years as a book publisher and magazine editor. He was the first director (1993—99) of the Netherlands Design Institute, in Amsterdam, and curated Doors of Perception from 2000–16. He has been program director of Designs of the Time (Dott), the social innovation biennial in England, and curated City Eco Lab – the French design biennial. Thackara has curated place-based professional workshops – called xskools – in 11 countries; he has given keynote talks, and chaired international conferences, in 41 countries; he has chaired or served on professional awards juries in the USA, India, and Europe.
Appointed a senior fellow at the RCA in 2011, Thackara is currently visiting professor at School of Visual Arts in New York, and an advisor to: Chora Connection (Denmark); Konstfack (Sweden); Cateran's Common Wealth (Scotland); The Nubian Vault Association (France); Unbox Festival (India); Upstarter (London); Participatory City (London).
Thackara once drove a London bus (routes 73 and 134). He lives in South West France.
Early life and education
Born Newcastle upon Tyne, England, 6 August 1951
Son of Alexander Daniel Thackara, and Eleanor Hazel, née Miller
Marlborough College 1964–69
University of Kent, 1970–74, BA, Philosophy
University of Wales Centre for Journalism Studies, 1974–75
Master's Degree, Journalism
Royal College of Art, London, 2011–present, Senior Fellow
Doors of Perception, Amsterdam, 2000–16, Founder and Director
Thackara was the founder and Director of Doors of Perception. This event production company organised festivals in Europe and India which brought together grassroots innovators to work with designers to imagine sustainable futures – and take practical steps to meet basic needs in new and sustainable ways. This hybrid community of practice was inspired by two related questions: "we know what new technology can do, but what is it for?" and, "how do we want to live?". The results are published on the Doors of Perception website, and discussed at the Doors of Perception conference.
Key Doors of Perception events
Doors 9 "Food" (Delhi 2007)
Doors 8 "Infra" (Bangalore, 2005)
Doors East 2 "Tomorrow's Services" (Bangalore, 2002)
Doors 7 "Flow" (Amsterdam, 2002)
Doors East (Ahmedabad, India, 2000)
Doors 6 "Lightness" (Amsterdam, 2000)
Doors 5 "Play" (Amsterdam, 1998)
Doors 4 "Speed" (Amsterdam, 1996)
Doors 3 "Info-Eco" (Amsterdam,1994)
Doors 2 "Home" (Amsterdam, 1994)
Doors 1 (Amsterdam, 1993)
City Eco Lab (St Etienne, France) 2007–08
As Commissioner of France's main design biennial, Thackara curated an event called City Eco Lab. Conceived as a 'nomadic market of projects’, City Eco Lab made projects visible to the wider populace and started people talking about ways they might be improved or about doing similar projects themselves. 46 live projects from the St Etienne region were shown side-by-side with best practice projects from other parts of the world. The event was hosted by the Cite du Design; its designers were Exyzt and Gaelle Gabillet.
Designs of The Time (Dott 07) North East England 2005–08, Programme Director
During 2005–2007 Thackara was programme director of Designs of the Time (Dott 2007) in North East England. Dott 07 was a two-year programme of sustainability projects commissioned by the Design Council and the region's economic Regional development agency, One NorthEast. Dott 07 culminated in a two-week festival on the banks of the River Tyne in North East England and was visited by 30,000 people. Dott was inspired by two questions: "what might life in a sustainable region be like? (and) what design steps might get us there?".
Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, Italy, 2001–04, Advisor and Steering Committee
Thackara was an advisor and then served on the start-up Steering Committee (chaired by Franco Debenedetti) of this start-up postgraduate institute founded by Telecom Italia. Its founding director was Gillian Crampton Smith. Thackara's specific tasks were to help develop and articulate the institute's basic concept and organisational form; define and articulate the roles of, and benefits to, industry sponsors; organize an international workshop of experts to refine the research programme; and produce an inaugural event
Hong Kong Design Task Force. 2000
Thackara was the expert advisor to the Hong Kong Design Task Force (chair: Victor Lo) which developed a new innovation and research policy for the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The task force plotted the best way for Hong Kong and China to move up the value chain from a product-based to a service-and-flow based economy. Following the report, Hong Kong launched a "DesignSmart" initiative with the creation of a HK$250million (25 million euros) fund.
Netherlands Design Institute, Amsterdam, 1993–99, Director
Thackara was the first Director (1993–1999) of the Netherlands Design Institute. The Institute, which was founded by the Dutch government and the city of Amsterdam in 1993, was a think-and-do tank whose mission was to increase the economic and social contribution of design. The Institute's projects brought together a variety of design specialists, users, and experts in many other disciplines. Doors of Perception was the institute's flagship conference. Thackara left the Institute in 1999 and set up Doors of Perception as an independent company in 2000.
Netherlands Design Institute - highlights
- Presence – European project on elderly and internet
- Maypole - European project on social computing
- Trespassers - publication on design scenarios for sustainability
- Wisselstroom - design scenarios for transport intersections
- Kust op de Kaart - website and knowledge map of coastal projects
- If/Then - Europe/USA publication of "yearbook of the near future"
- Doors of Perception 5 - "play"
- O2 Website - for eco-designers worldwide
- Lightness – book + lectures
- Young Designers and Industry 18 European companies + scenarios
- From Practice To Policy - new media conference with Virtual Platform
- Design In The Knowledge Economy - seminar series
- The Flat Space 2 - screen design futures
- European Design Industry Summit
- European Design Prize
- Winners! - book published
- Wisseltroom - design scenarios for the future of mobility
- Eternally Yours – conference and book on long-life products
- World Internet Expo: Dutch Pavilion
- Doors of Perception 4 - "Speed"
- Legible City - conference on cities and information
- Things That Think : design/business workshops on smart materials
- Doors of Perception 4 - 'Speed'
- Doors of Perception 3- "Info-Eco"
- The Flat Space - exhibition and CDRom of design for electronic screens
- The Prototype- workshop series
- From Dada To Data, conference, with Virtual Platform & Council of Europe
- European Community Design Prize (with EU)
- European Design Industry Summit (with EU)
- Design Across Europe - report on the European design industry
- Toshio Iwai: Media Artist - exhibition for opening of Institute's building
- Action-Reaction - exhibition in Japan
- Doors of Perception 2 "Home"
- Smart Matter - smart materials seminar, with Stedelijk Museum
- Tomorrow's Literacies - lectures and exhibition at Frankfurt Book Fair
- Eternally Yours - conference and book on product endurance
- The New Old report and conference (with UK DesignAge Network)
- Materials of Invention: seminar series and book
- The Cultural Economy Of The Applied Arts - report
- Design And The Culture Industries - international professional meeting
- Doors of Perception 1: plus DoP CDRom
Design Analysis International 1985 – 1992 London and Tokyo, Managing Director
Prior to the Netherlands Design Institute, Thackara was founder and managing director of Design Analysis International Limited. The activities of this small London-based company included an International symposium on science, innovation and design for the Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo, 1987); exhibitions for Axis Gallery (Tokyo); a conference on Interactivity and Environments for the European Commission (Paris, 1989); An exhibition called Image and Object at the Centre Pompidou (Paris 1989); Mirror of Medicine, an exhibition for the 150th anniversary the British Medical Journal, curator Peter Dormer; research and commentary on the BBC Design Awards programmes in 1990 and 1992; T-Zone, an exhibition of Japanese architecture and video, with Riiche Miyake, for the Architectural Association (Brussels and London 1992); The Inventive Spirit, a touring art, technology and design exhibition for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Vienna, Leipsig, Turin, Brussels, 1992); and Sovereign, research and procurement (in ten months, from start to opening) of a national exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum to commemorate The Queen's 40th anniversary as sovereign. Designed by Pentagram. (London 1992).
Royal College of Art, London, 1988-1002 Director of Research
From 1998–2002 Thackara was also Director of Research at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London. He was appointed to this newly created position by the RCA's then Rector, Jocelyn Stevens, to develop a research strategy, and a programme of live, real-world projects, that would help the College take a leadership role as an outward-facing centre of innovation.
Editor and Journalist, 1985-1989
During 1985–1986, Thackara worked for two years as a freelance journalist. He was, inter alia, Modern Culture Editor, Harpers & Queen; Design Correspondent for The Guardian; Design Correspondent for The Spectator; and a contributor to the Late Show (BBC).
From 1980 to 1985, on returning from Australia, he was editor of the UK Design Council's monthly publication, Design.
From 1974–1980 Thackara worked as a commissioning editor in book publishing, first for Granada Publishing in the UK, and latterly for New South Wales University Press in Sydney Australia. During this time he was also the founder and editor (with Hilary Arnold) of Cheap Eats in Sydney.
London Transport, 1969 – 1970 (1 year) Bus Driver (Routemaster, routes 73 and 134)
Honors, awards and positions
- Honorary Doctorate, Plymouth University, United Kingdom August 2015 "being a person distinguished in eminence and by attainments"
- Senior Fellow, Royal College of Art June 2011
- ADI Design Index, Italy, Best Product of Italian design, 2010 ("I migliori prodotti del design italiano del 2009") "In the Bubble. Design per un futuro sostenibile" Umberto Allemandi & C., John Thackara, Pier Paolo Peruccio (curatore). ADI Design Index.Category "Ricerca storica, teorica, critica e editoria"
- Best Architecture Book of the Year, The Netherlands: deArchitect, December 2010 Top 10 architectuurboeken 2010 #01: John Thackara, Plan B
- Fellow, Musashino Art University, Japan: August 2008
- Fellow, The Young Foundation, January 2004
- UK Design Of The Year, Design Week, November 1995, for "T-Zone" exhibition
- Webby Award (USA) 1999 Webby Awards, Peoples Voice Award, Art, for Doors of Perception website
- Recognition of Service Award, ACM Association for Computing Machinery August 2000, Co-Chair DIS'00 - Designing Interactive Systems 2000
Thackara lives in south-west France with his wife, Kristi van Riet. His daughter, Kate Thackara, lives in London where she is an art teacher.
Thackara's great great great grandfather was William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) Commanding General of the United States Army from 1869–1883. His great great grandfather, Alexander Montgomery Thackara (1848–1937), addressed as "Mont" in family correspondence, married Sherman's daughter Eleanor Sherman (1859-1915) in 1880 
- How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow's World Today, London Thames & Hudson 2015
- Clean Growth: From Mindless Development to Design Mindfulness, Innovation. (White paper 1/6), Series Editor Stuart Madonald, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, 2009.
- Wouldn't It be Great If.... Designs of The Time Manual. London, Design Council, 2007..
- In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2005.
- The New Geographies of Learning. Amsterdam: University of Professional Education (HvA), 2003.
- European Design Prize Winners! How Today's Successful Companies Innovate by Design. London: Gower, 1997.
- Lost In Space: A Traveler's Tale. Haarlem: De Grafische Haarlem, 1994.
- DoPRom (Doors of Perception). CDRom; co-editor. Amsterdam: Mediamatic, 1994.
- Architects' Data: Handbook of Building Types. Ernst Neufert, (ed John Thackara, Vincent Jones) London Wiley, 1992.
- T-Zone. (co-edited with Riiche Miyake) Brussels: Europalia (in association with Architectural Association) 1991.
- Leading Edge. (ed) Tokyo: Axis 1990.
- Image and Object: Nouveau Design de Londres (ed). Paris: Centre Pompidou, 1990.
- Design After Modernism: Beyond the Object (ed). London: Thames & Hudson, 1988.
- Design After Modernism. (Japanese edition, revised). Tokyo: Kajima, 1992.
- New British Design. Co-edited with Stuart Jane. London: Thames & Hudson, 1987.
- Doors of Perception (blog) since 2004.
- Doors of Perception Report (email newsletter), monthly since March 2002.
Biennials, conference chair, professional juries
- Doors of Perception Conference, Curator and Chair (see above)
- Core77 Design Awards (USA, 2015) Design for Social Impact, Jury Chair
- Fluid Time Symposium (Vienna, 2015) Symposium Chair
- Lab For Change Makers (Amsterdam, 2015) Symposium Chair
- Sustrans (London, 2015) Sustainable Mobility, Chair
- Chora Connection (Copenhagen, 2015) Back To The Land Symposium, Chair
- Curry Stone Design Prize (USA, 2014) International Jury
- Unbox Festival (Delhi 2013) AHRC Social Innovation Challenge, Jury President
- Audi Urban Future Initiative (Istanbul, 2012), International Jury, Chair
- World Design Forum (Eindhoven, 2011, 2012) WDF12 Design & Health, Conference Chair
- Buckminster Fuller Award (New York, 2011) International Jury
- Conde Nast Traveller Design Awards (London, 2011) International Jury
- Rotterdam Design Prize (Rotterdam, 2011) Jury Chair
- India Future of Change (India, 2011) Designing Innovation, International Jury
- Victor Papanek Award (Vienna, 2011) International Jury
- Royal Society of Arts (London, 2009) Design Futures Awards, Jury Chair
- EDF Sustainable Design Challenge (Paris, 2010) International Jury
- Forum d’Avignon (Avignon, 2009) Beyond GDP: Panel Chair
- City Eco Lab (St Etienne, 2008) French Design Biennial, Curator
- Dott 07 (Newcastle, 2007) Social Innovation Biennial, Programme Director
- Picnic Green Challenge (Amsterdam, 2007) International Jury
- Aspen Design Summit (Aspen, 2006) Conference Chair
- Fused Space (Rotterdam, 2004) International Jury
- Spark! Design For Local Knowledge (Oslo, 2003) Conference Chair
- International Browser Day (The Netherlands, 2002) Conference and Jury Chair
- Intelligent Information Interfaces (i3) (Europe, 2000) Project Chair, Presence
- DNP Network Art Award (Tokyo, 1996) International Jury
- European Design Prize (Brussels, 1994) Jury and Conference Chair
- Biennale Interieur (Kortrijk, Belgium, 1994) International Jury
- Senior Fellows honors list Royal College of Art website
- ADI Design Index webpage
- Dearchitect webpage news 29/12/2010
- Sherman-Thackara Collection: Correspondences 1869-1895. Villanova University