John Thackara is the founder and Director of The Doors of Perception (Doors). This event production company organises festivals in Europe and India in which grassroots innovators work with designers to imagine sustainable futures – and take practical steps to realise them. Doors works with an international community of design and innovation professionals, and students, whose aim is to learn how to design services, some of them enabled by information technology, that meet basic needs in new and sustainable ways. This unique community of practice is 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.
In 2008 John Thackara was also commissioner of City Eco Lab at St Etienne, in the Rhone Alps region of France. This was a nomadic market of projects which, by making projects visible to the wider populace, started people talking about ways they might be improved – or about doing similar projects themselves. The event was hosted by the St Etienne Cite du Design.
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. Dott was inspired by two questions: 'what might life in a sustainable region be like? (and) what design steps might get us there?". Full story at dott07.com.
Before co-founding Doors in 2000 (with Kristi van Riet), 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.
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).
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.
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 the time he was also the founder and editor (with Hilary Arnold) of Cheap Eats in Sydney.
Thackara was also a London bus driver (routes 73 and 134).
He lives in the South of France with his wife, Kristi van Riet. His daughter, Kate Thackara, lives in London, and Brighton during term time where she is currently studying Fine Art Painting.
- 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 and Hudson, 1988.
- Design After Modernism. (Japanese edition, revised). Tokyo: Kajima, 1992.
- New British Design. Co-edited with Stuart Jane. London: Thames and Hudson, 1987.
- Doors of Perception (blog) since 2004.
- Doors of Perception Report (email newsletter), monthly since March 2002.
- "Profile". doorsofperception.com. Retrieved 29 September 2012.