Vicki Thomas (AKA Battle) is Senior Lecturer in Design History and Cultural Theory, and part of the Design Research Group in the School of The Arts.
From an academic background in Sociology and Design History, Thomas teaches on the BSc Product Design and BA Interior Design programmes. Understanding the social and historical context of design practice is a core principle of Thomas’ courses. As a practicing designer, Thomas’ students benefit from her industry experience and her knowledge of current design practice and technologies.
Thomas’ wide research interests are linked through her focus on design networks and exchange processes. Through her active membership in the Design Research Group, Thomas collaborates on a series Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) that have had a direct impact on the lives of others – including her KTP work with palliative care charity Sue Ryder Care – and on providing employment opportunities, including an award-winning KTP Associate.
Thomas has used the School of The Arts’ specialist Osborne Robinson Poster Collection in her teaching and has also drawn on its resources for research and publication in order to secure the Collection as resource for future students and researchers.
She also curates touring exhibitions and initiated A 1000 Words, an online research network for individuals and organisations interested in understanding the process of globally exchanging design and illustration theories.
Vicki Thomas is Senior Lecturer on the BSc (Hons) Product Design and BA (Hons) Interior Design programmes. She encourages students to use all the research and archive resources the University provides through her collaboration with library and gallery staff. Her main focus is teaching design history and dissertation supervision but she also has experience teaching professional practice and business planning on the BA (Hons) Illustration programme.
Thomas’ collaborative Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, research and private design practice exposes her students to current production developments and new technologies in the design industry.
Contextual Studies One
This is a first-year module that introduces both interior and product designers to the history of design, research skills and resources. It is taught through lectures seminars and visits.
Contextual Studies Two
The second-year module is thematic, with one block of teaching looking at spatial contexts of design and the other ethical issues facing of design practice today. The teaching is integrated with live studio projects and reflects themes linking all 3-D teaching.
Final Major Projects and Dissertations
Supervision and research support is central to Thomas’ teaching in students’ final year, helping students to complete their final project and preparing them for a professional career.
Thomas’ research interests focus on the links between social and design processes. Her master’s research at the Royal College and Victoria and Albert Museum into the role of the designer in the commercialisation of Marcel Mauss’s (1924) Gift Exchange process, supported and guided the development of new KTPs in the School of the Arts’ Design Department. These included projects with hospice and palliative care charity Sue Ryder Care, BCE and John Crane Toys, on which she collaborated with University of Northampton researchers Friedemann Schaber and Randle Turner, all members of the Design Research Group. She has also researched the impact of knowledge transfer on international trade on the UK toy design and businesses in the giftware market, an important area for the companies in partnership through KTPs. For example, the collaboration into the use of new technologies and materials led to an increase in total gross profit of £400,000 for Sue Ryder Care – income that was used for palliative care.
Gift exchange and play
Building on the successful KTP projects, Thomas has been exploring the role of play and the toy design process on creativity in the community. Play has creative benefits far beyond childhood and even the design studio, encouraging entrepreneurship, providing therapeutic benefits, motivating staff, generating income and inspiring new design and development outside the toy industry. Thomas has explored these issues through a series of exhibitions, publications and conference papers including ALL Work and No PLAY makes you a dull DESIGNer(2013) at two venues In Northampton.
Thomas’ current research includes Researching Northamptonshire Toy Industry for a forthcoming exhibition, Batteries not Included with Guildhall Museum, Northampton, which will run from June to October 2014.
Cultural exchange of illustration and design
Thomas is not only researching gift exchange and play but is interested in cross-cultural exchange of illustration and design. Thomas’ work includes research based on the University of Northampton’s Osborne Robinson Poster Collection, resulting in a touring exhibition on the Polish Posters in the collection (2011-13), conference papers and an article in The Poster.
A Santander Bank funded project, A 1000 Words, explored illustration networks primarily within the publishing industry in Latin America and Europe. This led to an AHRC Networking bid and the establishment of an online network for all project collaborators and those interested in how illustrations images and designs are transferred across spatial and cultural boundaries.
As a design historian, Thomas has also been exploring how design skills, patterns of consumption and intellectual property rights are passed between generations. She has been working with Friedemann Schaber with family history resources in USA (Cincinnati) and Russia (Ufa) linked to the German diaspora in the nineteenth century. She has also been working with designer’s legacies including those of Mabel Lucie Attwell, Eryk Lipinski and George Studdy. The research has been published in two books and through a series of conference papers and promotional events. For example, a current industry partnership with Gresham Marketing and the Mary Evans Picture Library, sees Thomas commissioning The University of South Wales at Newport with the task of Re-Animating Bonzo for a the 90th anniversary of his animation debut in 1924 at the Cinema Museum, London planned for Autumn 2014.
- Thomas, V. (2018) Seeing the whole design picture. Paper presented to: Multi-Discisplinary Design: Distinctions & Blurred Boundaries, Avenue Campus, The University of Northampton, 27 April 2018.
- Thomas, V. (2018) Work & play – experiences in Toy Town. Paper presented to: International Toy Research Association (ITRA) 8th World Conference, Paris, France, 11-13 July 2018.
- Thomas, V. (2017) Practice makes perfect: product design and external collaborations. In: Berg, A., Bohemia, E., Buck, L., Gulden, T., Kovacevic, A. and Pavel, N. (eds.) Building Community: Design Education for a Sustainable Future. Glasgow: The Design Society /Institution of Engineering Designers. 113.
- Thomas, V. (2017) The toy box – the changing semiotics of toy packaging. In: Zantides, E. (ed.) Semiotics and Visual Communication II: Culture of Seduction. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars. pp. 252-275.
- Thomas, V. (2016) Book review: Ruth E. Iskin. The Poster: Art, Advertising, Design, and Collecting, 1860s–1900s. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2014. ICON: Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology. 21, pp. 191-193. 1361-8113.
- Thomas, V. (2016) Playing in Northampton: connecting past, present and future. In: Patte, M. M. and Sutterby, J. A. (eds.) Celebrating 40 Years of Play Research: Reflecting on Our Past, Exploring the Present, & Playing into the Future. Lanham: Hamilton Books for The Association for the Study of Play (TASP). pp. 3-30.
- Thomas, V. (2016) Product design education: a journey? In: Bohemia, E., Buck, L., Eriksen, K., Kovacevic, A., Ovesen, N. and Tollestrup, C. (eds.) Design Education: Collaboration and Cross-Disciplinarity: Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education. Glasgow: The Design Society. pp. 228-223.
- Thomas, V. (2015) Good benefactors managing design expectations. In: Bingham, G., Bohemia, E., Kovacevic, A., McCardle, J., Parkinson, B. and Southee, D. (eds.) Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, Loughborough Design School, University of Loughborough, United Kingdom, 3rd-4th September 2015: Great Expectations: Design Teaching, Research & Enterprise. U.K.: Institution of Engineering Designers, The Design Society. 9781904670629. pp. 182-187.
- Thomas, V. (2015) Learning to adapt. Art Buyer. Autumn(2015), p. 126.
- Thomas, V. and Davies, V. (2014) Batteries Not Included exhibition evaluation. (Unpublished)
- Thomas, V. (2014) The creative benefits of play. Paper presented to: 7th InternationaI Toy Research Association (ITRA) World Congress: Toys as Language and Communication, Faculty of Philosophy, Catholic University Of Portugal, Braga, 23-25 July 2014. (Unpublished)
- Thomas, V. (2013) Playing at the crossroads. In: ISBE 2013 Conference Proceedings. London: ISBE. 9781900862264.