Idrees Rasouli holding up a honeycomb

Idrees Rasouli

Staff. Associate Professor, Art & Design.

An award-winning designer of products, processes, and places, with a focus on disruptive market innovation, Idrees Rasouli is Associate Professor and Deputy Head of Cambridge School of Art, where he leads on the portfolio of art and design programmes, and undertakes academic leadership in teaching and learning, research, external engagement and enterprise.

Through his own practice, X-Crop, he works with all kinds of cities, organisations, and people to help them solve issues of urbanisation and disaster in the 21st century through design, on both local and global levels.

What one piece of design inspired you to do what you do now?

Throughout my life I have been inspired by different designers, mainly Buckminster Fuller (systems-thinking), James Dyson (engineering), Rem Koolhaas (architecture), Isamu Noguchi (art), and Kenya Hara and Don Norman (design-thinking). The very first thing that inspired me to what I do now is most probably coming across Buckminster Fuller’s radical car design ‘The Dymaxion Car’ that he designed in the 1930s. I found his design philosophy behind the car fascinating, how we should consider sustainability, technology, and human-centred design as central components of our solutions to everyday needs. In addition, his approach to design always considered the afterlife of materials, that alternative function which would enable different mode of use, and the fact that his thinking always triggered the need for exploring new possibilities for making the future of living-beings and the environment better by design.

The Dymaxian Car, in my opinion, brings together the fields of systems-thinking, engineering, architecture, art, and design-thinking under one umbrella to conquer a challenge, and this is the approach I take in my work. I believe that design should start from ‘small things’ - like a ‘tornado’ that starts from small ideas and gradually turns into a bigger one. A bottom-up approach and way of thinking that integrates the immediate context, resources, systems and processes to find the most important problems in our cities, organisations and communities through observing and noticing everyday life conditions, and then trying to capture and turning them into something that’s simple, thoughtful and impactful as well as easy to understand and share.

The Dymaxion Car

What’s the most valuable thing you took away from education?

Education has allowed me to rediscover the unknown, accumulate culture in my own hands, and understand the value of looking at things in an unlimited number of ways. It has enabled me to strain my eyes and ears in order to observe and activate new ways of perceiving the world, discover and question the everyday life, and build new outstanding relationships and ideas through conscious and sensible practice. Education, for me, is the vocation of risk-taking and experimentation, and the process for taking both the past and the future serious, favouring neither, putting them into a cross-disciplinary perspective, and making full use of all.

What single piece of advice would you give your younger self?

Slow down. Be articulate and kinder; always test and guide your actions by taking the time to reflect; give yourself permission to experiment and take risk; identify and plan your goals but be flexible in your journey in achieving them; work harder and dream always; choose your boss based on their merit; think deeply about humanity and the creations in the universe; people are different; eat well and be thankful always.

What do you think being at art school is like nowadays...?

Art schools build ambition, and they drive for excellence. Their desire is to be a beacon of hope for students, their families, and researchers everywhere. Art schools have the potential to make individuals and communities achieve great things through creativity, amalgamation of physical and digital, divergent thinking skills, and build confidence as well as a sense of belonging and individual identity.

Today’s art school provides a unique platform for young and old to discuss the many different cultures of our world through digital practices, question socio-economic conditions by understanding current and future needs, explore solutions to multifaceted global challenges and influence policy and governance by acting as a nexus for collaborative creative enquiry.

Today’s art school enable us to hone our critical thinking and learning skills towards a common goal; of make the world a better place and within it the life of humans and non-humans. Art schools connect people more deeply with the world and open us to new ways of seeing and doing, forging social bonds and community cohesion.

Being at art school is to prepare for the future - to imagine and envision beyond problem solving and ask the “why” and “what if”, to be ethically responsible citizens, and to be human beings who can tackle social, environmental, economic, and political challenges head-on whilst enjoying the deeper forms of beauty and different cultures.

…and what will the future of art schools be like?

Future art schools will be a place where students will go beyond the current model of understanding technology towards that which enables them to develop and apply technology ethically and sustainably - a conduit between the present and the future by clarifying the confused, reframing the old, illuminating the mundane, and humanising the technological. For this to happen, future art schools will expand the curriculum to include science and technology and focus on training and practice that stays concerned about the future as much as the past.

The future art schools will be a place to disrupt outdated ways of seeing, listening, thinking and making whilst driving cultural, social and institutional change. A place that is decentred, disruptive, evolving, inclusive, and porous as well as dynamic, flexible and wide open to experimentation and co-learning with the world. The future art school will transform from the existing model of ‘imagining and researching big problems’ to one that ‘solves big problems’ and in the process repairs social, environmental, economic, and political systems.

Idrees Rasouli sitting on a corner sofa

What’s the most interesting thing you get to do in your role?

I love how every day there’s a new challenge to conquer and knowing that my work has made a real different in someone’s life and in making the world a better place. My role allows me to continuously rethink and innovate, try harder and better, have a voice and solve the issues and big questions surrounding art and design education, governments, industries, and the future of humanity.

I am very lucky to have the relative freedom to shape and lead the future of CSA during this ‘Decade of Action’ and to add to its 160+ year history of inspiring creativity, whilst being in the company of other brilliant minds, working with students from around the world and doing something with societal, environmental, economic, and cultural value.

What projects are you currently working on?

Through my practice, X-Crop, I specialise in human-connected design (bringing together human insights, advanced intelligence, and design futures) to tackle some of the complex challenges facing care, rehabilitation, agriculture, health and well-being, safety and resilience, housing and energy, education, mobility, and regeneration; finding answers through framing, predicting and forecasting problems and opportunities concerning cities, organisations, and people.

What I mean by this is that I bring art and design practices and place them at the extreme end of global issues, and inclusively craft circular design solutions and make the case for bold actions with a focus on policy, equity, sustainability and climate change to help the public and private sectors, governments, NGOs, and local authorities to navigate the often implicit and complex disaster marketplace and at the same time tackle some of the toughest challenges that we face in the 21st century across different cultural contexts and societies.

Currently, I am working on projects that include the formation of a first-of-its-kind centre for sustainable and design-led approaches, methods, and humanitarian technologies to tackle disaster response and recovery through art and design practices; forming a global design community that brings together individuals from different parts of the world to develop creative new perspectives, thinking and innovations for tackling crises and emergencies; and, a cross-cultural research project between the UK and Japan that looks at designing a framework, template, or set of models that identify the needs of women after a mass disaster, and inform our understanding of how women respond and deal with challenges during disasters.

How does your life outside of ARU inform your teaching and research?

I am a people’s person; someone who, like a motor, gives and produces energy through motion by exchanging ideas, having conversations and discussions with individuals from different fields and cultural backgrounds. The combination of travelling (locally or internationally), activities that involve engaging with different people, cultures and institutions, and reading informs my teaching and research, and allows me to reflect, learn, and re-learn on a regular basis, which in turn makes me conscious of my process and ability to adapt and respond to change.

Additionally, in the past five years, I have been conducting my practice-based doctoral research (on a part-time basis) in Innovation Design Engineering, School of Design at the Royal College of Art questioning the role of borders and transnationalism in design and innovation across the least developed, developing, and developed economies. I have been investigating the methods, principles and rules for design that are unbiased; free from the forces of globalisation and from externally imposed conventional methods and perspectives, and examining and integrating the moment of now in approaching the construction and longevity of products, processes and places as well as their suitability ‘for and in’ specific culture and context. Hence, the mix of these activities inform my teaching and research outside of ARU.

Where now