“Design is the occupation of straining our ears and eyes to discover new questions from the midst of everday life.”
“Design is less, but better. You cannot understand design, if you do not understand people.”
“Design can make us better through possible action and alternative critical knowledge and practices.”
Hi, I’m Idrees — a creative leader and strategic change-maker. I’m enabler of creative practice and pedagogy, partnerships and research that break boundaries between higher education, business, and society, with deep knowledge and experience in growing initial pilots into mature scaled systems.
︎Born in Kabul, raised in London, and nurtured in over a dozen countries — I’m an award-winning designer, academic, and researcher, with a focus on innovation and transformation.
I’m enabler of creative practice and pedagogy, partnerships and research that break boundaries between higher education, business, and society through inter/multi/trans-disciplinary approaches to deliver mission-led and future-facing educational offer and make a meaningful impact in the socio-cultural system and socio-economic fabric of local and global communities.
I’m the Founder and Creative Director of X-Crop︎︎︎, a research and innovation lab focused on making cities, organisations, and people better by design! In the past 15+ years, I’ve been working with all kinds of cities, organisations and people, helping them solve issues of urbanisation in the 21st century on both local and global levels.
Throughout my professional and academic career, I have consistently pushed boundaries in design education, research and practice, focusing on diversity and inclusivity within design and have won various design and research awards including: a Daiwa Foundation Award︎︎︎, a InnovationRCA Fellowship︎︎︎, a Dyson Foundation Award︎︎︎, a Wates Foundation Award︎︎︎, and a Core77 Award︎︎︎. I have been awared scholarhips for design research by Ravensbourne University London︎︎︎(2015-20) and Anglia Ruskin University︎︎︎(2021-23), and awarded a Senior Fellowship of the UK’s Higher Education Academy︎︎︎.
I believe design should start from ‘small things’ — like a tornado that starts from small ideas and gradually turns into a bigger vision. A bottom-up approach that gives more agency to people and have them feel empowered by moving beyond the hierarchical traditions and old methodologies. A connected approach 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.
Trained at the Royal College of Art︎︎︎ and Imperial College London︎︎︎ — I cultivated my design leadership skills through extensive practice, pedagogy, and collaboration with a number of world-famous architecture, innovation, design, engineering, and branding companies, such as the Office for Metropolitan Architecture︎︎︎, InnovationRCA︎︎︎, Ramboll︎︎︎, Fortune 500︎︎︎, and Fitch︎︎︎; with direct involvement in projects across a wide range of industries, including technology, automotive, energy, healthcare, transport, fashion, aviation, consumer goods, manufacturing, education, and construction throughout the UK, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
︎I'm a champion of transformative and adaptive leadership styles founded on empathy and transparency, with a focus on change vision and strategy that includes a clear purpose and a strong emphasis on morals and values. For me, leadership entails guiding and influencing a group of people while also connecting their ideas to a common vision.
I have the ability to identify and understand the perspectives and needs of others and respond to those perspectives and needs from a place of care, dignity, and compassion. In so doing, I help people to become better leaders and mobilise their intelligence, creativity, and talent to adapt to the change that is happening. My style of leadership makes me a proponent of codesign, someone who brings everybody together to work across different fields, departments, and programmes to facilitate collaborations that allow for different approaches towards achieving a shared vision as well as collective and strategic objectives.
I have deep knowledge and expertise in the areas of experiential, authentic, and cross-cultural education and student experience that embeds decolonisation, inclusivity, diversity, employability, and sustainability in the curriculum, with business acumen and board-level experience in assembling, motivating, and inspiring outstanding teams to foster a culture of education innovation and deliver research-led education.
As a systems thinker, I bridge the gap between the strategic vision and day-to-day operations of an organisation, with the capability to scope, facilitate & implement ambitious institutional plans to lead policy development, civic engagement, and knowledge exchange.
I have a proven track record of senior academic leadership, management, enhancement, and achievement in dynamic and complex environments, with experience in driving change and improvement in a collaborative culture through excellence, influence, and self-esteem. I have the ability to operate confidently at a cross-institutional level, combining vision and design thinking with pragmatism and drive to deliver results and build strong purposeful networks and ecosystems with industry, government, and academia.
As a design academic, I’m an expert in the design and delivery of academic and creative development activities which embed active and inclusive collaborative learning and teaching practices. I have fifteen years of experience in participatory and people-centred strategic planning and effective operation of academic offering across all levels (module, subject, course, programme, department, school, and faculty), with a significant track record in initiating, developing, and delivering innovative academic practices at FE, UG, PGT, and PGR levels and influencing organisations in the UK and globally.
Previously, I developed, delivered, and led multiple design courses, including the world’s first ARB accredited interior design course︎︎︎, and eventually the Department of Architecture︎︎︎ at Ravensbourne University London︎︎︎, building high quality academic experiences and stimulating environment for students and staff from various backgrounds, with a focus on combining pedagogic experimentation, creative imagination, and cross-disciplinary collaboration to create the best propositions for the issues of the built environment and society. Moreover, I taught design and innovation to postgraduate and research students in the School of Design︎︎︎ at the Royal College of Art︎︎︎ alongside prominent academics and industry leaders, with a focus on cross-cultural design, transnational trends, and context-specific methods and approaches.
Currently, I am Associate Professor (Art & Design) and Deputy Head of Cambridge School of Art (Education)︎︎︎ in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences︎︎︎ at Anglia Ruskin University︎︎︎ where I lead the portfolio of Art & Design programmes with a particular focus on vertical and horizontal experiences and progression and new forms of multi-site and shared collaboration integrating practice-based research with teaching and knowledge exchange as well as evolving Art & Design’s relationship to the key local, national, and global challenges by rethinking the role of critical and contextual studies in an art school environment and the purpose of an art school in the 21st century.
At CSA︎︎︎, I have been working with various teams to reposition the school, academic staff, and existing provision and make them future-facing, global and leading-edge. I lead on the planning and development of formal and informal offerings as well as new and exciting undergraduate and postgraduate courses (including a new postgraduate framework for art & design education that includes MA Human-Centred Design︎︎︎, MA Art, Health, and Wellbeing︎︎︎, and MA Interior Design Innovation︎︎︎) with a focus on extending the school’s Art & Design curriculum and portfolio, particularly around ethical, inclusive, and systemic practice and innovation; looking at how we can move beyond disciplinary boundaries towards interconnected, holistic, analytical, decolonial, and entrepreneurial approaches that enable positive contribution to society, health, and planet.
In academia, my strength is in being a key resource in the development, articulation, and delivery of policy and strategy for education, research & innovation, and operations, and my principal accountabilities have included; leadership & direction, strategic planning, quality management and assurance (learning, teaching, and assessment), internationalisation, student experience, wellbeing & outcomes, financial performance, workforce planning & recruitment, change management, professional and scholarly development of colleagues, effective management of school community, environment and resources, programme innovation & development, promotion of research & knowledge exchange, cross-school/faculty/university collaboration, professional compliance, and representation.
Additionally, I am External Examiner and Course Development Consultant for Interior Design and Interior Architecture courses at School of Design, Architecture, and Interiors︎︎︎ at Falmouth University︎︎︎ with a focus on providing guidance and expert advice on the development of new multi-site, digital, and cross-cultural undergraduate and postgraduate design courses. I used to be a member of the Board of Advisors at Digital Influx︎︎︎(a world’s first EdTech company to teach young people User Experience and Design Thinking) and my responsibility was to help the company better understand design, technology, education, economics, demographics, geopolitics, and policy. I am a Senior Fellow [SFHEA] of The Higher Education Academy︎︎︎, a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts︎︎︎, and an Academician and Member of The Academy of Urbanism︎︎︎, all of which enable me to actively contribute to the social, cultural, economic, political, and physical development of cities through mission-led and future-facing design education, research and practice.
︎My pedagogy focuses on pioneering new methods and strategic models for partnering public and private sector organisations, such as the Transport Research Laboratory︎︎︎, Greater London Authority︎︎︎, Ford Motors︎︎︎, and Ogilvy︎︎︎; with academia to co-create prototypes that respond to everyday and future needs; investigating through world-class ideas and concepts that define the future of urban environments, learning and experience, mobility and energy, transaction and trade, health and wellbeing, living and care, working and play.
My teaching focusses on encouraging an international and cross geo-cultural educational experience through multi-site and shared collaborative projects that challenges stereotypical approaches and methodologies to design education and practice by connecting the ostensibly unconnected, recognising the relationship and value of the local & the global as well as the importance of experimentation and the need to innovate for purpose.
As a doctoral researcher in Innovation Design Engineering, School of Design︎︎︎ at the Royal College of Art︎︎︎, my practice-based research explores the concept of Decolonised Innovation. I investigate new system of methods, principles, and rules for design that are free from the forces of globalisation—liberating from the constraints of a world that is already made and from externally imposed conventional methods and perspectives, therefore decolonised—whilst balancing with resource-constrained ways of knowing, designing and making in the moment of now in an unsettled context to approach the construction, longevity, and suitability of objects within specific culture and context.
My research through private practice, teaching, and writing and in collaboration with public and private sector organisations, such as the World Humanitarian Forum︎︎︎, Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation︎︎︎, Vestre︎︎︎, Crisis Response︎︎︎, and Atlantic Pacific︎︎︎; examines the concepts of Human-Connected Design, Design in Crisis and Emergency, Autonomous Design, and Design Under Resource Constraints, and questions the role of borders and transnationalism in design and innovation across the least developed, developing, and developed economies.
I’m often humbled by my students’ and colleagues’ potential, creativity, tenacity, and positivity despite the difficulties they face in education and the industry. Equally, I’m interested in the synergy between the purpose of a design school, the advances in technology and science, the needs of the city where the school is based, the stimulus of national and international industries and institutions, and the creativity and resilience of the school’s multidisplinary staff and its diverse body of students. I always question, how do we bring the ‘big six’ together and how do we relate all of the complexities that is design to the real-world issues that people, organisations, and cities are facing? And this is the kind of thinking that, I believe, will help ensure that design education becomes more inclusive and design practice more relevant to all communities.
PREVIOUS CLIENTS & COLLABORATORS
Ford / Nokia / Shenzhen Stock Exchange / Chelmsford Borough Council / British Council / Kuwait Catering Company / Ashfield District Council / Leaside Regeneration Company / Hitachi / Imperial College London / Seoul Design Foundation / Fitch / Aspire Logistics / Rio Tinto / Royal College of Art / Office for Metropolitan Architecture / Kuwait Hotels Company / Ramboll Group / Ravensbourne University London / Design Museum London / Deutsch Bank / InnovationRCA / Wates Foundation / University of Milano - Bicocca / Korea Advance Institute of Science and Technology / Qatar Foundation / China Central Television / KEIO University / British Olympics Authority / Lusail Development / Samsung / LG, Korea / Tokyo Department for Tourism / Leicester City Council / Greenwich Automated Transport Environment / Transport Research London / ESNE University / Robert Owen Nursery School / World of Hope / Ogilvy / Southwark Council / Metropolitan Police / Royal College of Physicians / Creative Ken / Methodist Church / City of Kamaishi / Atlantic Pacific / Nebama Mind / Croydon Council / United Natioans Development Programme / Unilever / Vestre / Dubai Design Week / Canadian University of Dubai / The Culture Capital Exchange / Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation / Institute for Innovative Global Education, Kansai University / European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) / Logitech / World Health Organisation / World Humanitarian Forum / Emergency Show / Digital Influx / Falmouth University / School of Architecture, Design, and Interiors / Cambridge City Council / Cambridge Arts Network / Crisis Response / University of Hertfordshire / Academy of Urbanism / Wysing Arts Centre / University of Cambridge / Cambridge Biomedical Campus / Institute of Metabolic Science / Innovate Cambridge / Cambridge Junction / Kavli Centre for Ethics, Science, and the Public