Yoko is an award-winning design researcher. She is committed to cultural sensitivity, diversity and participation to pursue a design practice that deeply engages with communities. Her upbringing, education and employment in Australia, UK, US and Japan have grounded this as practice.
Yoko’s practice is entangled in complex ‘wicked problems’, to strengthen adaptive capacity for disaster resilience in Australia and Japan, and to contribute towards the efforts of Indigenous Nations enact self-determination and governance. This practice is recognised nationally and internationally, most notably in the area of Design for Social Innovation that aims to support communities to creatively and collaboratively tackle intractable problems. Published papers.
Alongside her lecturing and research, Yoko undertakes various leadership roles at RMIT, nationally and internationally.
- Co-leader Design+Ethnography+Futures program in the School of Media and Communication with Prof. Sarah Pink
- Co-leader Design and Social Innovation in Asia Pacific (DESIAP) network with Dr Joyce Yee (Northumbria University)
- Leader Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS) Lab Melbourne, an Australian hub of DESIS international network
- Editorial board, Design & Culture, The Journal of the Design Studies Forum
- Research group member of Design Futures Lab in the School of Media and Communication
- Program Committee member, Participatory Design Conference
- Visiting Fellow, Centre of Excellence in Media Practice, Bournemouth University, UK
Major research grants
Chief Investigator in DESIAP Research Network: Bridging the UK and Asia-Pacific Practices, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC UK 2015-2016)
This research aims to establish an international research network on an emerging and relatively undocumented field of Design for Social Innovation by creating a platform for knowledge sharing between researchers and practitioners in the UK and Asia-Pacific region.
Chief Investigator in Indigenous Nation Building Australian Research Council Linkage grant (2014-2017)
Based on evidence that effective governance is a necessary precursor to Indigenous communities’ economic, social and cultural outcomes, this project aims to strengthen Australian Indigenous communities by learning and sharing lessons about sustainable and effective Indigenous governance. In collaboration with three Aboriginal communities in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales that are differentially engaged in Indigenous governance processes, the project aims to identify innovation in community governance, test the usefulness of Australian governance assessment tools, and foster an Indigenous Australian and global network to share successful strategies. In doing so, the project contributes to an emerging theory of Indigenous nation building.
Chief Investigator in Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre (CRC): Effective communication – communities and bushfire (2010-2013)
This research focuses on the intersection between community, institutions and organisations in relation to communicating bushfire preparedness. Yoko’s research has developed a suite of co-design methods for the emergency management sector to engage communities in Australia to build their adaptive capacities for collective and continuous development in strengthening resilience.
Chief Investigator inAustralasian Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) for Interaction Design (2007- 2010)
A variety of substantial research projects (Loupe, Protospace and Human Dimensions Methodology) explored methods to help visualise, communicate and capture the complex human interactions that occur within Interaction Design.
British Council Design Research Award, funded by the Prime Minister’s Initiative, UK (2009)
This grant funded a two-month research residency with London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. The research engaged residents in the largest high-rise commission housing in southeast London to incorporate their concerns, character of the community and future wishes during the estate’s re-development.
Yoko’s teaching focuses on building capacity in students to develop critically engaged, entrepreneurial attitude to carve out their own future pathways in life-long learning and contribute meaningfully to our world. Again, participation, inter-cultural awareness and inclusiveness are important values that manifests through her teaching and mentoring. Integrating her research with teaching helps students to explore how their own design practices can play a role in creating solutions that transform the future for the benefit of people and their environments.
Her current teaching activities are in undergraduate and postgraduate level:
- Service Design for Communication Designers in Masters of Design Futures
- Research Lab leader in the interdisciplinary Honours Consilience Lab
- Studio Leader in Design Strategy and Design Futures stream in Communication Design program
2015: Learning & Teaching for Sustainability Fellowship, ‘Designing Re-Connectedness: Application and exploration of a sustainability framework in design education’ in partnership with CityLab (City of Melbourne) and Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (University of Melbourne), to collaboratively develop CityLab Studio. This is a productive trajectory of the previous 2014 Fellowship to equip design educators with methods, theory and resources that can enhance student learning experience through practice-based learning activities and improve student capacity to address real-world challenges through their professional practices.
2014: Learning & Teaching for Sustainability Fellowship, ‘Designing future designers: a propositional framework for teaching sustainability’ in partnership with Oxfam Australia developed methods, literature review, workshop documentation and a framework for teaching sustainability in design education. This framework addresses six dimensions of sustainability – environmental, social, economic, technological, political, spiritual – that was explored and implemented through Design for Social Change Studio.
2012: Early Career Researcher International Travel Award. This funded a six-week research residency with two world-leading design research institutions. Yoko was invited by Carnegie Mellon University, US and Tokyo University, Japan, to build further collaboration and capacity in Design and Social Innovation.
2009: Ian Permezel Memorial Award, Research & Innovation. This is awarded annually to an outstanding Early Career Researcher, and it funded Yoko to present at the First Nordic Conference on Service Design and Innovation, Oslo, Norway. This is one of the most highly regarded conferences for bringing researchers and practitioners together to exchange knowledge and evolve the emerging domain of Service Design.
- PhD Communication Studies, RMIT University, 2008
- BA (First Class Hons) Visual Communication, Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, UK, 1996
Yoko’s professional experience has been working with non-profit organisations in the UK and Australia ranging across issues on human rights, disasters and emergency management, education, resilience and sustainability, which has given her a broad, grounded understanding of these areas.
Her practice tells a powerful story of how designing can enable social innovation, and this has generated strong interest from industry for talks and workshops. For example, theAustralian Emergency Management Institute training has incorporated her design-led methodology for community preparedness, demonstrating scaled impact across Australia. She has been an invited speaker at the Link Festival in 2014 and 2015, which is Australia’s premier design for social-change event that brings together leading social innovators in design and technology. Other industry invitations include being a jury for Core77 Design Awards that celebrates national and international design.
She plays a central role in Service Design in Australia, an emerging interdisciplinary field that champions human-centred methods to design better service delivery in business and public sectors. She co-founded the Service Design Melbourne (SDM) Network in 2009 that supports over 1000+ members by regularly hosting events to bring together design practitioners, academics, community and government stakeholders to share knowledge and ideas, and it is inspiring many to shift their thinking to design systems and services in order to address contemporary social, economic and sustainable challenges.
- Co-founder Service Design Melbourne Network and committee member
- Advisory Board, Service Design and Innovation Conference
- Adjunct Fellow,Re:public Inc, Japan
- 2014: Good Design Award, Patron’s Prize, “awarded to one entry that has the potential to shape the future economic, social, cultural and environmental aspects of our planet” for Community-centred innovation: co-designing for disaster preparedness.
- 2014: Good Design Award, Best in Category for Service Design for ‘Community-centred innovation: co-designing for disaster preparedness’. Good Design Award is Australia’s longest and most prestigious design award that celebrates national and international achievements in design.
- 2012: Finalist Victorian Premier Design Award 2012, Department of Business and Innovation, Government of Victoria. Enabling communities was awarded for demonstrating excellence in collaborative, design-led process in strengthening community resilience in fire disasters.
Yoko’s research is part of Feral Experimental, a touring exhibition and symposium that brings together leading international and national practitioners and researchers who create new possibilities for design. Feral Experimental sets out to explore cutting-edge strategies for negotiating significant contemporary challenges.
- Akama, Y. 2015, ‘Community Centred Innovation’, Experimental Practice: Design Thinking: Experimental Practice, Griffith University Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia. 12th September – 7th November 2015.
- Akama, Y. 2015, ‘Community Centred Innovation’, Experimental Practice: Provocations in and out of Design, RMIT Design Hub,Melbourne Design Week, Australia. 11th May – 30th May 2015.
- Akama, Y. 2014, ‘Community Centred Innovation’, Feral Experimental, UNSW Galleries, Sydney, Australia July 18 – August 30, 2014.
- Akama, Y.,Light, A. (2020). Readiness for contingency: punctuation, poise, and co-design In: CoDesign, 16, 17 - 28
- Toh, K.,Mees, B.,Akama, Y.,Cooper, V.,Phillips, R. (2019). Engaging Communities: What Happens Behind the Scenes In: Wildfire and Power: Policy and Practice, Taylor & Francis, Oxon, United Kingdom
- Akama, Y. (2019). A finger pointing at the moon: absence, emptiness and Ma in design In: Undesign, Routledge, Abingdon, United Kingdom
- Akama, Y.,Hagen, P.,Whaanga-Schollum, D. (2019). Problematizing Replicable Design to Practice Respectful, Reciprocal, and Relational Co-designing with Indigenous People In: Design and Culture, 11, 59 - 84
- Akama, Y.,Yee, J. (2019). Special Issue: Embracing Plurality in Designing Social Innovation Practices In: Design and Culture, 11, 1 - 11
- Akama, Y.,Pink, S.,Sumartojo, S. (2018). Propositions and Practical Applications In: Uncertainty and Possibility: New Approaches to Future Making in Design Anthropology, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, United Kingdom
- Akama, Y.,Pink, S. (2018). Disrupting In: Routledge Handbook of Interdisciplinary Research Methods, Taylor and Francis, United Kingdom
- Akama, Y.,Light, A. (2018). Practices of Readiness: Punctuation, Poise and the Contingencies of Participatory Design In: PDC '18: Proceedings of the 15th Participatory Design Conference - Volume 1�, Hasselt and Genk, Belgium, 20-24 August 2018
- Akama, Y.,Agid, S. (2018). Dance of designing: Rethinking position, relation and movement in service design In: ServDes2018. Service Design Proof of Concept, Proceedings of the ServDes.2018, Milan, Italy, 18-20 June 2018
- Pink, S.,Burry, J.,Akama, Y.,Qiu, X. (2018). Experience And Imagination In Transdisciplinary Design: The Fabpod In: Architecture & Culture, 6, 307 - 328
- Researcher on Creative and Cultural districts in Thailand (Administered by Northumbria University). Funded by: The British Council (Competitive grant) from (2019 to 2021)
- Gendered STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math). Funded by: International Development Research Centre Grant (ONGOING) (IDRC) from (2019 to 2022)
- Realising the potential of remote art centres to support older Aboriginal people and people living with dementia within the context of Consumer Directed Care (student: Paulene Mackell). Funded by: Dementia Grant Program - 2017 from (2018 to 2021)
- Design for Social Innovation Research Network: Bridging the UK and Asia-Pacific Practices. Administered by Northumbria University.. Funded by: Arts and Humanities Research Council Grant 2015 from (2016 to 2017)
- Designing for Indigenous cultural sustainability. Funded by: Australia Council University Art and Design Schools Grant 2016 from (2016 to 2017)
3 PhD Current Supervisions and 1 Masters by Research Current Supervisions6 PhD Completions and 3 Masters by Research Completions