Culture Lab Newcastle

Staff Profile

Professor John Bowers

Prof of Creative Digital Practice



John Bowers is an artist-researcher working within Culture Lab with a particular interest in the use of art and design-led methods (Research Through Design) to explore digital technologies and novel interaction concepts. He also works as a sound artist improvising with electronic, digital, acoustic and electro-mechanical devices and self-made instruments in performance and installation settings, typically accompanied by live digital image. His work is often grounded in field research methods drawn from the social sciences (ethnography, interaction analysis) and related to theoretical and practical issues in Human Computer Interaction (HCI), design research, material culture, media archeology and critical theory. He leads Culture Lab's research on Digital Media.

John's Google Scholar citations are here.


John Bowers (BA Hons, MA, Oxon; MMus, UEA; PhD, Cantab) worked initially as a cognitive psychologist at the MRC Applied Psychology Unit (now the Cognitive and Brain Sciences Unit), Cambridge, the Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford and the Universities of Nottingham and Manchester. Subsequently, and particularly upon taking a professorial position at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, he became more concerned with understanding computing technologies as they are practically encountered in work, domestic and cultural-artistic settings. He began deploying ethnographic and interaction analytic methods drawn from the social sciences to investigate how people engage with technical machinery, to reflect on his own work and to inform the design of future systems and practices. He has published extensively in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), a field which John helped to bring to Europe and whose International Journal of CSCW he co-founded and initially co-edited.

More recently, John has become known for art and design-led approaches to the creation of digital technologies and the exploration of novel interaction concepts. In collaboration with the Interaction Research Studio, Goldsmiths University of London, he contributed to a series of influential works in the field of Research Through Design, perhaps most notably the Prayer Companion, a device which streams headlines from web news sources to inform the prayers of a monastery of cloistered nuns and which has been exhibited at MoMA New York (and has been acquired for their permanent collection), National Media Museum Bradford, Northern Design Festival, amongst other places. He contributes 'end-to-end' in the design process: research management, design ideation and critique, programming and fabrication, deployment and ethnographic studies of use, documentation and exhibition. 

John (often appearing as J. M. Bowers) also works as a sound artist performing improvised electro-acoustic music in concerts and festivals, and is the co-owner of the record label Onoma Research. He works with modular synthesisers, home-brew electronics, self-made instruments, and reconstructions of antique image and sound-making devices, alongside contemporary digital technology. He is concerned with making performance environments, which combine sound, vision and human gesture at a fundamental material level. Recent work includes projects to build a music synthesiser using 19th century techniques (The Victorian Synthesiser), explorations of random circuitry (Ohm-My-God), a miniaturisation of Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville's Dreamachine (My Little Dreamachine), and a reconstruction of early television technology (This Nightlife Instrument). He has performed at festivals including Electropixel Nantes, Piksel Bergen, BEAM Uxbridge and Spill Ipswich, and toured with the Rambert Dance Company performing David Tudor’s music to Merce Cunningham’s Rainforest. He was a contributor to the Piksel Remote Hacklab at Metamorphoses of the Virtual, a co-lateral event to the 2013 Venice Biennale. He has been artist in residence at Fylkingen Stockholm and is Associate Artist of Pacitti Company London and Ipswich. He plays in the fundamentalist noise rock band Tonesucker whose 2012 release, Omnia Convivia Crastina, was listed as one of A Closer Listen’s albums of the year.

Roles and Responsibilities

Professor of Creative Digital Practice, leader of research in Digital Media, Culture Lab
Membership of Culture Lab Executive Board, Steering Committee for NICAP (Newcastle Institute for Creative Arts Practice), University Cultural Affairs Board
Board of Graduate Studies for MA in Creative Arts Practice
Contact in Fine Art for Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership for Digital Arts, Sound Arts, Performance, and Design Research

Previous Positions

Professorial Research Fellow, Department of Design, Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK (2006-2013)
Professor at the Centre for User-Oriented IT-Design, Computer Science and Numerical Analysis Department, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, Sweden (1996-2005)
EPSRC Senior Research Fellow in Culture and Creativity, School of Music, University of East Anglia, UK (2004-2005)
Principal Researcher, Equator Project, School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham, UK (2003)
Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Manchester, UK (1991- 1998)
Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Nottingham, UK (1988-1991)
Clifford Norton Junior Research Fellow, The Queen’s College, Oxford, UK (1987- 1988)
Research Associate, Department of Psychology, University of Manchester, UK (1985-1987)
Research Assistant, MRC Applied Psychology Unit, Cambridge, UK (1984)