Mersha Aftab

Course Director of Postgraduate Design Management

Dr Mersha Aftab is a Senior Lecturer in Design Management at Birmingham City University, and Course Director for the MA Design Management Programme within the College of Architecture.

  • Expert
  • Architecture
  • Design Management
  • Active in Industry


My research expertise is in applying empathy to understand users, stakeholders and people, and my teaching encourages learners to be equal partners in creating inclusive, engaging and transformative experiences. I am also an impact coordinator for the College and the Faculty of Arts Design and Media. 


I have experience using human-centred design as a connector integrator, supporting different disciplines to co-create an understanding of problems and developing solutions. An important strand of my research is the impact of empathy in leading, managing and supporting transformations. I have published in leading national and international design research conferences and journals. I have used design to create meaningful and impactful change within organisations such as Philips, Soil Machine Dynamics, and Unilever. I currently lead an international network called Design-led Transformation, which brings together the public, private and higher education sectors to discuss and articulate the role of design in transformation.

Academic History

In 2006, I completed my bachelor's in Fashion and Information Technology at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, India. I began my professional career with India's largest retail giant, Shopper's Stop Inc. I also have experience working as an assistant product manager with the United Colours of Benetton (India). 

I decided to pursue a master's degree in Design Management in 2010 at Northumbria University, to understand the value design adds to strategic decision-making. In 2010, I also joined Philips in The Netherlands as a PhD intern under a collaborative scholarship scheme between Philips and Northumbria University. During this internship, I used design research to refine and explicitly define the value proposition and development process run by the Research Development and Innovation team at Philips Design. In 2013, I was awarded a doctorate on the topic 'Design as a functional leader: a case study to investigate the role of design as a potential leading discipline in multinationals'. My research revealed that for design to be a leading functional discipline within organisations and lead breakthrough innovations, designers must have the connector-integrator (interdisciplinary) capability, i.e. the ability to connect different disciplines to work together. 

I serve on the scientific review panel for renowned international design journals such as the Journal of Strategic Design Research and Design Management Review. I am also a reviewer for Routledge Publishing and international conferences such as the Academic Design Management Conference, Design Research Society Conference, Systems Design Research Conference and European Academy of Design Conference. I have experience in leading and facilitating interdisciplinary, transnational, and intergenerational research events, as evidenced at Chonnam National University in South Korea, where I introduced design thinking to businesses and educators (funded by Horizon 2020, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant-funded Global Entrepreneurial Talent Management 3 (GETM3)).

I am also the Principal Investigator for a project funded by InterAct (ESRC) entitled 'Informing empathy-led change management: Creating a measurable readiness health plan for adopting digital technologies in manufacturing'.

Industry Connections

My research is embedded in practice. Therefore, I regularly work with industry partners through contract research, knowledge transfer partnerships and collaborative student projects. I have contributed to the design innovation practices in the following companies: Philips, Daimler, Nokia, Airbus, Unilever, BT, Birmingham City Council, West Midlands Fire Service, Lego and Sony Ericsson.