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Design Research (MPhil) (PhD)

Kensho Miyoshi

Kensho Miyoshi received his PhD from the Royal College of Art, London in 2020 for his contribution of the design programme centring on kinaesthetic empathy for designing the movement of objects.

Holding an MEng and BEng in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the University of Tokyo, Kensho has engaged in aerospace-related interdisciplinary projects, such as Phenox (autonomous interactive drones) and ARTSAT (satellite for art use), and, as a creative practitioner, has designed kinetic sculptures and installations, such as Ripple Clock and Puwants.

After working at the DLX Design Lab of the University of Tokyo, he has been awarded a postdoctoral research fellowship by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science from April 2020, and is currently based in Tokyo. Kensho also co-leads the activity of a Tokyo-based experimental design studio, Studio POETIC CURIOSITY.


Kensho Miyoshi Portfolio


Degree Details

School of Design

Design Research (MPhil) (PhD)

While highly advanced digital artefacts provide magic-like technology, their heavy reliance on our visual perception and cognitive ability paralyses the sensory appreciation of our body. To counterbalance the status-quo, we need to question the current obsession with digital innovation and seek an alternative, bodily-informed perspective for design. Through my practice-based research, I am exploring how to connect our kinaesthetic senses to the design of tangible artefacts, especially focusing on the aesthetic quality of the movement of objects, in order to regain the freedom of the senses of our body. 

The primary theme for my research is kinaesthetic empathy, kinetic sensations experienced while observing an object in motion, and the way in which this phenomenon could be useful for designers to explore the aesthetic quality of physical movement of design objects. My PhD concentrates on the situations where people perceive virtual kinaesthetic sensations while observing the movement of an everyday object without necessarily anthropomorphising it, such as the stiffness experienced while watching ticket barriers creaking, or the sensation of floating softness arising from observing a curtain waving in a gentle breeze.

My thesis is currently turned into a book 'Designing Objects in Motion: Exploring Kinaesthetic Empathy' and planned to be published worldwide by Birkhäuser in December 2020.

Ticket Barrier Machines in London Underground Stations

While there is already a rich corpus of knowledge in design relating to the functionality of movement, how and why we experience such vicarious sensations towards non-human objects and phenomena is little understood – the stiffness experienced while watching ticket barriers creaking, or the sensation of floating softness arising from observing a curtain waving in a gentle breeze, for instance. Given the recent shift in focus, in both academia and industry, from digital information to physical materialisation, it is a timely task for design research to seek insight into the aesthetics of movement.
DesignDesign researchEveryday ObjectsExperimentalKineticMovementResearch Through Design
Puwants - Lily of the Valley. Kensho Miyoshi — Video by Takahiro Tsushima
The phenomenon central to my research is kinaesthetic empathy, which refers to the experience of the kinetic quality of observed movements. The obvious example is watching dance; spectators can empathically ‘feel’ the movements of ballet dancers, such as the impact on their legs while landing on the floor after a large leap, without performing the same movement themselves – even while sitting quietly on chairs. Kinaesthetic empathy is known to happen relatively easily between a group of people, but a number of studies suggest that it can also happen in the observation of the movement of animals, and even that of non-living objects.

Let us have a look at an example. Puwants - Lily of the Valley is an installation of kinetic sculptures created by myself. Made of thin transparent polyethylene terephthalate, the flexible sculptures stand and move as a result of the buoyancy of air bubbles trapped in their bodies. A close look at the sculpture reveals a subtle and complex transition in the velocity and the path of the movements. When the petal (head) hits the lowest point of the path, it gradually decelerates and the ‘stem’ looks as if it is resisting a weight and trying to lift it up again. The head shows a tiny yet visible impulsive accent in releasing the air bubbles, which reminds me of the sense of extending the elbow and wrist swiftly in throwing a frisbee. In this way, looking at the movement of an object can allow us to project kinaesthetic sensations. Several observations and pilot survey led me to form the following research questions.

Research Questions

In retrospect, my practice such as making, designing and experimenting often allowed me to find something new. The practice-led approach where making precedes theorising is common in design research where practitioners’ experience and reflection become the important media of research. The main question underlying my PhD is twofold as illustrated above: What makes us experience kinaesthetic empathy with the movements of physical non-anthropomorphic objects? How can kinaesthetic empathy enable designers to understand, analyse and design the kinaesthetic qualities of object movement?

However, these questions were not explicit at the outset but formulated through research. In reality, there were many small questions that emerged one after another as the research moves forward such as: What is the difference between kinaesthetic empathy with the movements of humans and those of non-anthropomorphic objects? What kind of tools can enable designers to harness kinaesthetic movements?

Some of these questions derive from multiple disciplines and theories. But these subjects were dealt with on a selective basis; my PhD’s contribution is not to be claimed in all these
fields but it lies in bringing these pieces of knowledge together to serve my enquiry.
Balance Machine
Kinaesthetic Representation of Balance Machine
Elliptic Sculpture
Kinaesthetic Representation of Elliptic Sculpture
Bending Sculpture
Kinaesthetic Representation of Bending Sculpture
Double Pendulum
Kinaesthetic Representation of Double Pendulum
Arm Machine
Kinaesthetic Representation of Arm Machine
Sheet Machine
Kinaesthetic Representation of Sheet Machine
Kinesthetic empathy is essentially an association of the observer’s own kinaesthetic sensation, whether a real memory or an imagined one, with observed movements. However, even if one experiences kinesthetic empathy, the experience is often difficult to verbalise. Through trial and error I developed a way of communicating the sensation of kinesthetic empathy by using body gestures, which I termed kinesthetic representation. The body gestures created in this method are a representation of internal kinesthetic sensations rather than the external, superficial appearance of movements. Kinaesthetic representations were further explored through creating annotated sketches.
15 Kinaesthetic Elements

15 Kinaesthetic Elements — Motion graphic by Albert Barbu

I created a new framework and new techniques, vocabulary, and tools related to design and kinaesthetic empathy. The most significant is my original idea of kinaesthetic elements – fragments of kinaesthetic sensations that are projected onto observed movement, identified through changes in my aesthetic sensitivity to qualities of movement. Finally 15 elements were identified and categorised. Four RCA designers, including myself, used the above framework to observe, analyse and design everyday objects with movement.
Kinaesthetic Design Project (4'49") — Collaborators: Anne Zhou, Kumi Oda, Mark Esaias, Rachel Warr, Ruijing (Hazel) Yan, Tom Crame, Viraj Joshi, Yaprak Göker
To experiment with movement, one straight-forward way of experimentation is to prototype an electromechanical, or self-actuated, prototype, which is often practised in the areas of robotics and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). As I knew from my prior research and my educational background in engineering, however, it was expected to be challenging and costly to prototype mechanical, especially self- actuated, movements with high accuracy in subtle nuances. To avoid this probable risk and allow for a more flexible and exploratory approach, I considered an experimental partnership with puppeteers. Four RCA designers including myself explored alternative movements of everyday objects in collaboration with puppeteers, ‘unusual’ partners in product design.
PhD Thesis in Motion

PhD Thesis in Motion

I began this PhD wanting to better understand the aesthetics of object movement and its potential benefit for design. It has eventually focused on kinaesthetic empathy and its value in the context of (re)designing everyday objects. The whole work was conducted as ‘research through design’, a research methodology where design practice drives the enquiry rather than only relying on a theoretical discourse. My PhD offers four original contributions to knowledge: 1) Kinaesthetic design framework, 2) Kinaesthetic design method, 3) An online database of movements (to be published online on my portfolio page in December) and 4) Practical examples that embody the design processes and outcomes.

** This content is a substantially shortened summary of the PhD research – further details are available in the literature in ‘Further References’. **
Launch Project

'Designing Objects in Motion: Exploring Kinaesthetic Empathy' (2020 December) — Click 'Launch Project' for further details of this book.

I. Book
Miyoshi, Kensho (2020 December; in print). Designing Objects in Motion: Exploring Kinaesthetic Empathy. Basel: Birkhäuser.

II. Conference papers
Miyoshi, Kensho (2019). ‘Puppetry as an alternative approach to designing kinesthetic movements’. Proceedings of the 4th Biennial Research Through Design Conference, 19-22 March 2019.

Miyoshi, Kensho (2018). ‘Where Kinesthetic Empathy meets Kinetic Design’. In: Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Movement and Computing (MOCO ’18). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 32, 1–4.

III. Journal article
Miyoshi, Kensho (2019) ‘What allows us to kinesthetically empathize with motions of non-anthropomorphic objects?’ The Journal of Somaesthetics. Vol. 4 No. 2 (2019): Somaesthetics and Technology.

Puwants - Lily of the Valley. Photography by Takahiro Tsushima — Click 'Launch Project' to visit the sales page

'Puwants - Lily of the Valley' is an aquatic kinetic sculpture whose structure and movement are inspired by lilies of the valley. Made of thin transparent polyethene terephthalate, the flexible sculpture stands and dances as a result of the buoyancy of air bubbles trapped in their body. The shape and movement of the sculpture were designed and crafted through iterative making and testing by hand. The movement of the sculpture allows us to explore our own senses of movements such as tension and balance. The work is the origin of Kensho Miyoshi's PhD research into the aesthetics of movements of everyday objects.

- The work will be delivered in a disassembled form, i.e. a glass fish tank, sculpture, and air pump separately.
- The following materials which appear in the photography are not included: water, sand, concrete base.
- Instruction for setup will be provided; it is the buyer's responsibility to assemble the work by following the simple setup instruction (e.g. pour water into the fish tank, connect the sculpture to an air pump) and to maintain the work.
- Shipping fee and insurance are included in the price. However, shipping to a non-UK address may require an additional fee for shipping and insurance.

Video available:

Go to the sales page: Click the image of the work or visit the following URL:


Mixed media

Nakajima Foundation

21 July 2020
11:00 (GMT + 0)

Postgraduate Research: Experience with your PhD

Student-led introduction to the PhD journey at RCA.
Read More
26 July 2020
11:00 (GMT + 0)

Postgraduate Research: Meet The Maker

Kensho reflects on his PhD journey at RCA.

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