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08 June 2023

Cuddly 'Purrble' robot visits No. 10 as King's celebrates design exhibition

Design-led research was presented to the Secretary of State for Culture at Downing Street, as the university celebrated the 'Seeking Connection' research pavilion

Purrble No.10 (1)
Photo: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/MOD


Yesterday, representatives from King's were invited to a reception at No. 10 Downing Street, hosted to recognise the university’s involvement in the London Design Biennale. The King’s team presented one project from a series of works currently on display in the King’s pavilion at the 2023 biennale at Somerset House.

The King's pavilion, entitled ‘Seeking Connection’ and on display until 25 June at the biennale, is presented in collaboration with King’s Culture and the Digital Futures Institute and supports the Institute's objective of understanding how we might live well with new and emerging technologies. 

Purrble visits Downing Street

The reception held at No. 10 Downing Street began with opening remarks from The Rt Hon Lucy Frazer KC MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Ben Evans, Executive Director of the London Design Biennale. The Secretary of State spoke of the great power of design and the wider creative industries to the country’s success and innovation.

Professor Marion Thain, Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts & Humanities and Beatrice Pembroke, Executive Director of King’s Culture, together with Dr A. Jess Williams, Postdoctoral Researcher from the Faculty of Natural, Mathematical & Engineering Sciences, and King’s student Afra Aabdien from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience were in attendance on behalf of King’s.

They presented one of the exhibits currently on display in the King’s ‘Seeking Connection’ pavilion to the Downing Street room, entitled ‘Purrble’. Purrbles are cuddly companions designed to guide emotion regulation for young people struggling with their mental health. It is one of the technology-enabled mental health interventions being examined by Dr Petr Slovak and a team within the Faculty of Natural, Mathematical & Engineering Sciences at King’s. The project team are working to re-envision mental health promotion in young people across a range of projects spanning interventions for anxiety, self-harm, parenting and body awareness.

‘Purrble’ is one of six interdisciplinary research projects in the King’s ‘Seeking Connection’ pavilion on display at the London Design Biennale at Somerset House. Guests at the No.10 reception were fascinated by the invention that looks to address the rise in anxiety in younger people, as users calm themselves as they soothe their companion. 

The response to Purrble was incredible, people really enjoying picking up Purrble and having that moment to decompress while in a highly social area; such interactions translate the utility and novelty of Purrble as the emotion regulation intervention device it was designed to be.

Dr A. Jess Williams, part of the team working on Purrble
Purrbles are cuddly companions designed to guide emotion regulation for young people struggling with their mental health.

Success at the London Design Biennale

Later that evening, guests gathered to celebrate the King’s ‘Seeking Connection’ pavilion in a reception on the Strand campus. Opening the evening, Victoria Broackes, Director of London Design Biennale spoke of designers as ‘the creative problem solvers of the 21st century’, acknowledging the important part that academic institutions play in this objective.

Beatrice Pembroke, Director of King’s Culture and Professor Fay Bound Alberti, Director, Digital Futures Institute's Centre for Technology and the Body, both spoke about the importance of exploring and understanding new technologies as a way of finding more meaningful connections with ourselves and each other. Beatrice acknowledged that ‘design was bubbling under the surface everywhere at King’s’, and recognised the powerful role design is playing in developing active solutions to modern challenges. Professor Alberti highlighted the panel event presented by the Digital Futures Institute’s Centre for Technology and the Body as part of the biennale’s talks programme that explores how intimacy is designed, experienced and imagined in our relationships with others and the material world.

Reviewing the biennale, Design Week acknowledged the breadth of research on display in the King’s pavilion, ‘ranging from examining loneliness in older adults; a “sad room” that you can interact with via a chat window and the Purrble, a cat-like toy designed for children tackling mental health issues, which users are invited to try and soothe to in turn calm themselves down’.

In this story

Marion Thain

Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts & Humanities

Beatrice Pembroke

Executive Director, Culture

Jess Williams

Postdoctoral researcher

Fay Bound Alberti

Professor in Modern History

Petr Slovak

Senior Lecturer