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What can designers do to respond to coronavirus?

Breathing apparatus design project
Breathing apparatus design project
Medical, hospital, breathing project by Rachel Jane Johnson, MA Interior and Spatial Design, Chelsea College of Arts UAL. Photo by David Poultney.
Written by
Cat Cooper
Published date
06 April 2020

UAL Social Design Institute believes that as public institutions, design and art schools such as UAL have the potential and responsibility to help our community respond to the crisis. The Institute is working to mobilise the capacity of design research and practice to explore, co-design and share solutions in ways that fit with the mission of the kind of university we are.

Tools and resources

Whether you are a designer, design researcher, artist, or maker, there are plenty of platforms, hubs and resources already out there you can use to help you use your skills and knowledge in response to the crisis.

Here are some of the initiatives we have come across in the Institute over the past few weeks which are efforts to bring creative and design capacities to bear on the crisis. Please feel free to share among your networks.

Design Responder Guide

UAL Social Design Institute has developed a 1-page Design Responder tool to guide designers in their rapid use of their design expertise to respond to the coronavirus and its consequences. Do adapt, share and use it in your own settings.

#Covid Creatives Toolkit

A curated set of resources on Google Docs to support creative practitioners who need to migrate their practice onto digital places and spaces, rapidly. It includes digital gathering spaces, organising and co-creation tools, syllabi, guides, events, well-being, opportunities, data on how COVID impacts creatives.


A mapping of 1700+ international technical solutions to the corona pandemic using Airtable. To avoid reinventing the wheel, it brings together information about existing projects, the stakeholders and challenges they address, a list of digital tools people use, and allows people to add new ideas from around the world.

DESIS Network - 'From separation by necessity to collaboration by choice'

The Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability Network, of which UAL is a member with its own DESIS Lab, is hosting online meetings on April 14 and 16 to bring together people who want to share initiatives - including those focusing on building more resilient and sustainable social futures: "From separation by necessity to collaboration by choice".

Covid-19 Communication Information challenge - OpenIDEO

“How might we rapidly inform and empower communities around the world to stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak?” Design consultancy IDEO asks participants to get involved and respond to this Corona-themed communication inspiration challenge on its OpenIDEO platform. Look out for their webinar on 7 April to get involved.

Doing Fieldwork in a Pandemic

This crowdsourced Google doc provides a space for people to share their methods for doing fieldwork in a pandemic - specifically, ideas for avoiding in-person interactions by using mediated forms that will achieve similar ends.

Masks for Humanity and @peoples_masks

The Masks for Humanity web platform connects people making hand-made masks with those who need them. Meanwhile Central Saint Martins colleagues Laura Baker, Technical Coordinator Print, Margot Bannerman, Fine Art Tutor, and Anna Hart from AIR have set up the Instagram account @peoples_masks to rally the public to collectively make thousands of face masks for key workers - and sharing sewing patterns and drop-off points.

Next steps

Over the coming weeks, the Social Design Institute will work across UAL and with the wider community to identify and move forward on some specific responses rooted in design, recognising the devastating and unequal effects of the virus on communities around the world.

These are just 3 of the questions that we’re thinking about:

  • How can we support the many public services, charities, community groups, and businesses that need to rapidly adjust, engage with their publics and co-create solutions?
  • How can we rethink planned face-to-face workshops and design activities and create new ones that target this situation?
  • How do we support in the post-COVID world?


The Social Design Institute is a small new institute at UAL in its pilot year, which aims to champion social design and design for sustainability, building on the work of our centres and Colleges, helping to improve our communities, our society and the environment.

We have live design research projects working across UAL: addressing child obesity, with new charity Biteback 2030; and working with UAL Design Against Crime Research Centre on knife crime.

Like others, we are currently reviewing how to adapt and what we might do in response to the crisis.

Image: Medical, hospital, breathing project by Rachel Jane Johnson, MA Interior and Spatial Design, Chelsea College of Arts UAL. Photo by David Polutney