MA Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures at London College of Communication (LCC) is a practical, thoughtful course that emphasises innovative practice, collective action, plurality and real-world change.
Established as a collaborative, creative and generative studio for designers who are interested in working with complex global issues, this MA explores the future of design, and considers its interdependency with humanitarian and ecological concerns.
Students come from a range of different creative backgrounds, and are encouraged to explore and question their disciplines in relation to the global systems they inhabit. This may be through areas such as materiality, empathy, ethics, responsibility and the environment, as well as consideration of broader socio-cultural, economic and political contexts.
Originally from Romsey in Hampshire, Pete Ashworth graduated from MA Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures in 2021. His work is particularly interested in considering the historical impact of design on climate change, and the opportunities offered by the contemporary landscape to 'redo' conventional approaches to the discipline. As a practitioner, he aims to design in ways that ‘cause no harm’, and asks how we might design ourselves out of climate crisis instead of into it.
We chatted to Pete about his background in the advertising industry, his decision to pivot towards a future in sustainable design, and how his final major MA project inspired the development of his company, Everyday Bikes.
"I discovered our work was sustaining our lifestyles on the one hand, but threatening them on the other"
Why did you decide to apply to MA Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures?
I was working in advertising, and had been for 7 years. My job was very fun and, as a freelancer, I had a lot of freedom. What more could you want? But I was unfulfilled - I wanted to lean into my design skills more, so I started to consider retraining.
As the country began talking more and more about the Climate Emergency, so did the brands I was working for; and therefore, so did I. I was good at developing concepts, writing funny scripts and designing pretty graphics, but I didn’t know what was or wasn’t ‘sustainable’. So, there I was being paid to advertise a brand’s sustainable credentials without knowing what they actually meant.
As I worked on these campaigns, as with any campaign, I researched. I started with briefing packs provided by the drinks companies or airlines that I was advertising. These were written by well-meaning marketing folk just like me, earning their lifestyles by communicating what Big Corp. was doing (‘recycling’, ‘offsetting’, ‘net-zero-ing’), but not what it wasn’t… That wasn’t our responsibility, and what did it matter anyway?
Eventually, my research also led to other sources. It didn’t take much reading to discover what impact the Climate Emergency would likely have here at home in the UK (an island with miles of vulnerable coastline). I discovered our work was sustaining our lifestyles on the one hand, but threatening them on the other.
The way humans live is constantly changing, shaped by creativity, communications and design (as well as other influences like politics and pandemics). I was being paid to design advertising that distracted from the Climate Emergency, so wondered if I could earn my rent by moving society in a different direction instead. Studying on MA Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures seemed like a good opportunity to do this.
"To put everything we'd learned on the course into practice"
Tell us about your Final Major Project – what inspired your idea, and how has it developed over time?
The brief for our final project was called Design in Action. We were given a really generous amount of time to put everything we’d learned on the course into practice, tackling any topic we liked. The main stipulation was that we had to actually do it in the real world.
My research project, Thank You For Cycling (TYFC), was inspired by my own experiences of using a bike for everyday transport in cities around Europe, most notably London and Copenhagen, as well as previous research I’d done into climate-safe transportation. This included a case study I’d written about Transport For London called: TfL Has Many Challenges — a Growing Population, a Shrinking Budget and a Nationwide Climate Emergency — is There a Panacea? And if it’s Not the Electric Vehicle, What is it?
I tried to discover ways to encourage more people to get cycling by working with Londoners who’d recently started doing the same. I used this approach because I’d learned that the single best thing you can do to improve cyclist safety is to increase the number of people who cycle.
TYFC identified 4 areas for innovation that could improve the experience of starting to cycle in London:
- The Transport Idea, which is about recognising and using your bike as a means of transport as opposed to a sport or leisure activity.
- The Transport Route, which is about discovering and using the ‘best’ route from A to B.
- The Transport Gear, which is more about mudguards and everyday clothing, and less about lycra and super-expensive, lightweight bicycles. There’s a place for those, but it’s not your trip to the shops, park or workplace. Transport is a means to an end and has to fit in with everyday life. If you have to get sweaty, muddy or wet to use it, that’s impractical and becomes a barrier to cycling.
- The Transport Etiquette, which is about interacting with others.
As the project continued, I launched a company called Everyday Bikes, which focuses on The Transport Gear and Transport Idea areas because I identified that they had largest potential impact.
We offer practical transport bikes for just £9 a week, with a price that removes the risk of buying a bike that you later find doesn't work for you, or gets stolen. Signing up also includes everything you need for using cycling as an everyday form of transport: lights, gears, dirt guards, a lock, insurance and repairs.
"Climate stuff is scary, but doing something about it gives you courage"
What was the most important thing you learned while studying on the course?
Follow the money. Most people don’t intentionally want to damage the climate, but in our country, capitalism rules, so use that. If it’s cheaper to damage the climate than not to, we'll get damage; but at the other end of the scale, if it’s cheaper not to damage, there’s meaningful motivation to protect.
Better still, if you can tie your revenue to positive impact, you’ll make it easy for yourself to do good. Because Everyday Bikes is based on a weekly subscription model, the longer someone keeps cycling, the more revenue we make. In that way, our company’s financial success (which benefits the shareholders) is directly linked to making cycling safe, getting more people cycling and keeping them doing it - which benefits the climate, the city and its citizens.
Why would you recommend your course to others?
Climate stuff is scary, but doing something about it gives you courage. We are not doomed.
This course shows you a whole bunch of ways you can do something about it that you can also make work for you.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking of studying on MA Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures, what would it be?
You get out what you put in.
If you choose to coast through, you'll find yourself unsure what you’re getting out of it; but if you commit and put the effort in, you’ll be amazed how much you get back.
"Many excellent tutors who were inspiring, committed and supportive"
What was the best thing about studying at LCC?
MA Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures has enabled me to move my career in the direction I wanted to. This is thanks to many excellent tutors who were inspiring, committed and supportive.
What have you been up to since graduating?
I’ve been working on Everyday Bikes and developing our future plans. We want to scale in London first, and grow the team – if you're interested in finding out more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a chat!
I also want to keep learning and working with citizens who use cycling for everyday transport, and to explore further opportunities with Thank You For Cycling to build better biking for the UK.
- Explore more of Pete's work on the UAL Postgraduate Showcase, and on the Everyday Bikes website.
- Explore our MA Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures course.
- Learn more about the Design School at London College of Communication.