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UAL Social Design Institute

A person holding a box of different sustainable materials samples
A person holding a box of different sustainable materials samples
Sustainable Materials in the Library, 2019 by Alys Tomlinson

Championing research and practice in social design and design for sustainability

The UAL Social Design Institute develops and uses research insights to inform and change how designers and organisations design. Our mission is to make a positive social and environmental difference.

We work closely with colleagues across UAL including the Centre for Circular Design, Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Design Against Crime Research Centre.

Institute focus areas

  • Exterior of Make space with people on ladders
    Make @ Story Garden (photo: Adam Razvi)
    Value and valuation through design

    Exploring how value is created and understood through design and use.

  • Woman reading London underground map
    Braille tube map by Ziyue Wang, photographed by David Poultney
    Systems and design

    Improving the ways in which designers can develop a better understanding of the contexts they design for and in.

  • People sat around a blackboard
    Make @ Story Garden (photo: Adam Razvi)
    Policy contexts and implications

    Developing a better understanding of policymaking, design and public policy.

About us and our work

  • A discussion at the Social Design Institute workshop
    Credit: Photography: aalagbe Photography: aalagbe, Workshop: Futures That Need Anticipating: Making and Discussion Studio.
    About the Institute

    Learn about our mission and governance.

  • People reading a publication
    Visitors reading students magazine, Show at Oxo Tower. Image courtesy of UAL

    Browse our publications to discover insights on social design.

  • People listening to media at the Design Museum
    Mateo Lopez, Students at an event in the Design Museum

    Explore our upcoming and past events.


  • Rebecca Earley in a workshop working with shirts on mannequins and images laid out on a table
    Image courtesy of Rebecca Earley

    Social Design Institute - Meet the practitioner: Professor Rebecca Earley

    Rebecca Earley is a design researcher, UAL Chair of Sustainable Fashion Textile Design; and co-director/founder of the Centre for Circular Design. Her Social Design Institute position paper ‘From Sustainable to Circular to Social Textile Design Research' explains how shifting from a linear to a circular production system can drive a fairer and more responsible society.

  • 2 colleagues working together on a presentation at a high desk
    Work in progress presentation MA Graphic Communication Design Central Saint Martins UAL © John Sturrock

    Learn how social design can reinvent approaches to social and public sector challenges

    Social Institute has launched an online learning series, sharing how social design methods can reinvigorate approaches to complex social, environmental and systemic challenges. Find out about the Introduction to Social Design short course and 3 new webinars and read project case studies.

  • An illustration of the heart organ, with different colours and patterns for each chamber
    Heart illustration by Riham Mansour, MA Media, Communication and Critical Practice, London College of Communication, UAL

    Social Design Institute Meet the practitioner: Pratāp Rughani

    Design for Dialogue: Valuing Doubt in an Age of Conviction: a Social Design Institute position paper by Pratāp Rughani responding to the toxic dialogue prevalent in today’s spaces when we disagree politically. It reflects on the possibility to design connections between us that nurture empathy and understanding.

  • 2 female students preparing for an exhibition, one holds a measuring tape, and in the background there are plywood walls and surfaces. There are 2 posters on one of the plywood walls
    Students preparing for an exhibition, BA Graphic Communication Design CSM © Alys Tomlinson

    Social Design Institute to collaborate on research targeting vaccine hesitancy and youth violence

    UAL Social Design Institute recently announced a cross-UAL initiative to support ideas for small-scale social design and design for sustainability projects. The 3 design research proposals being taken forward this year will collaborate and co-create with London communities and Councils, to target local issues around COVID-19 immunisation, knife crime and youth violence

  • People working at a table with lots of papers and materials on the desk
    Design sprint workshop with professionals exploring AI-enabled services © UAL Social Design Institute

    AI Readiness Toolkit for professional service firms

    The AI Readiness Toolkit draws on research from the project ‘Next Generation Services through Collaborative Design’. It uses design thinking and scenario planning to enable firms to negotiate uncertainty around the use of AI in working practices.

  • 3d cityscape design with London landmarks and a central chequerboard design
    3D Render by Daniah Isa, Foundation Show Architecture, spatial and interior design Central Saint Martins UAL © Martin Slivka

    Pioneering research set to provide most comprehensive picture to date on state of design in UK

    Design Council has announced a major project to capture the vast contribution design is making to the UK - with the research to be carried out by UAL Social Design Institute and BOP Consulting. The findings will inform the ‘Design Economy 2021’ report and platform.

UAL's key social design achievements

  • Fabric created as part of the EU funded Trash2Cash project
    Fabric created as part of the EU funded Trash 2 Cash Project. Image courtesy of Rebecca Earley.
    Recycling textiles into high value products  

    Centre for Circular Design was key to the EU H2020-funded Trash-2-Cash project, using design to collaboratively explore material life cycles.

  • High fashion image of models wearing garments out of feathers
    LCFMA17, Design by Elena Louka
    World’s first digital course in fashion and sustainability  

    The Centre for Sustainable Fashion launched the world’s first open-access digital course in luxury fashion and sustainability supported by luxury fashion group Kering.

  • Woman riding a bicycle with an anti-theft bag
    Photographed by Tom Willcocks
    Co-designing with prisoners  

    The Design Against Crime Research Centre’s award-winning Makeright prison design education programme produced an anti-theft bag and accessory range co-designed with prisoners in the UK and India.

  • Students playing card games and laughing
    Image courtesy of UAL
    Reducing child obesity in the UK  

    The Social Design Institute is supporting Biteback 2030, a charity aiming to reduce child obesity in the UK, in their co-creation work with young people.

Related work in social design

  • Three images of model wearing various materials
    Image courtesy of UAL
    Circular design

    Circular design aims to support people and planet through emerging technology, systems design, new materials, social innovation and more.

  • A person holding a flower pot made out of seaweed
    Seaweed flower pots by Diana Tso
    Design for sustainability

    Find out about how our researchers are using design to build up knowledge and develop new approaches on how to address the challenges of sustainability.

  • Farmers having a discussion in a workshop
    A co-design session with dairy farmers, image courtesy of Alison Prendiville
    Health and wellbeing

    Working with external partners in the life and medical sciences to produce insights and new, actionable ideas, based on people’s lived experiences.

  • People at a flower market
    Columbia Road Flower Market by Jo Mansfield
    Place and community

    Researchers at UAL use design to engage, inspire and support communities and places.

  • Student at a grad show
    Image courtesy of UAL
    Public and social innovation

    UAL researchers use approaches from design to intervene in public sector, government and social innovation contexts.

  • A group of people wearing anti-theft bags
    Caption Young people with anti-theft bags by Design Against Crime Research Centre, photographed by Tom Willcocks
    Social action and criminal justice

    UAL's ground-breaking work using design research to address issues in the criminal justice system and to facilitate social action.

Our people


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