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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.

  • Selection of Material Samples
    Amber Nichol in the Studio © Alys Tomlinson
    Practice research in social design

    Working to define and articulate the potential and implications of practice research in social design.

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.



  • A white wooden wall with small white notes in a circular shape stuck on. They have green and orange square and circular designs and text
    Work by Claudia Lehmann, BA Fine Art: Drawing, Camberwell College of Arts, UAL © Claudia Lehmann

    First cross-disciplinary design and policy network

    The Network connects arts and humanities researchers and scientists from UAL and other UK universities with the UK Civil Service policy design community: a community of practice in central and local government, made up of people from over 40 public sector organisations.

  • Graphic design examples on a wall and on screen
    Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez-Cifre and Kat Smith

    Design students and grads support central government on early policy prototyping

    A UAL Social Design Institute project brought CSM Graphic Communication Design students and graduates to work with central government’s Department for Work and Pensions and Policy Lab in early 2022, to apply their skills and thinking to policy around supporting carers.

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


Our network of academics from across UAL who are affiliated to the Institute and undertake temporary projects with us:


To join our mailing or to find out more please get in touch: