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Practice research in social design

Design research is an important way that UAL connects creative practice and social purpose, which is embedded in the university’s new strategy for 2022-32.

To further establish the field of design research, the Social Design Institute has been working to define and articulate the potential and implications of practice research in social design.

We see practice research in design as an engine for embedded and collectively driven change. The resources on this page, aimed at researchers, PhD students, educators and partners for research, illuminate and showcase the variety of approaches and positions taken in carrying out practice research and the outcomes achieved.

Selection of Material Samples
Amber Nichol in the Studio © Alys Tomlinson

Exploring and articulating

To develop a new articulation of practice research design, the Social Design Institute team is working with colleagues and PhD researchers across the university through exploratory workshops, mapping activities and desk research. Our main outputs are:

  • An international symposium (PDF 2747) at Chelsea College of Arts on 19-20 May 2022, bringing together different perspectives on practice research.
  • A new working paper by Dr Patrycja Kaszynska, Professor Lucy Kimbell and Dr Jocelyn Bailey which provides a nuanced exploration of what practice research means in design and the arts. Practice Research In Design: Towards a novel definition (PDF 1,269KB)
  • A collection of videos showcasing examples of practice research in design by UAL staff and PhD researchers.
  • A set of short case studies providing perspectives on practice research by UAL staff.
  • A collaborative bibliography on practice research for UAL colleagues and PhD researchers.
  • A track on ‘Practice Research as a Form of Inquiry’ at the Design Research Society 2022 Conference in Bilbao chaired by Dr Patrycja Kaszynska (UAL) with Dr Thomas Markussen and Dr Eva Knutz (Southern Denmark University).
Student soldering in the Physical Computing Lab
Gabrielle Ngoo soldering in the Physical Computing Lab © Alys Tomlinson

Practice Research Symposium 2022

On 19/20 May 2022, the Social Design Institute brought together international and UK academics and PhD researchers from different design disciplines, positions and perspectives for the Symposium on Practice Research: Definitions, Contexts, Futures where key foundational topics relating to practice research in design were explored. The event provided a forum for critical discussion of the possibilities and consequences of this form of research and development, and the contexts in which it has emerged.

Symposium recordings are now available to view:

Read an overview of the full event, including biographies of participating speakers (PDF 2,747KB)

This symposium was convened by the Social Design Institute in collaboration with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, Centre for Circular Design, and Design Against Crime Research Centre.

Opening Panel: Setting the Scene

Chaired by Professor Lucy Kimbell

Case Studies

SDI Research Fellow Dr Jocelyn Bailey has worked with researchers from across UAL to produce a set of short case studies, offering different perspectives on practice research and the multifarious ways it can contribute to achieving social purpose outcomes.

The first four are now available to download, with more to follow in due course:

Canvases, stacked and numbered
Becky Moriarty, Around Camberwell, studio and workshops. Camberwell College of Arts. 2021. Copyright: Allys Tomlinson

Video Showcase

Staff and PhD researchers from several design disciplines across UAL present their practice research in design in relation to social design and sustainability. The videos are organised in 3 different themes, presenting a range of positions and perspectives.

Social justice and activism

Carlotta Allum, PhD Researcher, UAL

Carlotta Allum, PhD Researcher at Central Saint Martins, talks about her story work with prisoners and how encouraging prisoners to tell their story creatively can aid rehabilitation, by helping them to envision a better future.

Adrienne Bennie, PhD Researcher, UAL

Adrienne Bennie, PhD Researcher at Chelsea College of Arts, presents her current research on hostile architecture.

Daniella Jenkins, PhD Researcher, UAL

Daniella Jenkins, PhD Researcher at Social Design Institute, sets out her study of gender inequality with regard to pensions and what might be done about it, working towards the design of a pension that reflects the working lives and life patterns of women.

Dr Francesco Mazzarella, Senior Lecturer in Fashion and Design for Social Change, Centre for Sustainable Fashion, UAL

Dr Francesco Mazzarella, Senior Lecturer in Fashion and Design for Social Change at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, talks about his work on Re-Go, a practice research project that draws upon fashion activism and storytelling to shift the narrative around youth violence.

Dr Nela Milic, Contextual and Theoretical Studies Coordinator, London College of Communication, UAL

Dr Nela Milic describes how the use of social and participatory arts at a local level can facilitate collaboration, mobilising expertise for the benefit of the community.

Net zero and climate

Professor Kate Goldsworthy, Chair of Circular Design & Innovation and Co-Director, Centre for Circular Design, UAL

Prof Kate Goldsworthy, Chair of Circular Design & Innovation and Co-Director of the Centre for Circular Design at Chelsea College of Arts, presents the ‘Fast-Forward Fashion’ project, specifically the development of ‘Pulp-It’, a sustainable and inexpensive fabric with an intentionally short lifespan that can be recycled or industrially composted.

Dr Rosie Hornbuckle, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Circular Design, UAL

Dr Rosie Hornbuckle, Senior Research Fellow at UAL’s Centre for Circular Design and Service Futures Lab talks about bringing together different experts and stakeholders in order to create a new circular system for textiles.

Dr Lara Salinas, Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow, London College of Communication, UAL

Dr Lara Salinas, Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow at London College of Communication, describes how she works with Southwark Borough Council in South London to embed design in local governance, particularly within the context of climate emergency and net zero.

Jessica Saunders, PhD Researcher and Programme Director for the Fashion Programme London College of Fashion, UAL

Jessica Saunders, PhD Researcher and Programme Director for the Fashion Programme at London College of Fashion, talks about her work to develop policy in the area of safe electronic textile disposal.

Health, wellbeing and safety

Claudette Davis-Bonnick, PhD Researcher at London College of Communication and Associate Lecturer at London College of Fashion

Claudette Davis-Bonnick, PhD Researcher at London College of Communication and Associate Lecturer at London College of Fashion, shares her practice-based research into how people with vision impairment can access teaching and learning in creative arts institutions and mainstream education.

Kadian Gosler, PhD Researcher, London College of Fashion, UAL

Kadian Gosler, PhD Researcher at London College of Fashion, talks about her studies in the development of an experience-driven bra wearables process.

Dr Malé Luján Escalante, Senior Lecturer, London College of Communication, UAL

Dr Malé Luján Escalante, Senior Lecturer at London College of Communication, UAL talks about her research which explores how to ‘do’ ethics though design.

Prof Alison Prendiville, Professor of Service Design, London College of Communication, UAL

Prof Alison Prendiville, Professor of Service Design at London College of Communication, describes working with local communities in rural India to tackle antimicrobial resistance through the use of design techniques to develop new diagnostic tools.

Insights

Practice research in design is a form of networked, constructive, knowledge production and practice development. It is carried out through inquiring into situations, informed by domain- and discipline-relevant knowledge and in relation to an appropriate and relevant community of validation. It results in the production of new concepts/designs and new knowledge, relevant to and for assessment by design practice and research communities.

— Patrycja Kaszynska, Lucy Kimbell and Jocelyn Bailey from SDI working paper 'Practice research in design: Towards a novel definition'

Contact us

More themes

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.