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MDes in Design Innovation and Environmental Design

Every year we say ‘there’s never been a more important time to study Design Innovation’. This year, that’s especially true.

Watching the response of students to unfolding events has been humbling; even though we have all faced innumerable personal difficulties and frustrations, our students have shown a remarkable stoicism and camaraderie, keeping up a sense of community and mutual support that ensured everybody got through relatively unscathed.

Design Innovation has always been a programme focused on human-centred design – looking at the way the world works and identifying ways it might be better, either through big systemic changes or small interventions that help individuals. The topics we began the year talking about ended up being the ones that everybody was talking about: the future of work and education, the impact of social isolation, the need for better urban transport, attitudes to end of life care, the role of the city environment on mental health and physical wellbeing… and that’s just the start of the list.

These are just some of the topics that became Masters projects – 12-week independent explorations of the world at a human and individual scale. Unlike previous years, there could be no workshops with stakeholders, few face-to-face interviews. People who normally would be happy to participate now had other things to focus on, and even when participants were willing the technology often was not. But along the way, students became masters of Zoom and Miro, comfortable conducting conversations and co-designing at a distance, and making use of whatever space was available to them.

To some extent, the outcomes of these projects are irrelevant (though they really are excellent, as you’ll see). Being a designer and an innovator is not just a matter of a skillset but of a mindset – something very difficult to assess or to teach. And even though the projects developed by this year’s students are equal to those of past cohorts in terms of quality of thinking, insights, and ingenuity, the thing that makes this generation of graduates truly outstanding is the resilience, the mutual support, the empathy, and the good humour they have displayed throughout. It has been a pleasure to teach them, and to learn from them. We couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve achieved and to show it to the world via this digital showcase.

So yes, there has never been a more important time to study design innovation, and there’s never been a more important time to employ innovative designers of the sort you’ll see here in these five programmes. Where we see problems, they see possibilities. And that’s just what we need right now.

Jonathan Baldwin, Programme Leader MDes Design Innovation

The project proposed a freely accessible publication to inspire and empower citizens to form new relationships with their surroundings.

Why design for serendipity?

In the modern city, chunks of space are meticulously allocated to individual functions: retail parks, office districts, residential suburbs. This reinforces the habit of allocating our time strictly between these activities, jetting between them in our cars. The lifestyle this propagates can be isolating and alienating, with little opportunity for participating in public life. The principle of homophily means we are more likely to form social bonds with those who are similar to ourselves, not only that, we are also more likely to be surrounded by these people physically in our neighbourhoods. Similarly to our online existence, this can form political and ideological echo chambers, leading to ignorance, bigotry and political polarization. It also feels like a missed opportunity, given the “melting pot” analogy of the city, and the density and diversity it provides.

What role could serendipity play in creating better cities?

I see a direct opportunity here for serendipity to help us close the gap between what is and what could be. Serendipity can help us tap into the resource of density and diversity, and through unexpected encounters help us rediscover a more sociable and exciting city.

How do we create serendipitous spaces?

Through my reading, I identified 4 key areas to consider when designing for serendipity in the public realm.


The project proposed citydweller zine as a platform for citizens to connect over the one thing they all have in common: the city where they live. Filled with a range of contributions, local news, events and stories, its aims are to empower and inspire citizens to engage and connect with the public spaces around them. By spending more time outside, participating in outdoor activities and exploring our surroundings, we create more opportunities for new encounters, serendipitous or not.

The process behind the project

Sensory Approach for Diversity in Land Engagement - MDes Thesis

Continue Reading Sensory Approach for Diversity in Land Engagement - MDes Thesis

Sensing the City Zine

The Zine was designed to facilitate non-language based communication during the Sensory Mapping Engagements, to make sure that the process is well understood, and participants are aware of their rights and what they are consenting to. The design of the consent and information form became a critical element of the research in this regard.

Continue Reading Sensing the City Zine

Project Process Diagram

Fieldwork - Engagements

The process of Sensory Engagement Design

Sense Layer - Sensory Qualities of Place

Layers of Sensory qualities of place revealed through the analyses of sensory information from the Mapping Walks in Govanhill. Sensory analyses was a creative process that aimed at understanding patterns in sensory information that emerged during the engagements. I structured this information in forms of colour-coded observations and three Sensory Maps - each revealing different layers of sensory information (See on the following maps).

Memory Layer - Intangible Assets

Layers of Memory revealed through the analyses of sensory information from the Mapping Walks in Govanhill. Memory holds the value of intangible and cultural assets that can inform placemaking, allowing for ‘Innovation from Tradition’ (McHattie, 2018).

Imagination Layer - Spatial Imaginaries

Layers of Imagination (Spatial Imaginaries) revealed through the analyses of Sensory Information from the Mapping Walks in Govanhill. These Imaginaries represent place-based knowledge and communicate community visions and preferences for the space to inform spatial representation. In the next phase of the engagement workshops – organised with Milk Cafe in Govanhill - I will bring the above maps back to the same group of participants; for a collaborative sensory analysis. This will form the bases for a Spatial Imagination workshop, where the identified areas of interests – needs and areas of opportunities – and ‘vacancies’ will be merged in a collaborative envisioning of the future of these vacant spaces.

Dynamic patterns of Sensory Information: Sense, Memory and Imagination

Having conducted deep visual and sensory analyses, I came to the understanding that mapping through the senses is a tool that is capable of opening up doors to other types of knowledges. It led me to identify the dynamic patterns between sensory perception, memory and imagination – outlined in the above graph - with their associated placemaking values.

Sensory Engagement Framework

Informed by iterative phases of prototyping, participant engagement, feedback and expert interviews, I developed the Sensory Engagement Framework to provide guidelines for placemakers towards designing accessible and diverse public engagements. I built the design from two main components: The first one focuses on placemaking phases and values (See the Graph above). While the second one, the Access Framework (See the Graph below), compliments the other with the necessary actions and approaches needed to be taken for accessibility.

Access Framework

I designed the Sensory Engagement Framework in a way that it prioritises benefiting participants’ experience over ‘data collection’. Some would regard such an aspect of the approach a ‘weakness’, however I argue in this project’s case, these are overcome by it’s strengths. Such engagements place their emphasis upon understanding local people’s lived experiences and facilitating their access; not only towards public participation, but to often abstract placemaking practices, concepts and methods. Therefore, the Framework’s primary impact lies in its ability to amplify the decisionmaking roles of its participants; empowering those who participate and members of the wider community.

Master project

Wellbeing and the Urban Environment in Mestre.

I explored Mestre - Venice's suburb - known for issues linked to criminality, marginalisation and socio-economic-health disparities. After a deep research, I was able to find a "custom-made" solution for Mestre's citizens.

Continue Reading Master project

Narural Light in Learning Environments



What could be the preferable future of death? How might we create a system that provides an accessible, dignified, personalized, and therapeutic experience to the users while aiding nature preservation and climate mitigation efforts?

What is it?

A new death service run by nature preservation charities that offers human composting. The service comprises of a series of steps, all of them optional, but profit from each of them contributes to habitat and wildlife protection. For this speculation, I’ve looked at the possibilities that human composting or "recomposition" could unlock. Recomposition produces a large amount of rich soil which can be divided into many parts and used in a variety of ways. One can choose to donate it, take it home, ship it to relatives, scatter it in one or multiple locations, or even buy a tree or potted plant planted in the recomposed soil. As well as a new system, the concept also proposes spatial and material guidelines for facilitating this new praxis.

The memorial grounds

The memorial grounds are where memorial markers are placed. Although it is all optional, some might still need a monument to memorialize their name. We also need a space to express gestures towards the dead. Physical acts of remembering like touching a name on a headstone are tangible ways we let ourselves know that we are taking real action to remember someone, a sort of small personal ritual. While there is not yet a finished design for the space, I created a sketch of what these spaces might feel like. The grounds must be planned in a way that’s not disruptive to the environment. It should be visually distinguished from nature to signify an added layer of meaning, without imposing on the landscape. As existing nature charities already form a wide network around the UK, the service could be easily available wherever there is demand for it.

memorial markers

When it comes to the markers themselves, the shape should allow for a variety of actions. Emphasis should be on the sensation of touch, so material and surface texture must be taken into consideration. They also need to be durable and fit to stay outside virtually forever. The material might also be reactive to light, heat, or moisture to give a visual response when touched.

individuality and personalization

The markers should also be personalized to best represent the person they’re commemorating. Inspired by a story told to me by an end-of-life-doula about a family that did a DIY funeral, I thought a way to do that might be to have the option of designing and/or making the marker yourself out of recycled or repurposed materials. This could be a way for the family to come together and let them take more control over their situation, while also being sustainable and cost effective. As a possible direction I thought about Precious Plastic, a company that provides open source plans for plastic processing machines, and offers guidance on production. A variety of other memorial objects like flowerpots, urns, or take-home tree markers could also be made this way.

ceremony and meditation

To facilitate rituals, ceremonial pavilion-type structures should be available close to the memorial grounds. These could be used for funerals and memorials, but could also accommodate meditation when not in use. They should be kept open so they can be used at any time. It might be necessary for these structures to occasionally be extended to accommodate large ceremonies and closed off to protect against bad weather. Also for shelter and meditation, smaller structures could be installed throughout an area.

details in nature and tactile experiencing

Focusing on the details in nature gives us an opportunity to pay attention to things we might normally overlook. It helps us appreciate them, allowing us to see the forest AND the trees. From the perspective of mindfulness, focusing on small details and the sensory experience of nature helps ground us in our bodies and break the cycle of rumination that often comes with complicated heavy emotions like grief. The interventions in the land should therefore be made to pull focus towards certain views or natural features.

what about the money?

A quote containing a suggested donation amount according to chosen options is presented, but the user may donate as much as they can anonymously. Coupled with existing financing mechanisms, Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes, volunteer work, and a larger number of donators, combined revenue could be able to cover those who need but can’t afford the service.

user storyboard pt.1

After a family member dies, the family decides to use the charities’ services. They explore their options and make a call. They can either deliver the body or have it picked up to be stored until the funeral. They have an informative conversation with a representative to discuss their wishes.

user storyboard pt.2

After discussing as a family, they contact the charity to make funeral arrangements. They don’t need to decide on what to do with the remains or if they want a memorial marker yet because the recomposition process takes thirty days, giving them plenty of time to decide what they want to do, and if needed they can make the decision well after picking up the remains. They decide to do the ceremony in the site’s ceremonial pavilion. They notify the extended family to let them know of the arrangements.

user storyboard pt.3

After the funeral, they decide to make a marker for the memorial ground. They’re able to choose the colours and textures they think best represents their loved one. If they had opted for cremation, they could have also made an urn at the trust’s making facilities. They decide to buy a plant from the trust planted in the recomposed soil and make the planter themselves. They request that part of the soil be shipped to everyone who wanted some, and take their plant and the rest of the soil home. Some of the relatives also buy a tree from the trust and plant it in their gardens, and a part of the family decide to install another marker closer to their home.

user storyboards pt.4

They received a quote from the trust with a suggested donation amount for each of the services they used. They decide to pay what they can at once, and the rest through an annual donation plan.

user storyboards pt.5

As time passes, several trees grow from the loved one’s soil. The grieving friends and family visit the memorial grounds and walk through the surrounding woodland. Some have joined grief walking groups organized by EOLDUK, where they found support amongst new friends. Every time someone visits the memorial grounds, they are also spending time in nature which on it’s own has physical and mental health benefits. They use the spaces to rest and meditate, and every visit slowly helps them grow. After a few years, they throw a lively memorial in the pavilion for their lost family member where they laugh, cry, dance and tell stories.


If you would like to learn more about the project, the research that went into it, or the specific insights that informed it, view the Personal Project Journal here.


Project Process Journey

The sustainable use of household products in the young transient group.

This project focuses on the sustainable use of household products in the young transient group in Glasgow. Young Transient Group means People are leaving for college and exploring the world post-graduation (Eric Klinenberg, 2012). With the process of globalization, short-term migration has become convenient. In the Migration and Its Impact on Cities published by the World Economic Forum in 2017, it mentioned that adults planning and preparing to migrate are more likely to be young, single, and living in urban areas. As the youngest place in Scotland (David Ottewell, 2018), Glasgow has a large amount of YTG. Under this trend, cities also provide a wide client base for YTG to market their products and services. However, In a current economic model, a household product is manufactured and sold to a customer (Thomas Wastling, 2018). YTG is an excellent customer for enterprises because their movability means their continuous consumption of household products. Such short-term consumption did stimulate the growth of the local economy, but it also caused a massive waste of household products. According to the Scottish Household waste – summary data 2018 from the Scottish Government, Glasgow generated 245,318 tons of household waste in 2018 the whole year, 69% of which were buried. Young people have a great responsibility for it, because they do not have sufficient knowledge about waste segregation in their own area, neither about the waste processing machines (Monika Stępień, 2013). This colossal waste of household products from YTG poses a challenge to the sustainable development of the city. Therefore, this project will focus on researching how to make YTG obtain and process household products more sustainably.

Continue Reading Project Process Journey

Mapping the NEIC - parks which remained open during Covid-19

Process and visualisations

Continue Reading Process and visualisations

Activity Pack


Exploding School: The Potential for Outdoor Learning and Play Space in North Inner City Dublin

Continue Reading Exploding School: The Potential for Outdoor Learning and Play Space in North Inner City Dublin

Instilling pro-environmental behaviours among citizens to create sustainable neighbourhoods.

Can design use these biases to nudge people ? Many scientist and psychologists are now seeing the importance of understanding behaviour and nudging towards climate action. Through the research process it became evident that I did not intend to focus on one specific behaviour , as sustainability was a journey with one success action resulting us to take the next action which was uncovered through various interviews.


The site I chose was White City Estate which is a ward in the Hammersmith and Fulham borough here in London. It has one of the most diverse neighbourhoods with people coming from various class structures with 52 percent of the people here living in social housing. Unfortunately it is also identified as one of the most deprived and least affluent area in the borough.

Why I chose a social housing estate?

It's important for us to get diverse voices heard in these conversations. A saying from the environmentalist Sunita Narain inspired this thought with a provoking question - Is it accessible, is it inclusive, is it diverse, is it reciprocal? This thinking stayed with me throughout my design process. I was also inspired by Bristol taking the same course of action during Lockdown to make environmental sustainability more inclusive to people from all class structures. With this in mind and initial desk research, my design challenge moulded to questions around design interventions instilling pro environmental behaviours among individuals

Various Research methods used

A brief summary of the engagement tools I used to understand behaviours of those living in White City are : 1. Using optimism as a nudge to spark conversations followed by printed questionnaires to fulfil social distancing rules. 2. Tags on a gate tool to understand values and wants of residents. 3. I then sent out 2 sets of digital questionnaires via various platforms to understand residents their behaviour and interaction with space and the term sustainability. This was also to understand their sustainability journey and the barriers a few heroes faced on their paths. Alongside this, I held a workshop, few other one on one interviews via whatsapp, or face to face and a walking tour.

Testing the role of optimism as an engagement tool

One of the engagement tools that worked best with residents to talk about sustainability was the optimism nudge card I designed. Working as a volunteer distributing food during COVID allowed me to have conversations with people from within the community. However, this was a very delicate moment where people cued waiting for food after receiving a token. The food distribution charities would save food that would otherwise go into landfill from various vendors and measured success based on how much food wastage they saved. Using this same method of celebration and optimism, I designed a tool to play ‘the role of optimism’ and change otherwise uncomfortable moments in moments of deep reflection. As the lockdown started easing I used this tool at charity sales leading to them requesting more for ongoing and future rail sales.

Spotting interactive zones with potential for design interventions

I then mapped out the city based on the walking tour and advice I received from residents, picking out areas with the most traffic flow and spaces that had potential and screamed for intervention ( this was also done to play with our contextual biases ) .

Turning Point

With all of the information I gathered from nearly 30 to 40 participants at different point of time including now I understood the complexity of communities and how different knots had to be untied at a time. This also led me to identify the different types of stakeholders at play.

Stakeholder Interviews - Environmental Enthusiasts

Changes in our context can influence or activate our biases and heuristics by nudging people to favour more sustainable outcomes (Jensen & Hovgaard, 2020). Based on the variation of data collected from the residents, I identified emerging behaviours demonstrated by the residents. As you can see in this slide I identified various stakeholders who I saw as complete heroes and environmental enthusiasts who would be the facilitators of these 3 design ideas. Their skills would increase a positive feedback loop and feed into the gardening space as a conduit for people to exchange views, perspectives and ideas. This would inturn act as social norms and instil values of pro-environmentalism

Using Behavioural Science

Based on research, observations and further analysing these behaviours with psychologists, I created a diagram to visually see the behaviours and motivators I experimented with through my design. INSIGHT STATEMENTS from Residents : TRUST : People had a greater level of trust towards others when they were introduced by someone from their cultural, religious or other friend circles. ­­ SENSE OF OWNERSHIP: One of the things people strongly feel about their immediate environment is the lack of input, knowledge and agency they have towards the space resulting in a lack of empathy. IMPORTANCE OF SPACE: When asked about experiences in White City back in the day, people’s stories aligned with interactive spaces more than people. Environmental structures seemed to be more vivid showing the importance between space and people.


Using the behaviours at play and what was required to reverse negative into positive behaviours inspired this proposal. The final design has 3 services that interplay and depend on each other. These were inspired and created based on the various forms of activating specific postibe behaviours as seen in previous slide. Using contextual biases and a creation of social norms within the community plays a significant but invisible role in all the three components. As you can see the 3 services aim to help the identified stakeholder types to interact with eachother in order to impart pro-environmental behaviours.


Under the umbrella of 'White City cares', the three different services will work together. Using environmental settings as a space to be inspired by people and nature, along with digital platforms to have a wider audience.

PART 1A: Micro-allotments

Each small square plot will be allotted to tenants in surrounding blocks during peak yield months for a maximum of 1 year. These green spaces that are otherwise only used by dog-owners have the potential to becoming spaces for people to connect with others in their neighbourhood and learn about the processes of how the ecosystem works with an indicator we all connect with - food and plants. Using methods of rainwater harvesting and composting within the space also creates an awareness for these natural resources. Through growing, people then understand the different parts of the ecosystem vital to our everyday living.

PART 1B : Community-led workshops

Through research it became evident that there were a few experts in the field and a few environmental enthusiasts. The community already had so much to learn from each other. The workshop would be a form to get people from various cultural backgrounds and blocks connecting through shared interests and exchanging forms of knowledge. This also increases self-efficacy among individuals, highlighting their strengths and value within the community.

PART 2 : Open source nudge kit

This nudge kit was inspired by the request from charities for the optimism engagement tool. This was further complemented with nudges to create empathy to spaces and also increasing self-efficacy.

PART 2: Open source nudge kit

PART 3; Outreach

Third is outreach which uses the insight of trust - seeing peoples stories and journey on the 'White City stories' instagram and facebook page would further empower citizens to do more. This builds empathy through stories and narratives further leading to instilling social norms of pro-environmentalism.

What and How ?

Using a systems thinking approach, ‘White City cares’ carefully threads on the idea of leading sustainable lifestyles through simple nudges and direct forms of communication as seen in the image above. The insights gained (outer circle) from interviews and engagement act as tools that help facilitate and motivate the different services at play.


The feedback was overwhelming with residents looking for it to become a reality through community effort. Some really loved the idea of the empathy nudge tests: Seeing the tree on their street been given a name made them happy and proud. They appreciated that the language of sustainability under ‘White city cares' was accessible and stressed on the importance of outreach through platforms other than social media. Micro allotment ideas were well received with many saying that the space would finally be theirs and not just for the dogs. Many residents stressed on the need for ways to get their kids and young adults involved and using the space to learn from as they will be the future. As a next step, the idea would be around getting the community participating in any infrastructure changes implemented by the council.

Project Title



Data Analysis

Data Synthesis






A workbook and visual aid employed in interviews

Interviews with residents were carried out with a workbook-type engagement tool to help them self-reflect their waste disposal routine. Design for Intent toolkit (Dan Lockton, 2010) was also employed to see which environmental/cognitive factor can affect their change.


Through the workbook, found that the environmental crisis story sounds too broad for residents so they needed some closer story to encourage their intrinsic drive. Also, they needed easier environmental setting for better recycling.

Deeper story between residents and refuse collectors

Through further in-depth interviews, found that the lack of interaction was making a vicious cycle. Yet opportunities were discovered - some residents cared about workers' working condition and refuse collectors were encouraged by them. Also, they needed a platform where residents can ask some questions to refuse collectors and refuse collectors help the general public do better recycling.

Storyboard of the service

The empathy-derived recycling model consists of three pillars: 1) Environmental setting (easy-sorting-out bags), 1) Caring & responsibility (an introduction card of refuse collectors with their essential messages to residents and an ID card for residents' self-check) and 3) Recycling practice (deposit return scheme), to achieve change most effectively.