UAL (University of the Arts London) DESIS Lab




  • United Kingdom


Adam Thorpe
Hosting Institution: University of the Arts London, c/o Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, 1 Granary Square, London, N1C 4AA
Coordinator: Adam Thorpe, Reader, Socially Responsive Design and Innovation
Tel: +44 (0) 207 514 8714
Operations Manager: Chloe Griffith
Tel: +44 (0) 207 514 8537

The Socially Responsive Design and Innovation Hub (SRvDI) is at the centre of a research and practice network at the University of the Arts London. It works with partners to research, create and implement design led strategies that respond to social issues, prioritise social impact and embrace social change.
Located within the award winning Design Against Crime Research Centre at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, SRvDI engages with students from many CSM courses to help them apply a design led approach to meeting societal goals and challenges in sustainable ways. This approach necessitates community engagement and collaborative and participatory research across diverse disciplines and sectors inside and outside of academia.
Many of today’s societal challenges are complex and constitute ‘wicked’ design scenarios. SRvDI undertakemapping activities that are essential to the construction of an effective open and collaborative research landscape/environment These includes system/scenario mapping, stakeholder mapping, agenda mapping and resource mapping – to identify opportunities for appropriate design intervention.
We reframe societal challenges as opportunities for product/service combinations that might help to meet societal goals. We explore different ways to deliver behaviour change via design research and design application. Using visualized case studies, we develop and apply approaches and methods that deliver effective community engagement, also tools and techniques that leverage knowledge and experience from outside academia within research processes. We draw upon a “methods bank” that helps us to gain insights into the behaviours of diverse users/actors in societal scenarios/systems and in relation to social issues. We measure the impact of these activities and link research to impact via an effectuation approach (Sarasvathy, 2008) to collaborative action research.
SRvDI is the home of the UAL DESIS lab. UAL DESIS Lab is coordinated by Adam Thorpe, Reader in Socially Responsive Design Innovation, in partnership with DESIS representatives from each of the six colleges of the University:

  • Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design - Appointed DESIS rep: Prof Lorraine Gamman
  • London College of Communication- Appointed DESIS rep: Dr. Alison Prenderville
  • London College of Fashion- Appointed DESIS rep: Prof Sandy Black andDilys Williams
  • CCW (Camberwell College of Art, Chelsea College of Art and Wimbledon College of Art) - Appointed DESIS rep: Becky Earley.

Together we are working to bring together the many DESIS type projects, past and present, that have been delivered by the staff and students. Also the resources and methods that have been developed and applied within these projects, so as to infrastructure an ecosystem and build further capacity for design for social innovation and sustainability across the University.


Objectives of UAL DESIS Lab
The above Colleges engage the University's 20,000+ students via a diverse range of courses at all levels from foundation and undergraduate to postgraduate and research. Some of the University's 1,228 teaching staff, as active professional practitioners, designers, critics and theorists, deliver practice-led research and design led projects that respond to pressing issues in Society. Such projects draw upon multiple and diverse design disciplines and specialisms, including:

  • Communication design
  • Product design
  • Industrial design
  • Fashion/Textile design
  • Design for public space

Many of these socially responsive and sustainable design and innovation activities and projects share common approaches, processes and methods linked to social design, service design, and design-led social innovation. The UAL DESIS network aims to enrich the research environment and encourage knowledge exchange about social innovation and sustainable socially responsive design. It does this by actively collecting, collating and disseminating existing socially responsive design projects, approaches, processes and methods from research and teaching staff across UAL. Projects and people identified as relevant to the Network, are asked to consider participating in DESIS activities and to document their workas DESIS case studies (using DESIS templates and typologies) so they can be shared with the UAL, UK and International DESIS Networks.
UAL DESIS Lab aims to:

  • Foster the creation and development of an ecosystem for socially responsive design innovation for sustainability and social enterprise within UAL.
  • Raise the visibility of UAL’s research staff who are involved in Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability initiatives in order to demonstrate and communicate their existence and capacity to staff and students and to a larger audience outside of UAL.
  • To facilitate the transferability of DESIS type design initiatives and activities by developing and enabling solutions to make existing initiatives more effective, accessible and replicable in different contexts.
  • To increase synergy of such design initiatives and activities by developing frameworks and platforms to connect the diverse local cases into larger regional projects.
  • To stimulate new initiatives, by proposing visions and solutions as seeds to be developed in open, collaborative interactions with local communities and other involved actors.
  • To make it clear, inside UAL’s design community (designers, design researchers, design media and design schools) that social innovation is a fundamental field of application for all the design disciplines.
  • To find new ways measure and evaluate impact of UAL DESIS projects to give social innovators tangible evidence of the potential of design thinking and design knowledge and design practice to support the projects and processes in which they are involved.
  • To co-ordinate a national network for DESIS within the UK, working in collaboration with other UK DESIS Labs to bring together diverse social actors with design focused HE across the UK to create the regional and national networks of actors necessary to deliver DESIS type activities across the UK - a DESIS Geographical Cluster.


Objectives of the UAL DESIS Open Design Programme
UAL DESIS Lab aims to promote a broad and flexible design agenda, and opportunities for design participation, linked to cross college programmes to be run by DESIS representatives and tutors. The first UAL DESIS Lab design programme in 2012 is linked to the ‘Public and Collaborative’ Thematic Cluster. We aim to extend this activity by creating a design programme in 2012-3, that draws upon the learning from the P&C cluster, to be delivered across UAL in Spring 2013. The ultimate objective of these activities at UAL is to share in the exchange and production of knowledge with the contribution of different partners (open processes) that can be used by all stakeholders (open results). The ultimate objective is to generate an Open Design Programme supported within UAL’s research environment to give different projects visibility, to facilitate their alignments, collaborations and synergies and, to develop visions and proposals adequate to addressing some of the ‘wicked’ problemsthat constitute contemporary societal challenges.

Primary Research Areas

  • Design against bicycle theft
  • Design against personal property theft
  • Design for urban cycling
  • Design against ATM fraud
  • Design for local economy
  • Retail theft
  • Innovations in giving/Micro donations/finance
  • Graffiti/Public arts as a tool for regeneration and community cohesion
  • Design against terrorism


  • Open approaches, processes, methods and tools
  • Innovation approaches, processes, methods and tools
  • Participatory and collaborative design approaches, processes, methods and tools
  • Service design approaches, processes, methods and tools


Future Programs
Spring 2012 – ongoing: “This way up” Lecture Series: an ongoing series of talks from diverse actors related to social innovation and sustainability from design practitioners to policy makers. The aim of the talks is to stimulate discussion and knowledge exchange in relation to design for social innovation and sustainability and to inspire and assist staff and students to deliver design for social innovation and sustainability.
Spring 2012: Public and Collaborative Cluster Programme with BA Product Design and MA Applied Imagination at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design: DESIS Green Camden: In partnership with Camden Council this project explores opportunities to make it simpler and easier for residents to take green action with the aim of helping Communities to:

  • reduce carbon emissions
  • adapt to a changing climate
  • reduce, reuse and recycle
  • improve air quality
  • improve biodiversity

Specifically, the project seeks to facilitate community services delivered by residents and other social actors, which contribute to reducing carbon emissions and improving quality of life in the London Borough of Camden.
Autumn 2012- Autumn 2013: UK DESIS Network (Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council): this project aims to extend and establish a national multidisciplinary network of individuals and organizations exploring design-led social innovation and sustainability. A series of network events will be delivered to strengthen connections between design academics, design practitioners, and end users of design from public, private and third sector organizations and the communities they serve, to explore how best to employ design thinking and skills to deliver sustainable social and environmental benefits to communities.
Spring 2013: Pan UAL DESIS Programme in collaboration with London Borough of Camden and other local partners.


Main Partners
Partners include the six colleges of the UAL named above, and numerous social and industry partners that constitute SRvDI, DACRC and UAL networks . The first DESIS project run at CSM is delivered in partnership with London Borough of Camden’s sustainability team and diverse community groups within the borough including ‘transition town’ groups, community centres, neighbourhood associations and local businesses.

Activities Past and Present
Some of these activities are summarized within the case studies provided below and at these websites:

Project Examples

In the Bag - Collaborative Research Project

Bikeoff - Collaborative Research Project

WALL -The Digital Hands Project

LUTA - Knowledge Transfer Partnership

Error | DESIS Network


Error message

  • Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/desisnet/www/includes/ in drupal_send_headers() (line 1216 of /home/desisnet/www/includes/
  • PDOException: SQLSTATE[42000]: Syntax error or access violation: 1142 INSERT command denied to user 'desisnet'@'' for table 'watchdog': INSERT INTO {watchdog} (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (:db_insert_placeholder_0, :db_insert_placeholder_1, :db_insert_placeholder_2, :db_insert_placeholder_3, :db_insert_placeholder_4, :db_insert_placeholder_5, :db_insert_placeholder_6, :db_insert_placeholder_7, :db_insert_placeholder_8, :db_insert_placeholder_9); Array ( [:db_insert_placeholder_0] => 0 [:db_insert_placeholder_1] => cron [:db_insert_placeholder_2] => Attempting to re-run cron while it is already running. [:db_insert_placeholder_3] => a:0:{} [:db_insert_placeholder_4] => 4 [:db_insert_placeholder_5] => [:db_insert_placeholder_6] => [:db_insert_placeholder_7] => [:db_insert_placeholder_8] => [:db_insert_placeholder_9] => 1448496641 ) in dblog_watchdog() (line 160 of /home/desisnet/www/modules/dblog/dblog.module).
The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.