Designing Alternatives is a research and teaching project run by Dr Sónia Matos and Emma Gieben-Gamal. It is a development of work initiated by Dr Matos and Dr Cat Rossi, adapted to incorporate live community projects.

In the face of current environmental, economic and social challenges, what kind of conversations, responses and interventions can designers offer? What skills do designers need to develop in order to best respond to these challenges, and what new approaches, behaviours, pedagogies and places are emerging to address these?

In June 2012, practitioners engaged in ‘alternative’ design practices came together to discuss these questions with students, architects, designers and educators at Edinburgh College of Art. In turn, this led to the development of the Designing Alternatives project and the successful piloting of live community projects as part of Innovative Learning Week at the University of Edinburgh.

Find out more about the symposium in our booklet, Designing Alternatives: A Symposium of Contemporary Radical Design Practice

Designing Alternatives seeks to introduce students to forms of design practice that stand self-consciously outside the mainstream of creating commodities for mass production and consumption.

Imbued in a real life project, students are given the opportunity to contribute toward the development of their local community as they explore sustainable and ethical design practices and relevant issues. At the same time, they enhance their own understanding of the designer’s role in today’s society.

    Designing Alternatives
    Image courtesy of Sónia Matos
    ECA students Camille Tan and ZuzanaTabackova at Towerbank Primary School in conversation with pupils during 'play time' Innovative Learning Week, February 2013

    Designing Alternatives seeks to introduce students to forms of design practice that stand self-consciously outside the mainstream of creating commodities for mass production and consumption.

    Project featured in new book, 'Developing Citizen Designers', by Elizabeth Resnick

    The Designing Alternatives project has been featured as a case study in Elizabeth Resnick’s latest book ‘Developing Citizen Designers’.

    Published by Bloomsbury in May 2016, the book presents an extensive collection of essays, case studies, and interviews with leading practitioners within the field of design for social innovation.

    Featured in a section that specifically explores the realm of participatory design, Emma and Sónia’s contribution presents student work developed in collaboration with Towerbank Primary School as part of their Designing Alternatives course. 

    Would you like to undertake research-led study at ECA?

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