Courses Overview >> Postgraduate Programmes >> Ecological Design Thinking

Ecological Design Thinking

MA, PG Dip, PG Cert

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Are you dismayed, disturbed and totally disenchanted with what is happening to the only real planetary home we have? So are we.

But are you also excited by the opportunities and prospects this opens up for us to create a better, brighter and more beautiful world? So are we.

Then join us in this innovative new postgraduate programme from Schumacher College in collaboration with the School of Architecture, Design and Environment at  Plymouth University, the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University, the Dartington Hall Trust and surrounding communities.

"Schumacher College's educational model is unique in the world, offering a truly holistic approach that integrates place, conviviality and ecoliteracy into the learning process. As early advisors to the ecological design thinking masters and regular teachers on the curriculum, we are excited about the continuing collaboration between our two institutions, particularly in the area of transition design."
Terry Irwin, Gideon Kossoff, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

Ecological Design Thinking

Never has there been a more important time for a new approach for engaging with the challenging situations we face from the local to the global levels.  In a rapidly changing dynamic situation, solutions rarely remain optimal for very long and continuous active participation is a necessary ingredient for success. Growing resilience in individuals and communities is the way to keep going despite the continuous change around us.

Our programme in Ecological Design Thinking  embraces and explores this complex world of interactions with lively engagement and an optimistic approach. It offers powerful, practical and ecology-centred skills and knowledge to apply to a diverse range of practices from design, education and business to the more specific roles of leadership, management and consultancy.

The Ecological Design Thinking programme is trans-disciplinary, insightful and universal in its application; pragmatic and integrative in its operation. It brings together theoretical and practical discourses on ecologically inspired design, with methods of design thinking that are merged with the latest developments  in anthropology, psychology and socio- political economics. It aims to create a novel ground for change makers at the forefront of our transition to sustainable societies.

Ecologically inspired design includes the study of ecological worldviews, systems dynamics and applied complexity theory alongside the philosophies and practices of permaculture and biomimetic design.

Design thinking is a well-established participatory technique grounded in the empathic understanding of the feelings, experiences and emotions of others. It engages people in lively conversations, visually stimulated interactions and playful prototyping. It frames problems as opportunities, forms insights and generates creative and collaborative solutions in complex situations.

The Ecological Design thinking programme aims to provide a nourishing environment for participants by incorporating short-courses led by internationally recognised thinkers, place-making projects in collaboration with the Dartington Hall Trust, the home of Schumacher College, and short live projects offered by external partner organisations.

This programme is the fourth radical postgraduate programme developed at Schumacher College and contributes to and enhance the College’s ongoing collaborative inquiry into sustainable living – a live and networked inquiry of practice underway around the world by the College’s 20,000 alumni and others.

Our Teachers:

In this programme, we benefit from the contribution of a range of internationally acclaimed teachers. Regular guest lecturers have included:

Dr Stephan Harding, Schumacher College
Dr Philip Frances, Schumacher College
Lou Rainbow, Craft Revolution
Professor Seaton Baxter, Visiting Professor, Schumacher College
Dr David Sanchez, Biomimetic Design
Dr Daniel Wahl, educator and author of Designing Regenerative Cultures
Dr Terry Irwin, Professor and Head of the School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
Gideon Kossoff, Adjunct Professor, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
Kate Raworth, Senior Visiting Research Associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute
Tom Crompton, Common Cause Foundation
Tim Crabtree, Schumacher College
Lucy Neal, Author of Playing for Time: Making Art as if the World Mattered
Ruth Ben Tovim, Creative Director, Encounters Arts
Dr Martin Shaw, Author, mythologist, storyteller and award winning wilderness Rites-of-Passage guide

This list will be updated as contributors to the 2018-19 academic year are confirmed

Who is this course for?

We would be delighted to receive your application whether you are coming directly from an undergraduate degree, taking time-out to study mid-career or wanting an opportunity to develop your understanding of a practice that is of great importance to all of our futures. We encourage applications from community practitioners and activists as well as planners, educators, architects, politicians and policy makers. You do not necessarily need a first degree in design to apply for this course. You only need to be enthusiastic, resilient and committed.

We are looking for enthusiastic agents of change who are ready to co-design new approaches to the way we live that are socially just and ecologically sustainable. We are looking for those prepared to take risks and stand on the cutting-edge of new practices in this area.

Schumacher College welcomes students from all over the world in a diverse mix of cultural experience and age that allows for rich peer- to- peer learning.

This unique course is about design for all life, not just human life. With its focus on new ways of thinking and acting in the world, it equips you with the skills, concepts and contacts you'll need to engage with the next economy that is now emerging. Enlivened as it is by the real-world context of Dartington as a learning estate, I know of no other community in which ecology, permaculture, systems thinking, complexity science and Gaia theory are integrated as they are at Schumacher College.

Hear from past students
Find out how this programme has changed the lives and careers of students who have taken the course by reading our Ecological Design Thinking student profiles.

You Will Learn

  • The foundation of an ecological worldview through subjects such as ecology, deep ecology, systems thinking, complexity science and Gaia theory.
  • Living systems principles through the philosophy and practice of permaculture design, biophilia and biomimicry.
  • Creative and process-focused problem solving techniques by applying the methods and principles of design thinking
  • A multi-perspective appreciation of ethical issues and their implications for the future consequences of redesigning existing systems and creating new ones.
  • To apply ecological design thinking knowledge and skills to the design of social systems as a part of an emerging new economics
  • Personal and group enquiry practices to raise awareness of the interdependent relationship between the individual, society and nature and between theory and practice

Co-creative participatory practices and theoretical principles for new approaches to the ecological design process that include a range of stakeholders in the full lifecycle of projects, and you will apply these both in the studio, on the Dartington Hall Estate and  in short placements on live projects.
John Thackara, writer, bioregional event producer, founder of Doors of Perception

Special Features

  • An interdisciplinary programme integrating design methods with those of ecology and the social sciences.
  • An integrative design programme rooted in deep ecological understanding and practice and informed by cutting edge thinking in new economic approaches and social dynamics.
  • A balanced distribution of time and resources on skill-based and cognitive-based knowledge and between practice and theory.
  • Access to some of the world’s leading thinkers and practitioners in design, Gaia theory, complexity, climate science, systems thinking, new economics and social change.
  • Short courses led by internationally recognised thinkers and researchers.  
  • Short practical placements with a range of partner organisations operating at the leading edge of social innovation.
  • An immersive, integrative and transformational teaching and learning approach rooted in the principles established by Schumacher College and Dartington Hall, and engaged in a living and working community on and around the Dartington Estate in Devon.

Where you will go?

Ecological Design Thinking can be applied to a wide range of contexts, from the personal to the societal. This programme aims to create a new generation of designers, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, educators, researchers, consultants and activists. Graduates will have the skills and knowledge to work for sustainable change in the public and private sectors as well as in civil society, or to set up their own projects or organisations that will contribute to the transformation of society.

Our Teachers

Prof. Roberto Fraquelli, Coordinator, MA Ecological Design Thinking

Roberto is interested in Holistic Design and the dilemma many designers face between the pressures of (economic) growth and an empathy with all living systems. His current research focuses on 4 interrelated themes: ecological design thinking, deep empathic design, systems design thinking and, contemplative inquiry. With over 20 years of professional practice working with IDEO Global Design company Roberto has designed products, environments and experiences for clients across Europe, America, India and the Far East. He holds a number of international design awards and patents - and his work has been featured in Domus, Business Week, Design Week, The Observer, and NewDesign magazine. Roberto studied Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. He also teaches and is Professor of Design with Plymouth University.

Dr. Mona NasseriMona Nasseri Ecological Design & Sustainability Masters, Senior Lecturer, MA Ecological Design Thinking

Mona has a Doctorate and Master’s degree in Design from the University of Dundee and BA in Crafts from the Tehran Art University.  She was a member of the Craft team in Duncan of Jordonstone and also the Centre for the Study of Natural Design where she first met Professor Seaton Baxter. This was the beginning of a long collaboration with Seaton, first as a PhD student and later as a research assistant, which brought her to Schumacher College. Mona’s research focuses on pattern of transformation in humans as bio-sociocultural beings. She has a particular interest in the role of perception and embodied knowledge in such transformation. Her PhD explored the interface of self, craft and sustainability.

Ruth Potts, Senior Lecturer, MA Ecological Design ThinkingRuth Potts Sustainability Masters

Ruth co-ordinated the development of the MA in Ecological Design Thinking at Schumacher College and is part of the teaching team. She is a co-founder of bread, print & roses, a collective engaged in seditious pamphleteering, radical walking, anarchist baking and transformative education. Previously, Ruth was Campaign Organiser for the Great Transition at nef (the new economics foundation) where she co-developed a new model of campaign designed to kick-start the decade -long transition to a new economy and society. She is the co-author of The New Materialism, covered by the Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times, and a co-author of nef’s Clone Town Britain reports. Ruth helped to organise the Green New Deal Group in 2007 and managed the launch of the Group’s First report, A Green New Deal, in July 2008. The concept was subsequently taken up by UNEP, and influenced policy around the globe.

Ruth is a trustee of the Pioneer Health Foundation, the pioneering holistic model of health that influenced the World Health Organisation. She brought together and co-hosts eco-feminist collective: the Hoydens, co-created and curated a series of events about the joy and intelligence of craft at the School of Life: Practitioner’s Parlour, and more recently helped to devise a series of poetry events celebrating unusual spaces and liminal places: ‘Somewhere in Particular.’

Partner Institutions

School of Architecture, Design and Environment, Plymouth UniversitySchool of Architecture, Design and Environment, Plymouth University

The School was formed in 2009 to establish a vibrant multi-and interdisciplinary portfolio of courses and programmes, supported by a culture of research and research-informed teaching. The School has already won several prestigious international awards, has propagated a vibrant PGR community and receiving a special commendation for research environment and strategy from the Royal Institute of British Architects (BA Architecture Revalidation 2012).

Associated Institutions

School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design is one of the oldest and most respected programs in North America, with a rich history in product, communication, and interaction design. It is one of only a few design schools to offer education across the full spectrum of learning – from pre-college to doctoral degrees – in a research setting renowned for its teaching innovations.


The Transition Network Transition Network

The Transition Network supports an international movement to inspire, encourage, connect, support and train communities and organisations to rebuild resilience and reduce CO2 emissions.

Bursaries Are Available For This Programme

The Schumacher College Postgraduate Bursary Fund exists to enable those with potential and in financial need to participate in our Masters programmes.

Tuition Fees Bursary All students are eligible to apply for the Tuition Fees Bursary. There is no set limit to the size of an individual Tuition Fees Bursary, however smaller bursaries inevitably have a greater chance of success and amounts greater than £2,000 will only be offered in exceptional circumstances.

You may submit a Bursary application with your Masters application. Your Bursary will be considered if you are offered a place on your chosen Masters programme. Please visit the Bursaries and Scholarship page for further information and how to apply. Please read carefully the Terms and Conditions and instructions given on the application form. 

Learn more about The David Orr Schoalrship for Ecological Design Thinking

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Last updated 09/10/2017