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Transition Design: New Solutions For Life on a Finite Planet

£ 940.00
Course fees include single accommodation, 2 day weekend symposium, all meals, field trips, materials and all teaching sessions.
If you do not want to attend the weekend symposium, please call our short course administrator on +44 (0)1803 847237.

With Terry Irwin, Gideon Kossoff and Cameron Tonkinwise

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” —Buckminster Fuller

Fee: £940.00 includes single accommodation and all meals, the Transition Design weekend symposium (Friday, 17 June,18:00 to Sunday, 19 June, 12:00) and the short course (19 - 24 June) including field trips, materials and all teaching sessions. If you do not want to attend the weekend symposium, please call our short course administrator on +44 (0)1803 847237.

If you would like to be added to the Waiting List for Transition Design Short Course - click here

There are still places on the Transition Design Symposium – to book a place, click here.

Transition Design is an approach pioneered at the internationally renowned Carnegie Mellon University’ School of Design and is being brought to the UK for the first time with this course. It proposes that the tools and processes of design can be used by activists and practitioners from all walks of life as well as designers, to develop solutions that contribute to significant, positive societal transitions.

Transition Designers work to reconceive entire lifestyles and infrastructures (policies, energy resources and food, health-care and education systems) to be not only more sustainable but also more convivial. They focus on the need for cosmopolitan localism, a lifestyle that is place-based and regional, yet global in its awareness, and exchange of information and technology.

Transition Design applies a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of social, economic and natural systems to conceive solutions that leverage the power of interdependency and symbiosis. It explores the role of design in negotiating between the transition our society is undergoing and the transition toward the future we want.

This pioneering course will introduce you to the tools and concepts of Transition Design providing you with a set of principles and practical approaches that can be applied to a range of circumstances, from everyday teamwork and problem solving, to the redesign of settlements and the reshaping of whole lifestyles

This course is for you if: 

  • You are a transition/sustainability/social/community activist seeking to incorporate design thinking and practice into your work.
  • You are a professional designer of any kind seeking to extend your practice into social and environmental fields.
  • You are working in a specialist field other than design and would like to explore how transition design can support and supplement your work, and the contribution that your field can make to transition design.
  • You are a layperson interested in learning more about how to think about developing solutions to complex social and environmental problems.
  • You teach design and would like to incorporate transition design into your curriculum.
  • You would like an overview of the emerging field of transition design
  • You wish to meet, study and network with others who are interested in transition design and related fields.

The short course is preceded by a one and a half day international Transition Design Symposium bringing together leaders in the field to discuss how Transition Design might catalyse rapid societal transformation.

Course Details:

This course, the first of its kind in the UK, will introduce the concept of Transition Design, developed by the internationally renowned Carnegie Mellon University’ School of Design, and explore its origins, influences and inspirations (including the Transition Town Network, Sustainability Transitions Network, Socio-Technical Transition Management and the Great Transition Initiative). It will provide an introduction and overview of the Transition Design Framework and survey its four interrelated and mutually influencing areas: Vision; Theories of Change; Mindset and Posture; and, New Ways of Designing.

1. Vision: The transition to a sustainable society requires a vision of where we want to go. Transition Design proposes the reconception of whole lifestyles and addresses quality of life issues within the context of the everyday. Transition Design seeks to cultivate sustainable ways of living in which fundamental needs are satisfied in integrated, place-based ways. Transition Design encourages a symbiotic relationship between communities and the ecosystems within which they are situated. It works to create a global network of sustainable, place-based communities who exchange knowledge, skills, technology resources and culture. This is a vision of a cosmopolitan localist society.

2. Theories of Change: Never in history has the need for change been more urgent. The transition to a sustainable society will involve systems-level, ongoing societal change. Ideas, theories and methodologies from many varied fields and disciplines explain:  a) How change happens: change manifests in healthy, vibrant social and natural systems through creative, spontaneous and emergent self-organisation.  b) What change needs to happen: transition to a sustainable society will require new ways of living, alternative socio-economic and political structures, technological innovation and more. Together, these ideas about change form an evolving, transdisciplinary body of knowledge that is essential for the transition designer.

3. Posture and Mindset: Living in and through transitional times requires new ways of ‘being’ in the world. It demands a mindset and posture of openness, mindfulness, and a willingness to collaborate. Transition Designers are characterized by an ‘optimistic grumpiness’; a sense of urgency in the need for change and an unwillingness to accept the status quo, combined with an optimism about the future. Transition Designers understand and embrace transdisciplinarity, value cooperation over competition and have a deep respect and advocacy for ‘other’ (species, cultures, etc.) They have a flexibility and fluidity of mind and an understanding of and comfort with uncertainty, ambiguity, chaos and contradiction.

4. New Ways of Designing: The transition to a sustainable society will require new ways of designing that are informed by a deep understanding of local ecosystems and culture. Transition Designers take an iterative, error-friendly co-design approach that aims to accrue knowledge over time. They are systems designers and think in long horizons of time and work at multiple levels of scale. They design for initial conditions and understand that solutions need to evolve and change over time.

Transition Designers work in three broad areas:

1. They develop powerful narratives and visions of the future.

2. They amplify and connect grassroots efforts undertaken by local communities and organisations. 

3. They work in transdisciplinary teams to design new, innovative and place-based solutions rooted in and guided by transition visions.

Transition Design requires a commitment to ongoing learning and personal change as well as the tenacity to change a system through multiple, iterative interventions over time. 

This course will explore the following themes: cosmopolitan localism; the significance of living systems theory; the influence of worldview on design; everyday life as the fundamental context for transition; the theory of needs and satisfiers as a way of assessing the well-being of communities. 

The key taught skills will include: visioning/future casting, narrative and storytelling and visualizing/mapping wicked problems. 

The course will also explore the relationship of transition design to other established and emerging areas of design practice, such as service design and design for social innovation, and emphasise the importance of design processes that involve collaboration, participation and co-creation.

It aims to provide an overview and roadmap for further study for course participants and enable them to take key ideas and concepts back into their careers and communities. Exercises, thought experiments and group discussions, to help visualize and ground transition design concepts, will supplement lectures and tutorials.

The cost of this short course also includes the cost of the Transition Design Symposium. Click Here To Learn More.


Terry Irwin, Professor and Head, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

Terry has been a designer for over 40 years and has taught design at the University level since 1986. She was a founding partner and creative director of the transdisciplinary design firm MetaDesign with offices in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Zurich. There she directed projects for clients such as Apple Computer, Nissan Motors, Berlin Transport Authority, Audi, Ernst & Young, Sony and Samsung among others.

In 2001, after becoming increasingly frustrated with the connections she saw between design solutions and the complex problems confronting society (pollution, over consumption, depletion of natural resources, etc.) Terry decided to leave professional design practice and return to school. A three week short course at Schumacher College in 2002 with environmentalist and physicist Fritjof Capra inspired her to move to Devon in 2003 to undertake full time studies in Schumacher’s Masters Degree in Holistic Science. Her masters thesis explored how principles of living systems could inform a more responsible and sustainable design process.

In 2004 Terry joined the faculty at Schumacher  College and taught design thinking. In 2007 she moved to Scotland to undertake PhD studies at the Centre for the Study of Natural Design at the University of Dundee. Her research explored the concept of worldview and mindset as the basis for more sustainable ways of designing.

In 2009 she moved to Pittsburgh to become Head of the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University where she led faculty in a 2-1/2 year redesign to place sustainability at the heart of all programs and curricula. In fall of 2014 the School launched all new programs and introduced Transition Design as an area of doctoral study and as a key strand in both undergraduate and graduate curricula. She is actively engaged in helping other colleges and universities to integrate Transition Design into courses and curricula.

Terry holds an MFA in Design from the Allgemeine Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel, Switzerland and an MSc in Holistic Science from Plymouth University/Schumacher College, England.

Gideon Kossoff, Adjunct Professor, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

Gideon Kossoff is a social ecologist/social theorist whose research focuses on holism and the tradition of anti-authoritarian social and political thinking. He currently teaches Transition Design courses to undergraduates, graduates and Phd students in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University. 

He has been involved in sustainability and green activism for his entire career, and studied at the Institute for Social Ecology in Vermont with its founder, ecophilosopher and social ecologist Murray Bookchin. From 1998 to 2007 Gideon was programme administrator and course tutor for the MSc in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, where he also managed the College library and built its extensive collection of books, and regularly created chaos in the kitchen.

Gideon completed his PhD in design at the Center for the Study of Natural Design at the University of Dundee, Scotland. In his doctoral thesis, he combined a concept he calls ‘radical holism’ with holistic science and began to develop the concept of Transition Design. His doctoral thesis was entitled 'Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life: a Framework for Transition to a Sustainable Society’. It is summarised in the book 'Grow Small, Think Beautiful' edited by Stephan Harding and published by Floris. 

Gideon would like to spend more time doing astrology and delving into the esoteric tradition.

Cameron Tonkinwise, Associate Professor & Director of Design & Doctoral Studies, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

Cameron has a background in philosophy and his doctoral dissertation concerned the educational philosophies of Martin Heidegger. He continues to research what designers can learn from philosophies of making, material culture studies and sociologies of technology. His primary area of research is sustainable design, focusing in particular on the design of systems that lower societal materials intensity, primarily by decoupling use and ownership - in other words, systems of shared use.

Cameron has published a range of articles on the role of design, and in particular, service design, in the promotion of the sharing economy and collaborative consumption. He has extensive experience with practice-based design research, having supervised and examined reflective practice and artifact-based research projects and written about the epistemologies particular to this kind of work.

Cameron was the Associate Dean Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, and before that Co-Chair of the Tishman Environment and Design Center and the Chair of Design Thinking and Sustainability in the School of Design Strategies. He was Director of Design Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney, and executive Director of Change Design, formerly known as the EcoDesign Foundation.

For more detailed information on Transition Design:



If you would like to book onto one of our short courses, you will need to create an account. This is a simple process of choosing a username, email address and password. Once you have created an account you will receive a verification email. Please click on the verification link within to have full access to the site and to make your booking. (You may need to  check your spam folder if you do not see this email.)  We will email you confirmation of your payment and any further communication about your course application.

Residential accommodation for "Changing the Frame"  is at Higher Close, a 20 minute walk from Schumacher College. All meals will be provided at the college.

A place can not be guaranteed unless we receive your deposit or payment on your chosen course. If you would like to apply for a bursary, please do this before making your course application.

Short Course Bursaries create an opportunity for an individual to experience the powerful transformative learning by joining a course that assists the participant to inspire their wider community and benefits from the participant’s own unique contribution. It is our hope that our bursaries support a wide cross section of participation on our short course programme. The number of bursaries available is limited, competition is strong and funding is not always available for every short course. Please be aware that most bursaries are in the region of 10% – 20% of the course fee so please be prepared to raise funding from other sources.  A bursary award is not intended to cover travel or incidental expenses.

Applications are viewed on a case-by-case basis and we are unable to enter into discussions on any decisions. We generally have many more applications for bursaries than we have funding available. We can only offer one bursary per person per year and priority is given to those who have not attended the college or received a bursary before. To help us support as many people as possible, please only apply if you would be unable to attend the course without a bursary.

How to apply for a bursary

NB: Please do not pay your deposit for the course yet. Any applications received where a deposit has been paid will be rejected and the deposit refunded.

Six weeks before the course is due to start all bursary applications will be considered and responded to.  If successful you will be required to accept our Bursary Terms and Conditions.

Please answer the following:

  1. What does a bursary mean to you?
  2. How will your attendance on this course benefit the wider community?
  3. If your financial situation justifies you applying for a bursary, how much are you able to contribute towards attending this course?

Please be prepared to supply an appropriate reference in support of your application.

More about our growing areas and philosophy

We follow ecological cycles as much as possible. Much of the food is grown in the five and half acre agroforestry field – in a system of alley cropping and in the developing forest garden. The field also has fruit trees and bushes; young nut trees; a flock of pasture fed poultry; two wild life ponds, a craft and pollinator garden and a hazel and willow coppice.

Other areas include two herb gardens; four polytunnels; a perennial no dig vegetable garden and several fruit areas. We compost our garden and kitchen waste for use on site, and use green manures for fertility building.

Our students find their time engaging with food growing, and all it entails, a truly transformative time.   Our gardens are as much about nurturing people as plants, and hundreds of students have found the contact with the land and soil to be a rich learning journey.

Integral to the College’s international learning community, you will get to know students, staff and volunteers through daily meetings and shared activities. There is also a diverse programme of events and evening talks, offered by college residents, visiting teachers and local experts.