Skip to main content
The MA Sustainable Design welcomes those who want to direct their existing creative practice towards ambitious and inclusive visions of sustainability.
It focuses on the power of social innovation, systems thinking, and design for service to drive collective sustainable change. This established course will enable you to raise your sustainability literacy, and then design meaningful responses to the challenges of unsustainability that move you the most.
The cohort includes designers of communications, clothing, products, interiors, buildings, services, and digital environments, unified by a commitment to designing sustainability itself. You will also have the chance to collaborate with students on other courses in the Design School.
See what we get up to on the course on our Sustainable Design MA Instagram.
|Full time||1 year||2 days a week||September 2023|
|Full time||2 years including professional placement||2 days a week, plus placement year||September 2023|
|Part time||2 years||Contact the course leader for details||September 2023|
Stand-alone module: Design for Social Innovation.
|Location||Kingston School of Art, Knights Park|
As part of Kingston School of Art, students on this course benefit from joining a creative community where collaborative working and critical practice are encouraged.
Our workshops and studios are open to all disciplines – enabling students and staff to work together, share ideas and explore multi-disciplinary making.
This Sustainable Design MA is directed towards the goal of creating a more sustainable and equitable society. You will explore innovative and practical ways to help realise those visions, emphasising design, creativity, empathy, innovation and activism.
You'll be encouraged to think critically about the social and ecological agendas it addresses. The course is design-based, but not confined to design practice - it includes a significant amount of theoretical and contextual studies. You can choose to write a dissertation for the final major project.
This course is part of the Design School's Postgraduate Framework. The structure, shared with postgraduate students from other design courses, enables you to explore your individual specialist interests within an integrative learning environment.
Throughout the course, you'll understand the value and role of interdisciplinary methods and ways of working. The impact of thinking from related design subjects, on your own specialist study, is an important aspect of the identity and community of interdisciplinary practice at master's level in the Design School.
Design for Social Innovation can also be taken as a stand-alone module.
Design for social innovation is the emerging mode of design practice and theory in which design thinking is applied to social and societal challenges. This module focuses on the development of design-based research skills and capabilities useful for responding to real-world challenges or so-called 'wicked problems'. Emphasis is placed on problem-finding and problem-setting, rather than simply seeking solutions to problems as they are currently expressed.
The aim of the module is to give you an understanding of the design research tools and methods that are available to you, to inform and support the development of your practical study, and to provide the basis of your further study on your course. Practical research methods are explored, with an emphasis on the development of creative and evidence-based approaches to experimentation, and critical reflection on practical design work.
This module explores key principles and perspectives that inform various practices of sustainability, sustainable development and sustainable design, in developed and developing world contexts. It examines the ways in which contemporary and emerging modes of design practice and theory relate to the sustainability agenda.
This module is based on the assumption that the best jobs/careers in the creative industries do not exist – they are invented from individual creative ambitions. The module explores how this can be approached in practical terms. The programme of study encourages you to develop a personal and critical approach to your future career, and how this can inform the development of your individual major project for the Major Project.
The Major Project – the capstone project – consolidates the knowledge gained in earlier modules, and is informed by your prior learning within the Design School's postgraduate interdisciplinary framework and course-specific specialist study.
You will extend your work on the course thus far in the form of a practical design proposal, defining and developing a substantive solution to an individually defined design-related problem. In so doing, you will demonstrate advanced understanding and application of contemporary design practice as it can be brought to bear on a specific challenge of sustainability.
Many postgraduate courses at Kingston University allow students to do a 12-month work placement as part of their course. The responsibility for finding the work placement is with the student; we cannot guarantee the work placement, just the opportunity to undertake it. As the work placement is an assessed part of the course, it is covered by a student's Student Route visa.
Read about our student Katie Sharman's work placement on our blog: she completed a ten-month placement as the Communications and Sustainability Coordinator at Hackney Herbal, a community-focused social enterprise.
Find out more about the postgraduate work placement scheme.
The Professional Placement module is a core module for those students following a masters programme that incorporates professional placement learning, following completion of 120 credits. It provides you with the opportunity to apply your knowledge and skills to an appropriate working environment, and to develop and enhance key employability skills and subject-specific professional skills in your chosen subject. You may wish to use the placement experience as a platform for your subsequent major project module, and would be expected to use it to help inform your decisions about future careers.
Design for social innovation is an emerging mode of design practice gaining popularity and interest within the design professions and more widely, for example in the public sector. Local authorities are increasingly looking to employ designers to redesign public services and to deliver their programmes more effectively.
There is therefore demand for training in design for social innovation. This is a distinguishing feature of the Sustainable Design MA, but there are designers and other practitioners who do not yet wish to embark on a full MA course. This module is for them.
The module will be based around a 'live' project brief, and include sessions with leading practitioners in the field.
"This module will be useful to designers and those who come from the world of frontline social impact services, who want to learn more about innovation and design - and to gain practical experience with which to develop." Mat Hunter (Chief design officer, Design Council)
This is currently a course-specific module within the Sustainable Design MA. It is also available as a credit-bearing stand-alone module, whereby it can be taken without enrolling on the Sustainable Design MA (although the credits could be used subsequently for entry to the course). Students enrolled on the MA and stand-alone modules are part of the same module cohort, participate equally, and have the same module experience.
Please note that this is an indicative list of sessions and is not intended as a definitive list.
This is a 12-week module, beginning in the week of Monday 27 September 2021 (specific day to be confirmed).
The standalone module Design for Social Innovation is charged on a pro-rata basis from the Home full-time MA fee (one sixth).
Please email Paul Micklethwaite with any enquiries about this stand-alone module.
Optional modules only run if there is enough demand. If we have an insufficient number of students interested in an optional module, that module will not be offered for this course.
You'll normally need to have:
All non-UK applicants must meet our English language requirement, which is Academic IELTS of 6.5 overall, with no element below 5.5. Make sure you read our full guidance about English language requirements, which includes details of other qualifications we consider.
Applicants who do not meet the English language requirements could be eligible to join our pre-sessional English language course.
Applicants from a recognised majority English speaking countries (MESCs) do not need to meet these requirements.
You will find more information on country specific entry requirements in the International section of our website.
Find your country:
In addition to a written 300-word personal statement discussing why you have applied for the course, applicants are required to prepare a portfolio of up to 20 pages in landscape format (with A3 dimensions) and saved as a PDF file of maximum size 10MB.
The portfolio should present a range of creative projects completed by the applicant which demonstrate creative thinking and design capabilities. Projects should be included which ask interesting questions about the world around us, particularly in relation to concerns of social and/or environmental sustainability.
Please show how your ideas were developed through research, sketching, experimentation and development, leading to final outcomes. Try to show your thinking as it developed. Indicate the extent to which each project was successful, and its intended audience.
Films or other media, including social media accounts if relevant, can be included as weblinks in the portfolio.
Your portfolio should be personal to you, and reflect your own distinctive design interests and approaches, and your own voice as a creative practitioner. It should not follow a formulaic structure or approach, or look like everyone else's; it should make you stand out as an individual.
Design project work, live projects, research project folders, 5,000-word creative essay, and a major design research project.
When not attending timetabled sessions, you will be expected to continue learning independently through self-study. This typically involves reading and analysing articles, regulations, policy documents and key texts, documenting individual projects, preparing coursework assignments and completing your PEDRs, etc.
Your independent learning is supported by a range of excellent facilities including online resources, the library and CANVAS, the University's online virtual learning platform.
At Kingston University, we know that postgraduate students have particular needs and therefore we have a range of support available to help you during your time here.
Year 1: 15% of your time is spent in timetabled learning and teaching activity.
Contact hours may vary depending on your modules.
Type of learning and teaching
Assessment typically comprises exams (eg test or exam), practical (eg presentations, performance) and coursework (eg essays, reports, self-assessment, portfolios, dissertation). The approximate percentage for how you will be assessed on this course is as follows, though depends to some extent on the optional modules you choose:
Type of assessment
We aim to provide feedback on assessments within 20 working days.
To give you an indication of class sizes, this course normally enrols 20 students and lecture sizes are normally 100 within the Design School Postgraduate Framework. However this can vary by module and academic year.
You will be taught by leading academics and practitioners in sustainable design, social design, social innovation, participatory design, strategic design, service design, design-led innovation, and related topics.
This course is delivered by Kingston School of Art, which has its roots in the studio-based approach of Britain's art school system (the original School of Art was founded in the 1890s).
Today, for most courses, learning still takes place in our specialist studios, each subject area having its own fully-equipped studio, where you take part in classes, tutorials and critical reviews with fellow students. This strong studio culture also ensures regular interaction between students and tutors.
For non studio-based courses, learning takes place in classroom-based seminars, tutorials and lectures, alongside site visits to museums, galleries, auction houses and other creative professional environments.
Our students are encouraged to engage closely with the diverse businesses that make London one of the most important centres for the creative industries. Our industry connections mean we provide unique study opportunities, such as:
Our excellent reputation means that industry leaders regularly visit our student shows to see the best of the new talent.
Postgraduate students may also contribute to the teaching of seminars under the supervision of the module leader.
If you start your second year straight after Year 1, you will pay the same fee for both years.
If you take a break before starting your second year, or if you repeat modules from Year 1 in Year 2, the fee for your second year may increase.
Kingston University offers a range of postgraduate scholarships, including:
If you are an international student, find out more about scholarships and bursaries.
We also offer the following discounts for Kingston University alumni:
Students on this course have gained Chevening scholarships to support their studies. These awards go to outstanding candidates who are pursuing postgraduate course subjects which their home country considers to be important to its future development.
Depending on the programme of study, there may be extra costs that are not covered by tuition fees which students will need to consider when planning their studies. Tuition fees cover the cost of your teaching, assessment and operating University facilities such as the library, access to shared IT equipment and other support services. Accommodation and living costs are not included in our fees.
Where a course has additional expenses, we make every effort to highlight them. These may include optional field trips, materials (e.g. art, design, engineering), security checks such as DBS, uniforms, specialist clothing or professional memberships.
Our libraries are a valuable resource with an extensive collection of books and journals as well as first-class facilities and IT equipment. You may prefer to buy your own copy of key textbooks, this can cost between £50 and £250 per year.
There are open-access networked computers available across the University, plus laptops available to loan. You may find it useful to have your own PC, laptop or tablet which you can use around campus and in halls of residences. Free Wi-Fi is available on each of the campuses. You may wish to purchase your own computer, which can cost £100 to £3,000 depending on your course requirements.
In the majority of cases written coursework can be submitted online. There may be instances when you will be required to submit work in a printed format. Printing, binding and photocopying costs are not included in your tuition fees, this may cost up to £100 per year.
Travel costs are not included in your tuition fees but we do have a free intersite bus service which links the campuses, Surbiton train station, Kingston upon Thames train station, Norbiton train station and halls of residence.
There is a wide range of facilities at our Knights Park campus, where this course is based. Kingston School of Art has recently completed an ambitious programme of investment, making significant improvements to our workshops and other resources, to ensure that students are exposed to as many creative pathways as possible.
The workshops and studios at Knights Park are open for creative exploration and allow opportunities for students and staff to collaborate on projects and share ideas, whether they are studying or researching. There are many adaptable studio and workshop spaces, active breakout spaces and stronger vertical and horizontal connections.
Our ground-breaking facilities include:
The University also has its own on-site galleries, including:
Kingston is just a 30-minute train journey away from central London, where you can access world-famous museums and galleries.
Images from the MA Sustainable Design New Stories showcase held at The Rose Theatre Kingston (photos by Monika Jastrzebska). Work presented included projects on perishable jewellery, urban desire lines, the real value of our public spaces, activating the core economy through co-produced services, and establishing a fibreshed for London.
MA Sustainable Design is ideal for showing how designers need to adapt and respond better to current challenges we face locally and globally. The lectures were exceptional, with a breadth of industry experience led by one of the best course leaders a university could have. We benefited from being taught every pillar of sustainability, and being able to dive deeper into how it all joins up and relates to us personally.
After the course we had an impulse to be part of the change we want to see in the world, applying practical design methods to address the various strands of sustainability, so we set up Climate Labs.
The experience on the course was way over my expectations - meeting like-minded people from such diverse backgrounds was a real eye opener. Being able to collaborate with talented designers from various disciplines helped produce some amazing projects.
As governments, private sector and civil society are now being asked to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the relevance of this course couldn't be greater - inspiring future generations to design better services, products and experiences for the prosperity of people and the planet.
Ahsan Khan - Climate Labs
I can honestly say the Design for Social Innovation stand-alone module was one of the most interesting, sufficiently challenging and thoughtfully delivered courses I've completed, and I've done a fair few.
I wanted to say thank you for sharing your knowledge and providing the opportunity, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I'm finding the tools extremely useful day to day, working with live 'wicked problems.
I'm gaining deeper insight, being disciplined enough to do sufficient iteration and co-designing products to prototype and develop better outcomes.
Carmel Ring (stand-alone module student)
The course was more than what I expected - a professional and personal growth.
It was an intense year where I had the chance to deconstruct the concept I had of sustainability and social innovation, and then rebuilt and re-frame it with a new postmodern perspective.
The course made me skilled with different social design and social research methodologies, ethnographic methods, service design tools, human centred and participatory design approaches, as well as developing sustainability literacy. It really helped me to understand my role as a designer, and what I can offer.
Nowadays I am working as a Social and Service Designer for SocialFare, the Centre of Social Innovation based in Torino, Italy.
During the course, me and my classmates often discussed the right name for our future job position. We identified ‘social and local designer'. The Sustainable Design MA showed me the right path to follow in order to bear that title.
Giuliana Gheza, Social and Service Designer for SocialFare
For me, the course was an ideal combination of practical research methods and theory, of innovation and design, all with a continuous focus on sustainability.
Being on the course broadened my horizons, and gave me the confidence and a setting from which to explore topics I wouldn't have otherwise considered.
For my masters major project, I investigated streets as public spaces in a suburban setting (specifically, Surbiton), and how participatory design could contribute to the creation of such places.
Ultimately, the course led me to my current role, which I wouldn't have considered, or have had the right skillset for, before doing the course.
Saskia Baard, Innovation Unit
The Sustainable Design course at Kingston changed the way I design for good.
The way sustainability is addressed in this course is holistic and goes far beyond the lecture slides and usual green clichés. Students reflect on different ways in which they can contribute to tackling the biggest problem of our time - enhancing the well-being of people whilst protecting the environment, in a positive and thoughtful way.
The course leader took the class on a journey of deep reflection and learning, prompting passionate debates, for which we needed to read, research a lot and, of course, also design. My fellow students were also professionals with thriving creative careers, which contributed to a very fruitful environment for collaboration.
I now work in social housing within a major housing association, contributing to the creation of safe and sustainable communities.
Maria Fernandez, Optivo Housing, Research & Innovation team
Something else that I highly valued, was the presence of the 'stand-alone-module-students'. They brought in a completely new perspective as they were working in the professional field. I was not familiar with this context, and would therefore not have been able to see things from this angle without them. I hope the insight this gave me allows me to see things from this angle in the future too.
Cindy van Rees (MA student)
Prior to the course, I felt like I was not qualified to solve social challenges or had the skills in doing so. However, due to the fact that all the peers are from different backgrounds in terms of culture and industry it made the learning richer. This has resulted in developing my inner confidence where I feel I could use my skills to help drive social change after studying this course. The course format complements the way I learn particularly with the peer-learning and tutor facilitating with workshops and to get you to think of topics in different angles.
Rachel Liu (stand-alone module student)
A big thank you for delivering such an interesting and thought-provoking module. I am keen to study this area further in some way and so will be investigating various routes. It was also such pleasure to be among such a diverse cohort and I really look forward to seeing the other MA students' presentations later in the year.
Madeleine Rogers (stand-alone module student)
The double diamond process for design has not only thrown out a service which could be developed into a sustainable social franchise, but has taught me an awful lot about how to solve 'wicked' social problems and how to innovate within a structure.
I have no formal design experience and in the beginning had no context in which to sit this process on. It has felt like a steep learning curve, but one which cannot be undone. When talking to clients (schools), I now visualise the process and the stakeholder journey - ensuring the person really is at the heart of solving the problem, rather than just throwing out another idea because we 'think' it is right and it might stick.
Anna Bateman (stand-alone module student)
The course incorporates collaboration with partners such as Design Council, Futerra, Active Minds.
You'll also benefit from:
Previous students have worked with many organisations involved in furthering societal sustainability, including:
A distinctive advantage of this programme is connecting with people with a shared purpose - fellow students, tutors and teaching guests, and organisations you collaborate with on a project.
The information on this page reflects the currently intended course structure and module details. To improve your student experience and the quality of your degree, we may review and change the material information of this course. Course changes explained.
Programme Specifications for the course are published ahead of each academic year.
Regulations governing this course can be found on our website.