Brave New Alps

Mapping Eco-Social Design

Since 2016

Mapping Eco-Social Design is a research project funded by the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and developed in collaboration with Leeds Arts University.


We understand eco-social design as a diverse set of design practices and projects that want to contribute to a much needed transformation of the relations among humans and between humans and nature, in order to move towards more sustainable, non-alienated, resilient, just and equitable futures — both locally and trans-locally.


What tactics, tools and modes of organising can eco-social designers mobilise, in order to substantially and sustainably develop their rapidly growing and diversifying field of practice?

How do eco-social practitioners sustain their practice over time, resisting the pressures of the highly competitive and precarising creative industries? What are the enabling elements and structures supporting change-oriented design projects as well as long-term practices? What actors are at play?

Can elements of these new modes of practising design be reproduced and adopted/adapted by others? What are the potentials and risks involved in this?

What are the values and value-practices that current change-oriented design practices embody and reproduce — both in what they do and how they do it?

How do eco-social designers operating in the so-called minority world deal with and address the contradictions emerging from wanting to develop a sound, socially and politically engaged design practice, while living in socio-geographic contexts that encourage and demand high levels of consumption and that rely on socially and ecologically detrimental habits and infrastructures?

What is the relationship between change-oriented design and other disciplines, and how is this relationship functional in dealing with the complexity this kind of design involves?

What are the roles and responsibilities of design education in supporting and developing design for progressive eco-social transformations?


Mapping Eco-Social Design (MESD) is a research project that sets out to investigate what drives, enables and supports contemporary eco-social design and design practices operating predominantly in the minority world.

By taking a peek behind the scenes of a representative selection of practices drawn from the expanded field of design, MESD aims to identify, describe and circulate strategies and tactics that are — and can be — adopted by designers who are working towards progressive eco-social change. Specific design outputs are taken as a point of departure — in a way as a vector — to research and uncover what circumstances, actors, values and methods brought it into existence.

The main tools for disseminating the knowledge co-produced throughout this research will be a website, a series of public seminars and a book featuring a variety of case studies and essays around design and social change. The outputs of the research wish to address mainly designers who are about to conclude their studies, recent graduates seeking points of orientation for their profession, and design educators.

MESD is developed in light of the newly established MA in Eco-Social Design at the Faculty of Design and Art of the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and the Sustainability Champions initiative at Leeds Arts University. This research project will interact with project-oriented teaching, and produce timely and practicable knowledge for eco-social design practices.