Taught course (will run subject to approval)

Ecological Design Thinking

Schumacher College · Schumacher College

Entry requirements

Students will normally possess a first degree in design or the natural or social sciences, or equivalent professional experience. As places are limited we will select candidates who we think will benefit most from the programme, and who will actively pursue transformative practice. In addition to considering individual candidates according to these criteria, the prospective MA, PG Diploma and PG Certificate group will be considered as a whole, for which we strive to create a balance of interest, gender and background.

Months of entry

January, September

Course content

MA, PG Dip, PG Cert

A world that is facing unprecedented challenges needs radical new approaches to the way that we think about and apply design. This is a ground-breaking new postgraduate programme from Schumacher College, developed with the School of Architecture, Design and Environment at Plymouth University, with input from the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University. It offers a new framework for ecological design that is fit for the many challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.

Ecological Design Thinking

This postgraduate programme in Ecological Design Thinking will help to create a global network of design educators and practitioners able to respond to pressing economic, social and ecological challenges. It will enable students to play an active and transformative role in communities as we meet the challenge of transitioning to low carbon, high well-being and resilient places and systems. Never has there been a more important time for a new approach to design.

The programme is rooted in an exploration of ecosystem dynamics, trends and behaviour, and socio-cultural systems and dynamics. It will focus on the design of the built environment and the connected ecological and social systems and services, but students will also be encouraged to apply lessons from nature to the design of all of our systems – political, economic, educational and sociocultural. Together, we will explore how trans-disciplinary, collaborative teams can solve complex problems, and how using approaches from nature to shape all of our relationships might help us to create healthy, durable, resilient, just, and prosperous communities. Students will experiment with new ways of working first in studio where they will apply the principles of Ecological Design, and then through a series of short placements with partner organisations. They will be introduced to facilitation and participation techniques, and will be involved in the co-production of both the design, and the full lifecycle of projects. There will be a particular focus in the studio sessions on the design of settlements and the connected ecological and social systems and services. Taught elements will include input from leaders in the fields of ecological design, ecology, climate change, new economics and social change from around the world. This programme is the fourth postgraduate programme to be developed at Schumacher College and will contribute to and enhance the ongoing collaborative inquiry into sustainable living with faculty and students within the learning community.

Who is this course for?

We are 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 huge importance to all of our futures. You do not necessarily need a first degree in design to apply for this course, we also encourage applications from community practitioners and activists as well as planners, architects and those working in policy. We will ask for a portfolio in support of your application which can be a design portfolio, or a portfolio of project work. 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 practice in this area. Schumacher College welcomes students from all over the world in its diverse mix of cultural experience and age that allows for rich peer to peer learning.

What will you learn?

  • You will explore the relationship between ecological design thinking and the related disciplines of economics and ecology and their application to design;
  • The foundation of an ecological world view (ecology, deep ecology, systems thinking, complexity science, Gaia theory) and the application of living systems principles to the design of systems, objects and places;
  • How to critique the neoclassical economic model from alternative schools of thought and its application to the design of systems, objects and places;
  • How to evaluate the relationship between the environment and built form, behaviour, well-being and resource consumption using both research evidence and case studies;
  • You will develop personal and group enquiry practices to raise awareness of the interdependent relationship between the individual, society and nature and between theory, experience and practice;
  • You will develop and enhance design, communication, facilitation and charrette skills in support of communities of place and interest You will make use of a range of tools, methods and facilitation practices including co-production as a lifetime approach to project delivery;
  • You will co-create 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 apply these both in studio, and in short placements on live projects;
  • You will also carry out an independent design or research project.

Special Features

  • A design programme rooted in deep ecological understanding and practice and informed by cutting edge thinking in new economic approaches and social dynamics.
  • Access to some of the world’ leading thinkers and practitioner in Design, Gaia Theory, complexity theory, climate science, systems thinking, new economics and social change.
  • Short practical placements with a range of partner organisations including the Transition Town Network, the Atmos project, and the REconomy project.
  • An immersive, holistic and truly transformational teaching and learning approach within a living and working community on the edge of the Dartington Estate in Devon.

Where you will go?

This programme aims to create a new generation of designers, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, 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

Professor Seaton Baxter

Professor Seaton Baxter is a leading figure in ecological design and received his OBE for his services to the Scottish environment. Founder of the ‘Centre for the Study of Natural Design’ at the University of Dundee he has successfully supervised a wide range of masters and doctoral students many of whom have gone onto to make significant contributions across the ecological design field. Seaton established his name as a leading thinker and practitioner on the design of agricultural buildings and facilities for animal welfare, waste management and low carbon systems. He has a long standing interest in building conservation and rurality.

Dr Simon Bradbury, Plymouth University School of Architecture, Design & Environment

Simon is a Lecturer in Architecture at Plymouth University and on the management group of the Institute of Sustainable Solutions Research. He runs the Master of Architecture 1st year course, co-ordinates sustainable design across the department. He has a background in both industry and Government. In Government he worked at the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) where he was responsible for the commissioning of research to influence changes in policy on issues including sustainable masterplanning, housing and the value of good design. He also was instrumental in developing CABE’s policy and strategy on housing standards and has given numerous lectures across the UK on the issue. He is a registered Architect with over 10 years experience and has worked for internationally recognised Architecture and Urban Design practices. He was responsible for the design of a number of award winning projects ranging in scale from large masterplanning projects to individual houses for government, third sector and private clients.

Mona Nasseri

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, development co-ordinator, MA Ecological Design Thinking

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.’

A number of visiting teachers will be joining us throughout the year.

These will include:

  • Ezio Manzini
  • Terry Irwin
  • Fraser Bruce
  • Rob Hopkins

Partner institutions

School of Architecture, Design and Environment, Plymouth University http://www1.plymouth.ac.uk/schools/ade/Pages/default.aspx

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: http://design.cmu.edu/

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.

Transition Network http://www.transitionnetwork.org/

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

For full programme details please go here:https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/courses/postgraduate-courses/ecological-design-thinking/ecological-design-thinking-programme-structure

Download our Student Handbook here: https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/downloads/student-handbook-2015-2016.pdf

Download our Ecological Design Thinking handbook here (our 2015/16 handbook is currently in print and will be available soon): https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/sites/default/files/Download%20Files/003-EDT-handbook-2014-15-WEB%20VERSION.pdf

Admission details, fees and term dates can be found here:https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/courses/postgraduate-courses

Information for international students

Students must be able to converse and write fluently in English. All applicants who do not hold a GCSE (Grade C or above) in English Language, must provide evidence of their English language ability in the form of a professional English qualification to the correct level https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/courses/postgraduate-courses/language-requirements

Fees and funding

Tuition Fee Bursaries are available at the College. Please go here for further details: https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/courses/postgraduate-courses/schumacher-college-postgraduate-bursary-fund

Qualification and course duration


full time
12 months


full time
8 months


full time
4 months


AssessmentWhat kind of work will I be doing? (proportionally)
Written coursework / continuous assessment120

Course contact details

+44 (0)1803 847212
+44 (0)1803 866899