Blog post

Shedding light on Design for Planet

By Dr Rhiannon Jones (FRSA) - 5 November 2021

From 9-10 November, the Design Council, UK, is hosting a landmark event bringing together experts in the sector leading on sustainability and climate action. It will galvanise and support the global design community to address the climate emergency. Dr Rhiannon Jones, Researcher at the University of Derby, will speak at the Design for Planet event, which will champion design as a powerful agent of change – featuring talks, practical sessions and design tools that will help all kinds of designers address the biggest challenge of our time. Here, she explains more.

Dundee was named the UK's first (and remains the only) UNESCO City of Design. So, rather appropriate then, for Dundee to host Design for Planet at the V&A - The World's Leading Museum of Art And Design. The presentations will be delivered to an audience of 100 VIPs and broadcast live to a global design community of 1.69 million, across two days where 42 experts will talk.

I was invited by the Design Council, UK, to speak on the theme of Co-design with Community and my research on designing dialogue as a learning and research innovation model. The research focuses on developing ways to design with, and not on behalf of others through an artistic research methodology that engages S.H.E.D as a reconfigurable and touring site specific installation.

What is S.H.E.D?

S.H.E.D explores creative place-making as a methodology to address civic, societal and economic issues through the design of a unique site for public discourse. It does this by creating innovation projects that embed teaching and learning opportunities through research. This is manifested through codesigning bespoke S.H.E.D environments for performative, sporting, cultural and artistic engagement; and achieved in partnership with students, stakeholders, local authorities, policy makers, academics and the business sector.

The artistic research project, Protest S.H.E.D, is a three year collaborative project (2020-2023), with the National Justice Museum. In August 2021 for 16 days, 2,547 people engaged with a wide range of public workshops, film screenings, panel debates and performances by artists, students, academics and the public. I worked closely with Victoria Barker and Sarah Webb, fellow S.H.E.D Directors, and Ollie Smith, artist and co-producer for Protest S.H.E.D. Together, we worked with Designer and programmer leader for Interior Design at the University, Barend Slabbert, along with Level 2 BA Students, who had designed aspects of the installation.

The research highlights the benefits of temporal installations as cultural and consultation spaces for stakeholders, public and policy-makers to engage directly with each other through creative place-making. Protest S.H.E.D provided a unique space for essential creative skills to develop, resulting in social mobility and widening access to the arts.

We found that 1 in 4 were new audience goers to the museum and 2 out of 4 were engaging with S.H.E.D for the first time. Conducting activities in the public domain, extending a venues footprint, reaching out beyond the museum or gallery walls, was an enriching way for the public to engage with the museum environment and to be able to share their views and offer solutions on urgent matters such as climate change.

S.H.E.D does not offer the final word on a subject or theme, but rather it provokes social, cultural and political discourse in order to address matters of urgency.  S.H.E.D is “a place of commitment, controversy, honesty, and campaigning” (Fleming 2007). The work, generated by people aged 5 – 78  from across Nottingham provided a stark reminder that we are caretakers of the planet, and that we have to be the instigators for change.

Ezio Manzini, a design academic, asked how can we create the conditions in which those communities can sustainably develop, innovate and thrive within the social, economic, environmental and cultural challenges of the 21st century? S.H.E.D attends to this, by integrating opportunities with the city and its partners, and acting as a springboard to profile people and place and create networks for individuals to connect with others.

A survey engaging more than 1,000 participants, demonstrated the overwhelming public response to wanting to have a space to call for action on key issues – such as climate change. As a researcher, S.H.E.D is my vehicle to instigate conversations with the public that are urgent and necessary for the future care of our planet and for society. The site of S.H.E.D, in turn, becomes a place where place is defined and brought into existence through its dialogic process of cocreation underpinned by the practitioner and community-placed research.

Having a safe place to talk and the importance of cultural and social spaces to an individual are often underestimated. I have witnessed first-hand how inviting people to a space has empowered individuals and brought people together. To this end, S.H.E.D responds to the need for creating a space for civic dialogue and social cohesion in relation to issues such as climate change, through an artistic, design led process to address how we can utilise design for sustainable and creative place-making.

group of adults at the SHED sat in a circle talking
Photo Credit: Ollie Smith, Panel Discussion at Protest S.H.E.D National Justice Museum, 2021

It was evident that our working methodology was increasing individual’s pathway to learning. By creating a diverse programme of activity with Ollie, individuals felt that they have an important part to play in civic culture.

“It was a privilege to be a part of S.H.E.D’s panel discussing such important subjects. Young people are the future and now, as much as ever, it’s vitally important to ensure that they feel heard and that their opinions matter. S.H.E.D is a truly fantastic project and would urge everyone to take the time to learn about the invaluable work that Rhiannon and the rest of the team are doing.” - Sam Crawford, Head of Business Development at Notts County Foundation.

The work of Protest S.H.E.D supported individuals to debate; their voice mattered and directly fed into future ideas for exhibitions at the Museum and the thinking of sport, cultural and local authority stakeholders. To this end, and, as Manzini describes, the use of expert design processes can trigger and support meaningful social change.

S.H.E.D is an incubation space, a hub of activity and action. Whether situated in a theatre car park, school playground, festival, city centre market place, outside a Cathedral or the courtyard of the National Justice Museum in Nottingham, we extend the possibilities of how different lived experiences can redefine how we think about the role of place, and opened up discourse about the future ways of working and learning.

protest placards
Protest S.H.E.D Installation and Placard Making workshop, National Justice Museum, 2021

Next stop: Design for Planet

S.H.E.D will be installed at the VandA for Design for Planet. It will showcase the research findings and works from participants on a range of themes that use design to facilitate the creation of a bespoke, safe space for dialogue to occur about climate crisis.

We are leading workshops in partnership with the VandA and have invited school children from Dundee to come to work with S.H.E.D designers and artists to create placards and potting seeds with messages of hope, change and calls for action. These artworks will be instantly installed at S.H.E.D  for public and Design Council Summit VIPS to engage with.

As creatives, we have the power to change the world for the better. Fundamental to the way S.H.E.D operates is that it is a blended and non-hierarchical approach where young people, stakeholders, public and policy writers, corporates, world leaders, or our students feel they can be a part of a public facing message about climate change. This is our call for action through a sustainable, green and creative approach to research and learning.

This is why Design for Planet provides a critical moment to pledge action to work with a common purpose and that is echoed here in Derby, as a Civic University. S.H.E.D has worked with researchers and stakeholders to galvanise on its civic and social responsibility, as a university spin out company, to provide a unique opportunity for people to talk about what matters to them. And the research activity, undoubtedly, unearthed the desire from the public to bring change on many urgent matters; not least climate change.

Interested in becoming a shedder? Contact or email

S.H.E.D is brought to you by Designing Dialogue CIC, the first spin out company from University of Derby.

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About the author

Rhiannon wearing a silver blazer, looking upwards.

Dr Rhiannon Jones (FRSA)
Associate Professor (Civic Practice)

Dr Rhiannon Jones is a  thought leader in Social and Design innovation and Associate Professor (Civic). She leads the Civic Lab Research Group and is a member of Pedagogic Innovation Enhancement and Research (PIER) team within the Provost of Learning and Teaching. She is the CEO of S.H.E.D and chair of Cumulus: International Contemporary Working Art Group.

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