Featured Author: Stuart Walker

Stuart Walker is our latest Routledge Featured Author. Read our interview to discover more about his recent book, Design for Life: Creating Meaning in a Distracted World.

"Design for sustainability is not about technology, it’s about human values, purpose and meaning-making... It needs to make us think."


Stuart Walker is Professor of Design for Sustainability at Lancaster University, UK, where he co-founded and was co-director of a new design department and dedicated design research centre, ImaginationLancaster. He is also a Visiting Professor at Kingston University, London, and Emeritus Professor at University of Calgary, Canada.

His distinctive practice-based research explores the environmental, social and spiritual aspects of design for sustainability. His conceptual designs have been exhibited in Canada, Australia, Italy and the UK, including a sole-authored show at the Design Museum, London. Recently, he mounted the first ever design exhibition at Brantwood in the English Lake District - the home of 19th-century design critic and social commentator John Ruskin.

His books include: Sustainable by Design: Enabling Solutions for Sustainable Living (with Ezio Manzini and Barry Wylant); The Spirit of Design: Objects, Environment and Meaning; The Handbook of Design for Sustainability (ed., with Jacques Giard and Helen Walker), and Designing Sustainability: Making radical changes in a material world. His latest books are Design for Life: creating meaning in a distracted world, published by Routledge in Spring 2017, and Design Roots: local products and practices in a globalized world (ed. with Martyn Evans et al.) published by Bloomsbury in 2018.

His design work has been described as life-changing, inspiring, disturbing and ferocious. To develop his ideas and his conceptual design objects, he draws on an extraordinarily diverse range of sources and he recognizes that innovative ways of thinking are substantively informed by the routines and disciplines inherent to creative practice. Through a combination of scholarly research, writing and creative practice, his work penetrates to the heart of modern culture and the malaise that underlies today’s moral and environmental crises. He argues that this malaise is deep-seated and fundamental to the modern outlook. He shows how our preoccupation with technological progress, growth and the future has produced a highly constricted view of life that is, at once, destructive and self-reinforcing.

Drawing on his substantial experience, which spans industry and academia, as well as his award-winning scholarship and creative practice, he demonstrates the vital importance of solitude, contemplation, inner growth and the present moment in developing a different course – one that looks squarely at our current, precarious situation while offering a positive, hopeful way forward – one that is compassionate, context-based, human-scale, ethically motivated and critically creative.

In contrast to the many negative stories in the news these days about environmental destruction and social inequity, design, along with the other arts, offers a positive, creative means to demonstrate a very different path, one that challenges our assumptions, questions our conventions and undermine our complacencies. The arts can do this in ways that are powerful and compelling. They can offer a sense of optimism through the use of imagination, argument, humour, irony and metaphor.

Creative people - and in one way or another we are all creative - if well-informed about the issues facing us today, can use creativity in new ways. We can break out of disciplinary assumptions to confront the issues from fresh perspectives, to show how we can make a world that is significantly different from the consumption-based, superficial and dissatisfying one to which we have become so accustomed. Creative pursuits can enable us to see the world differently, to see it anew, to appreciate it again.

Design for sustainability is not about technology, it’s about human values, purpose and meaning-making. To explore these themes, design does not have to be practical or commercial. It needs to make us think.

I don’t know if I can offer any advice - one has to find one’s own particular path. In my own work I have always tried to follow my passion and my heart. When writing a book, one lives with it for a long time - if you are passionate about it, if it comes from the heart, I think this will come across in the writing. Many academic books are often knowledgeable and sometimes erudite, but they are too often rather dispassionate, and consequently can seem quite sterile and detached. 

I’m working on a number of research projects that centre on traditional knowledge and creative practices - we have much to learn from these kinds of endeavors because they often go back centuries and result from intergenerational knowledge and practices that are extraordinarily well-attuned to people, place and planet. I am also writing my next book - which is taking a quite different form from my earlier works. I’m very excited about this new direction.

Routledge Books by Stuart Walker

  • Design for Life

    Creating Meaning in a Distracted World

    By Stuart Walker

    Stuart Walker’s design work has been described as life-changing, inspiring, disturbing and ferocious. Drawing on an extraordinarily diverse range of sources and informed by creative practice, Design for Life penetrates to the heart of modern culture and the malaise that underlies today’s moral…

    Paperback – 2017-04-04
    Routledge

  • Designing Sustainability

    Making radical changes in a material world

    By Stuart Walker

    What is the relationship between design, sustainability, inner values and spirituality? How can we create designs that provide a convincing alternative to unsustainable interpretations of progress, growth, consumerism and commercialism? Building on the arguments first advanced in his widely…

    Paperback – 2014-05-15
    Routledge

  • The Spirit of Design

    Objects, Environment and Meaning

    By Stuart Walker

    Imaginative design will be a crucial factor in enacting sustainability in people's daily lives. Yet current design practice is trapped in consumerist cycles of innovation and production, making it difficult to imagine how we might develop a more meaningful and sustainable rendition of material…

    Hardback – 2011-07-25
    Routledge

  • Sustainable by Design

    Explorations in Theory and Practice

    By Stuart Walker

    To advance the subject of design one has to engage in the activity of designing. Sustainable by Design offers a compelling and innovative, design-centred approach that explores both the meaning and practice of sustainable design. Walker explores the design process in the context of sustainability,…

    Paperback – 2006-09-01
    Routledge

Access Free Chapter

Click on the image below to access a free chapter of Stuart Walker's recent book, Design for Life: Creating Meaning in a Distracted World.

Design for Life: Creating Meaning in a Distracted World (Paperback) book cover

More from Stuart Walker Online

Radical Design for Sustainability: Professor Stuart Walker at TEDx Birmingham.

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The Tell-tale Notch by Stuart Walker: An audio-visual presentation to accompany the DESIGN FOR LIFE exhibition at Brantwood, Cumbria in 2016.

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Confession by Stuart Walker: a short dramatic film inspired by the piece of the same name featured as Figure 3.14 in Chapter 3 of Design for Life.

Watch the video