About Transition Design

Fundamental change at every level of our society is needed to address the issues confronting us in the 21st century. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, depletion of natural resources and the widening gap between rich and poor are just a few of the ‘wicked problems’ that require new approaches to problem solving.

Transition Design acknowledges that we are living in ‘transitional times’. It takes as its central premise the need for societal transitions to more sustainable futures and argues that design has a key role to play in these transitions. It applies an understanding of the interconnectedness of social, economic, political and natural systems to address problems at all levels of spatiotemporal scale in ways that improve quality of life. Transition Design advocates the reconception of entire lifestyles, with the aim of making them more place-based, convivial and participatory and harmonizing them with the natural environment. Transition Design focuses on the need for ‘cosmopolitan localism’, (Manzini 2009; Sachs 1999) a lifestyle that is place-based and regional, yet global in its awareness and exchange of information and technology.

The transition to sustainable futures calls for new ways of designing that are based upon a deep understanding of how to design for change and transition within complex systems (Irwin 2011). This knowledge and the new skill sets it will inform must be integrated from areas such as science, philosophy, psychology, social science, anthropology and the humanities and will therefore challenge existing design paradigms. Transition Design is conceived as a new area for design education, practice and research and is presented here as a proposal and invitation for further discussion and debate among educators, practitioners and researchers.


Irwin, Terry. 2011. “Design for a Sustainable Future,” 2: 41–60. In Hershauer, Basile, and McNall (eds), The Business of Sustainability. Santa Barbara: Praeger.

Manzini, Ezio. 2009. “A Cosmopolitan Localism: Prospects for a Sustainable Local Development and the Possible Role of Design”. In Hazel Clark and David Brody (eds), Design Studies: A Reader, p. 448. New York: Berg.

Sachs, Wolfgang. 1999. Planet Dialectics: Exploration in Environment and Development. pp. 105-107. London: Zed Books Ltd.