Symposium Auditorium

Questions of Scale: Economy and Ecology

Join our first Future Observatory symposium, where designers, academics and economists will explore the metrics of scale and success in design and their impact on our environment. Hosted in conjunction with the exhibition Waste Age: What Can Design Do?

What to expect

The first Future Observatory symposium will focus on design research that challenges our understanding of scale. From the laboratory to the bioregional, the local to the planetary, it will enquire whether there are appropriate and inappropriate scales of production.

When it comes to innovation in design, success is often measured by scale. The perennial question is: how to scale up? Impact is counted in millions of units or the percentage of market share. But what if scale is a problematic metric? What if more is not necessarily better? Indeed, what if many of the environmental challenges we face are the result of processes and materials deployed at too large a scale?

This half-day event will bring together designers, researchers, policy-makers and business people to explore the measures of success. What do we mean by local? Are there natural limits of growth beyond which ecosystems or human networks suffer? And are myriad small-scale solutions superior to standardised, globalised ones?

Speakers include Andrea Trimarchi (Formafantasma), Andrew Waugh (Waugh Thistleton Architects), Christian Benimana (MASS Design Group), Helen Gordon (author of Notes on Deep Time), Hettie O’Brien (the Guardian), Jan Boelen (Atelier Luma), Nirav Patel (Framework), Rebecca Earley (Centre for Circular Design), Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez (Notpla), Stephanie Sherman (Central Saint Martins) and Summer Islam (Material Cultures). Some guests will join remotely via video.

The symposium will be held in the Design Museum’s main auditorium with a bespoke stage set designed by Material Cultures, commissioned to respond to the Questions of Scale symposium. Tickets will include access to the exhibition Waste Age: What can design do? before and after the symposium (from 10.00 - 18.00).

Book online

Booking information

Adult: £14

Student/Concession: £12

Members: Free

The symposium will be hosted at the Design Museum's main auditorium.

Your event ticket will give you access to the exhibition Waste Age: What can design do? from 10.00 - 18.00 on the same day.


Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, Formafantasma

Formafantasma is a research-based design studio investigating the ecological, historical, political and social forces shaping the discipline of design today. Italians Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin founded the studio in 2009 and their aim is to facilitate a deeper understanding of both our natural and built environments and to propose transformative interventions through design and its material, technical, social, and discursive possibilities.

Andrew Waugh, Waugh Thistleton Architects

Andrew is a Founding Director of Waugh Thistleton Architects, a practice dedicated to delivering buildings and places of the highest architectural quality that acknowledge their impact on the environment. A pivotal player in the global shift towards renewable, bio-based materials, Andrew’s innovative approach to design has been acknowledged by a RIBA President’s Award for Research and a Stirling Prize nomination in 2018 for Bushey Cemetery.

Christian Benimana, MASS Design Group.

Christian Benimana is a Senior Principal and Managing Directors of MASS Design Group, and is Director of the African Design Centre, a field-based apprenticeship set to empower leaders to design a more equitable, just, and sustainable world. Benimana has been listed among 10 architects and designers that are championing Afrofuturism and has taught at the Architecture School of the former Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.

Helen Gordon, Author: Notes from Deep Time

Helen Gordon’s books include Notes from Deep Time (Profile), Landfall (Penguin) and, with Travis Elborough, Being a Writer (Frances Lincoln). She has written about nature, science, clothes and books for various newspapers and magazines including the Economist’s 1843 magazine, the Guardian and Wired UK. A former Granta magazine editor, she currently teaches creative writing at the University of Hertfordshire.

Hettie O’Brien, the Guardian

Hettie O’Brien is opinion editor at the Guardian and was previously a writer and editor at the New Statesman. Her reporting has been published in the Guardian, the New Statesman, Times Literary Supplement and elsewhere. Previously, Hettie worked as a reporter in Washington D.C. covering the federal trade commission and as a researcher at Rethinking Economics.

Jan Boelen, Atelier Luma

Jan Boelen is a curator of design, architecture, and contemporary art. He is rector at the Karlsruhe University of Art and Design (HfG) and artistic director of Atelier LUMA, an experimental laboratory for design in Arles, France. Boelen is the founder and former artistic director of Z33 – House for contemporary art in Hasselt, Belgium. He was curator of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial in Istanbul (2018) and initiated Manifesta 9 in Belgium (2012).

Nirav Patel, Framework

Nirav Patel is Founder and CEO of Framework. Before starting Framework, he was part of the founding team of Oculus and led the hardware team through the first few years of growth and a handful of excellent VR headsets. He left Oculus (and Facebook) in 2019 to fix the broken, inefficient, and wasteful consumer electronics industry by building products that are designed to be upgradeable, customizable, and repairable.

Rebecca Earley, Centre for Circular Design

Rebecca is an award-winning designer and Professor of Sustainable Fashion Textile Design at the UAL. She is based at Chelsea College of Arts where she is Co-Founder and Director of Centre for Circular Design (CCD). Rebecca's practice and research encompass making materials and prototypes, exhibition curation and writing.

Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, Notpla

Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez is a Designer, Architect, and Inventor. He is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Notpla, a London based start-up with the goal of making packaging disappear. Currently, he is a senior lecturer of Product and Furniture Design at Kingston University and a visiting tutor at Imperial College and Royal College of Art. Rodrigo received his architectural degree from the ETSAM, Technical University of Madrid, and studied at Umeå Institute of Design, Imperial College of London and Royal College of Art.

Stephanie Sherman, Central Saint Martins

Stephanie Sherman is a design director, strategist, producer, and writer. Working across urbanism, technology, and culture, her projects repurpose outmoded systems as collaborative platforms. She currently directs the MA Narrative Environments at Central Saint Martins, collaborates with Autonomy (a think tank on the future of work), and produces marathon radio broadcasts with

Summer Islam, Material Cultures

Summer Islam AADipl (hons) ARB is a founding Director of Material Cultures. She has extensive experience of leading prominent cultural and community projects from inception to completion. Her work is focussed on the holistic integration of construction technologies and design. Summer co-runs 'Construction in Detail' in the Spatial Studies department at the University of the Arts London.

Future Observatory

The museum's new research unit focusing on the net zero agenda and related environmental issues.

In collaboration with AHRC

Future Observatory is coordinated by the Design Museum in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) which is part of UK Research and Innovation, funding independent researchers in a wide range of subjects from history and archaeology to philosophy and languages, design and effectiveness of digital content and the impact of artificial intelligence.

Related exhibition

Waste Age: What can design do?

We are living in the age of waste. Is design the answer to leaving our throwaway culture behind?

Background image by David Lineton, courtesy of Notpla.