Design Routes aims to explore how design can make a meaningful contribution in developing and revitalising culturally significant designs, products and practices to make them relevant to the needs of people today. The research considers designs and products that are linked to particular places, employ traditional making processes or are embedded in local ways of life.

Many culturally significant designs, products and practices can be seen to be out of step with contemporary society and as a result have become marginalised. Increasingly such traditions are being reassessed and revitalised as their rich historical links with community and culture mean they have much to offer in terms of identity, wellbeing and environmental stewardship.

We are exploring the links that people see between products and place – their roots, and the fact that these links change over time – their routes.

Aim and scope

The aim of this research is to develop a framework for the development and revitalisation of culturally significant designs, products and practices – including those which are linked to particular communities through making tradition and a sense of place.

Our focus is on creating effective design strategies which are capable of supporting the provenance, heritage and meaning of particular products, while enhancing their relevance and viability in contemporary society.

Culturally significant designs, products and practices can be found in every society and country, and therefore we are reviewing this topic by examining examples from the UK and across the world. We are interested in a broad range of product types, with a particular focus on 3D and product design, textiles and fashion.


  • In the first phase of the project, we are studying a range of designs, products and practices which are linked to particular places and communities, in order to understand their common characteristics and the factors which affect their long-term survival or decline and the parameters of cultural significance.
  • By analysing examples of culturally significant designs, products and practices that have been revitalised, we will develop a taxonomy which identifies and maps out the many ways in which design can contribute to such projects, and the issues which should be considered.
  • Building on the knowledge gained from the earlier work, we will develop a framework that is intended to facilitate the planning, investigation, conceptualisation and processing of culturally significant design development, and that can be applied in a range of contexts.
  • Having developed the framework, we will then test it through a number of propositional design initiatives which will explore developing and revitalising specific designs, products and practices that have the potential to become culturally significant today. Through these initiatives, we will iteratively refine, improve and evaluate the framework.
  • In the final phase of the project we will consult widely in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the framework and the design interventions we have undertaken, leading to a final round of development, refinement and testing of the framework and design strategies.