Laura is a design scholar, educator and activist. She specialises in sociocultural, aesthetic and political aspects of design, with a focus on meaning innovation, sustainability and social change.
After gaining a BA in Visual Communication Design and an MA in Branding and Strategic Design, Laura developed a wide range of skills and experience in brand strategy, design innovation, cultural research and trend forecasting. She worked with a diversity of clients in the corporate sector (finance, consumer goods and fashion) as well as charities and small start-ups, including Ogilvy One, Wolff Olins, AB InBev, Ernst & Young, Nike, ITV, Manchester United, Santander Group, Oxfam, Unilever, Sainsbury’s, Food Standards Agency, British Council, London Fashion Week, Transport for London.
Prior to joining RCA, Laura was Deputy Head (Research & Innovation) at Cambridge School of Art, and Program Director for the MA Design and Culture at Loughborough University London. Her teaching portfolio includes a wide range of subjects from Design, Fashion, Media, Marketing and Business, built across UK institutions including Central St Martins, London College of Communications, Winchester School of Art, and Loughborough University.
Laura’s research focuses on perception and framing practices in design, and their role in value creation, social influence and change. She builds on cultural, critical and communication theories to develop interdisciplinary approaches for activating, empowering and legitimising citizen-led paradigm change through social action, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Currently Laura leads the Fair Energy Campaign and Community Action Heroes research projects as principal investigator, and is co-investigator in AHRC funded Counter-Framing Design. These projects investigate the role of strategic design practice in shaping collective identities, mediating cultural and symbolic meanings in processes of social change, and enhancing creative capacity in grassroots activism practices and contexts.
Laura is founder and editor-in-chief of pioneering sustainable lifestyle magazine Sublime, a magazine dedicated to making sustainability accessible and aspirational to wider audiences. Her expertise and thought leadership in sociocultural aspects of sustainability have gained her recognition as a leading voice in the field, often representing the UK press at international level, and forming public opinion though expert panels, keynote speaking, consulting and mentoring start-ups.
Working in partnership with Grampus Heritage and Training since 2009, Laura has developed and led EU funded entrepreneurship programs across rural villages in Europe to boost grassroots socioeconomic development. This involved activism within business and non-profit contexts, and facilitating design-led social innovation and entrepreneurship based on contemporary reinterpretation of traditional skills and crafts.
Fair Energy Campaign Public Engagement. Funder: Anglia Ruskin University (£23K)
The Fair Energy Campaign Pilot @ Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (£145,000)
Principal Investigator. Funder: LLDC (London Legacy Development Corporation). Strategic design; sustainable transitions; climate action; participatory action research;
Counter-framing Design: Radical Design Practices for Sustainability & Social Change (£250,000). Co-Investigator. Funder: AHRC. Critical design management; framing & strategic action. https://counter-frames.org
Climate Action Heroes: developing young people’s creative leadership capacity (£15,000) Principal Investigator. Funder: LLDC and Loughborough University seed funding. Strategic design; strategic action; energy futures; action research
Impact & Evaluation Hothouse & Engage Academy (training) (£5,000). Funder: UKRI.
‘Green Village’ in partnership with Grampus Heritage (£1,350,000). Co-Principal Investigator. Funder: EU ERASMUS+ Social innovation; sustainable rural development; cultural heritage
Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes
Santamaria L, Santamaria D. (2001), Santamaria: identity. Art Books International. London.
Santamaria L., (2023) Seeing the Invisible: revisiting the value of critical tools in design research for social change. In: Rogers, P. and Yee, J. (Eds.). Routledge Companion to Design Research, 2nd Edition. Routledge.
Santamaria, L., (2023). The Full Cycle: embracing death and decay in flourishing organisations. In: Flourish by Design. (Eds. Dunn, N., Cruickshank, L. and Sudjic, D.). ImaginationLancaster.
Santamaria L. (2020). Design Strategy: It’s All About Con[text]: Managing Meanings to Create Value in Innovation Processes. In: Oswald, L. (Ed.) Doing Semiotics: A Research Guide for Marketers at the Edge of Culture, Oxford University Press.
Santamaria L, Santamaria D, (2019). A Journey Toward Sublime: a reflection on the influence of education values in design practice. In: Triggs, T. (Ed), Atzmon, L. (Ed.) The Graphic Design Reader, Bloomsbury Academic.
Prendeville, S., Santamaria L., Syperek, P., (2022). On the Politics of Design Framing Practices. Design Issues. MIT Press.
Boyer, B., Wernli, M., Koria, M., Santamaria, L. (2022) Our Own Metaphor: Tomorrow is Not for Sale, World Futures. Routledge.
Santamaria L., (2019). Design Realities: Creativity, Nature and the Human Spirit, by Stuart Walker. The Design Journal 22 (6), 917-921.
Santamaria, L., Escobar-Tello M. C., Ross T. (2015). Switch the Channel: using cultural codes for designing and positioning sustainable products and services for mainstream audiences. Journal of Cleaner Production.
Conference papers (peer reviewed)
Santamaria, L., & Kuzmina, K., (2021). Service Design Meets Strategic Action: exploring new tools for activating change. ServDes.2020 Tensions, Paradoxes and Plurality, 2-5th Feb 2021, RMIT, Australia.
Hussain, T., Kuzmina, K., & Santamaria, L., (2020). Re-tail: exploratory design for the fashion marketplace of a circular economy. Inaugural Conference of the International Society for the Circular Economy (IS4CE2020).
Santamaria L., (2019). The Fair Energy Mark in the Making: framing a citizen-led campaign by participatory design. In: Rogers, P. (Ed.) Design Research for Change, Symposium at the Design Museum, London.
Santamaria, L., Escobar-Tello, M.C., Ross, T. (2018). Navigating the Sociocultural Landscape in Service Design. In: ServDes 2018: Proof of Concept. Milan, 18-20 June 2018.
Santamaria, L., Escobar-Tello M.C., Ross T., (2015). Planet or People? Redefining the Ideological Position of Sustainable Design. In: EAD 11, The Value of Design Research, Paris, April 2015.
Laura is Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Design Innovation, Loughborough University London. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and the Royal Society of Arts, and member of the Design Research and Market Research societies. She is founder and editor-in-chief of Sublime magazine and the Fair Energy Campaign, and trustee of NGO Guardians Worldwide.