Forms of Sustainability

Forms of Sustainability is a design research project inquiring into conceptions of 'form' in light of sustainable development. The project combines theoretical, historical and practice-based approaches to design research to surface and explore critical issues in, and about, design. The project builds on experiences from a series of previous design research programs, such as Static! and Switch!, the resulting international touring exhibition Visual Voltage, and a series of cultural and curatorial projects such as DESIGN ACT (with Iaspis, 2008-11), Tumult (Gustavsberg Konsthall, 2009) and Conversation in, within and about a Sofa (Arkitekturmuseet, 2011). The aim has been to develop theories and methods relevant to design practitioners, researchers, teachers, and students. Forms of Sustainability, funded by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) between 2009 and 2012, is led by the Interactive Institute and Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design.

This is a critical time in design. Concepts and practices of design are changing in response to historical developments in the modes of industrial design production and consumption. The imperative of sustainable development requires profound reconsideration of design today. Theoretical foundations and professional definitions are at stake, with consequences for institutions such as museums and universities as well as for future practitioners. This is ‘critical’ on many levels, from the urgent need to address societal and environmental issues to the reflexivity required to think and do design differently.

The project “Forms of Sustainability” traces the consequences of sustainability for concepts and practices of design. Our basic questions concern whether fundamental concepts that have become institutionalized in design may (or may not) be adequate for addressing contemporary challenges. Our experiences have been collected in the book ‘Share This Book: Critical perspectives and dialogues about design and sustainability’ (Stockholm: Axl Books, 2013). In this book, we present three different trajectories through a shared inquiry into notions of ‘form’ and ‘critical practice’ in design. Interweaving theoretical, historical and practical perspectives, this collaborative inquiry critiques and reconfigures design as we see it.

We have worked with books, exhibitions, workshops and seminars. In collaboration with IASPIS, we collaborated with Magnus Ericson and Iaspis (the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s International Programme for Visual Arts) to set up DESIGN ACT, a project addressing design practitioners engaging both practically and ideologically in social and political issues. Exploring emerging forms of design as a ‘critical practice’, DESIGN ACT was set up as a platform for dialog among practitioners and related communities. The results were collected in the book ‘DESIGN ACT: Socially and politically engaged design today – critical roles and emerging tactics’ (Berlin: Sternberg Press / Iaspis, 2011).

The exhibitions ‘Tumult’ (Gustavsbergs konsthall, 2009) and ‘Conversation in, with and about a Sofa’ (Arkitekturmuseum, February 2011) both departed in a traditional understanding of the design and craft object and writing design history. By opening up the process, the exhibition was taken far beyond ‘practice makes, theory interprets’. In the book about Tumult, an experiment was made to use the book as an exhibition in itself to challenge the distancing and objectification of the design object that usually occurs in a design exhibition.

The basic undertaking of this project was ambitious: to critically question foundational issues in design. As such, it asked for theoretical and practical reconsiderations that pushed us outside our disciplinary comfort zones, as the issues addressed were not confined to existing boundaries.


Forms of Sustainability was funded by the Swedish Research Council (project number 2008-2257) between 2009 and 2012, led by the Interactive Institute and Konstfack. Main researchers include Johan Redström (project leader, Interactive Institute), Ramia Mazé and Christina Zetterlund (Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design), with additional participation from Mahmoud Keshavarz and Matilda Plöjel. Lisa Olausson is also a contributor to the book.

The Book

The project results in a book’ SHARE THIS BOOK: Critical Perspectives and Dialogues about Design and Sustainability’ (Stockholm: Axl Books, 2013). The book is available in print and free digital editions through the publisher's website and many traditional and online bookstores. In the book are original articles, dialogs, examples and images by Ramia Mazé, Lisa Olausson, Matilda Plöjel, Johan Redström, and Christina Zetterlund. In its thoughtful content and experimental form, the book has wide appeal for design practitioners, researchers, teachers, and students.

Table of Contents

- Introductions, p. 5
- Form-Acts: A critique of conceptual cores, Johan Redström, p. 17
- Beyond institutionalized practice: Exhibition as a way of understanding craft and design,  Lisa Olausson (design) and Christina Zetterlund (text), p. 49
- Who is sustainable? Querying the politics of sustainable design practices, Ramia Mazé, p. 83
- Concluding dialogue, p. 125
- Extended colophon (or Why share this book), Matilda Plöjel, p. 129
- Interim pages, Lisa Olausson and Matilda Plöjel, p. 15, 47, 81, 123

The form of the book embodies concepts explored in the book and breaks with many of the unsustainable logics of large-scale publishing. It is published with the forward-thinking Stockholm-based Axl Books and is available in a limited print-run and a free electronic version (Creative Commons license).

To order the book

Print version:,,,, etc.
Electronic version (free download):



-          2 peer-reviewed articles
-          5 monograph books
-          10 book sections
-          5 conference papers
-          4 exhibitions

Some highlights

Mazé, Ramia and Olausson, Lisa and Plöjel, Matilda and Redström, Johan and Zetterlund, Christina, eds. (2013) Share This Book: Critical perspectives and dialogues about design and sustainability. Axl Books, Stockholm, Sweden. ISBN ISBN (Print) 9789186883140 ISBN (E-book): 9789186883195

Keshavarz, Mahmoud and Mazé, Ramia (2013) Design and Dissensus: Framing and staging participation in design research. Design Philosophy Papers, 1 . ISSN 1448-7136

Mazé, Ramia (2012) A Critical Practice. In: The Swedish Museum of Architecture: A fifty year perspective. The Swedish Museum of Architecture, Stockholm, pp. 158-160. ISBN 978-91-85460-88-5

Ericson, Magnus and Mazé, Ramia, eds. (2011) DESIGN ACT: Socially and politically engaged design today. Iaspis / Sternberg Press, Berlin. ISBN 978-91-978882-1-9

Mazé, Ramia (2009) Critical of What? / Kritiska mot vad? In: Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice – The Reader. Sternberg Press, Berlin, pp. 378-397. ISBN 978-1-933128-63-4

Mazé, Ramia and Redström, Johan (2009) DIFFICULT FORMS: Critical practices of design and research. Research Design Journal, 1 (1). pp. 28-39.

Redström, Johan (2009) Disruptions. In: (Re)Searching the Digital Bauhaus. Springer, London, pp. 191-217. ISBN 978-1-84800-349-1

DESIGN ACT Installation, ExperimentaDesign'09, Lisbon, Portugal, Sept-Dec 2009.

Visual Voltage, produced by the Swedish Institute and the Interactive Institute, exhibition touring venues in Shanghai, Washington DC, Brussels, Berlin, Beijing, and Tokyo between 2008-2010, with an estimated 165 000 exhibit visitors and participants in related program activities.

Zetterlund, Christina with Pontus Lindvall, Conversation in, with and about a Sofa, 48 hour, Arkitekturmuseum,February 2011.

Zetterlund, Christina, Tumult, Gustavsbergs konsthall, 2009. Exhibition research, seminars and catalogue.


Photo credit

Photograph (top) by Johan Redström
Photograph (bottom right) by the project team on a study visit to the Victoria & Albert museum in London