Dr Laura Santamaria

Deputy Head, Cambridge School of Art / Associate Professor, Visual Communication


Faculty:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

School:Cambridge School of Art

Location: Cambridge

Areas of Expertise: Design Education

Research Supervision:Yes

Dr Laura Santamaria is a design scholar and educator. She specialises in sociocultural, aesthetic and experience aspects of design, with a focus on grassroots innovation, sustainability and social change.


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Laura has over 20 years’ practice experience in branding, user experience, strategic communications and forecasting research, having worked extensively in the UK corporate and non-profit sectors, and as independent consultant through her own agency, SantamariaMedia.

Laura holds a PhD in Sustainable Design Innovation from Loughborough University. She has gained further qualifications in psychology, community development and public engagement. Prior to joining ARU, Laura was Program Director for the MA Design and Culture at Loughborough University London. Her teaching portfolio includes a wide range of subjects from Design, Media, Marketing and Business, built across UK institutions including Central St Martins, London College of Communications, Winchester School of Art, Solent University and Loughborough University where she still delivers visiting lectures and on-demand input.

Spoken Languages

  • Spanish
  • English

Research interests

  • Strategic Design
  • Design and Marketing Semiotics
  • Meaning-driven Innovation
  • Service Design & User Experience
  • Design for Social Change
  • Sustainable Consumption/Lifestyles
  • Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship
  • Meta: Design / Language / Aesthetics / Systems / Philosophy
  • Regenerative Practices: Place-making, Creative Leadership, Livelihoods
  • Cultural Sustainability: craft, heritage, sociocultural innovation

Current Research and Collaborations

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.

In partnership with Citizens UK, she currently leads the Fair Energy Campaign and Community Action Heroes research projects as principal investigator, and is co-investigator in AHRC funded Counter-Framing Design project. 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.

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 bottom-up socioeconomic development, based on design-driven cultural heritage and crafts innovation.

Areas of research supervision

  • Design Anthropology
  • Meaning making in design and innovation
  • Service Design
  • Design Semiotics and Aesthetics
  • Sustainable Innovation adoption (lifestyles, fashion)
  • Design for Social Change
  • Design Activism
  • Design and Democracy
  • Participatory Design
  • Critical Design Approaches
  • Communication Design
  • Sustainability Branding, Marketing and Communications

Current PhD Supervisions

Britta Boyer – Intercultural dialogues on creativity and worldmaking. A design anthropological lens on creativity and the building of knowledge ecologies for design

Talia Hussain – PhD title: Carousel of Consumption: Design and meaning of retail interfaces as platforms for value co-creation in circular fashion systems

Sophie Declerck – PhD title: Unfolding the tactile sense: towards a convergence of meaning and affect in artefact design


  • PhD, Loughborough University, Design School
  • MA Visual Communication Design (Branding and Packaging), UNLP, Argentina
  • BA Visual Communication Design, UNLP, Argentina

Memberships, editorial boards

  • Fellow, Royal Society of Art
  • Fellow, Higher Education Academy
  • Member, Design Research Society
  • Member, Market Research Society

Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

Selected recent publications

Santamaria L. 2020. Design Strategy: It’s All About Con[text]: Managing Meanings to Create Value in Innovation. 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.

Santamaria, L., Escobar-Tello M. C., Ross T. 2016. Switch the Channel: using cultural codes for designing and positioning sustainable products and services for mainstream audiences. Journal of Cleaner Production.

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, C., Ross, T., & Bohemia, E. 2017. Cultural Context and Service Design: developing critical and meaning-making capacity. In E. Bohemia (Ed.), DMA 2017, Research Perspectives on Creative Intersections. Hong Kong, June 2017.

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.


Sublime, Editor of 32 print issues, plus a variety of articles published in print and online 2007-2020.

Santamaria L, Santamaria D. 2001. Santamaria – identity. Art Books International. London.

Recent presentations and conferences

Sustainable Innovation 2021: Accelerating Sustainability in Fashion, Clothing, Sportswear & Accessories (Culture, Consumption, Consumers track chair), The Centre for Sustainable Design, University for the Creative Arts, March 2021.

Service Design Meets Strategic Action, ServDes 2020, Melbourne, Australia, February 2021.

From Zero to Hero y del Cielo a la Tierra, Deep Ocean Open Innovation Garage, Guadalajara, Mexico, October 2020.

The Fair Energy Campaign, TELCO Citizens UK Mayoral Assembly, London, April 2020.

The Fair Energy Mark in the Making, Design Research for Change Symposium, Design Museum, London, December 2019.

Better Lives symposium ‘Legacies: Beyond Fashion Activism’ (chair), London College of Fashion, November 2019.

A New Fashion Manifesto (keynote), London College of Fashion, London, March 2018.

From Good to Great: Legitimising Sustainable Practices (keynote and panel chair), Food and Farming Conference, Chisholme Institute, August 2017.

Media for the New Economy (keynote), Beyond Fashion, Berlin, October 2011.

Marketing Sustainable Innovations (keynote), ABF AMBRO Headquarters, Amsterdam, 2010.

Hope or Despair? (keynote), The Future of Green, London, 2010.

Creative Industries in the UK (panelist), British Council, Buenos Aires, 2009.

Máximo Impacto (keynote), British Council Lecture at ‘Pure Design’ Fair, Buenos Aires, 2006.

Media experience

Laura is founder and editor-in-chief of pioneering sustainable lifestyle magazine Sublime. Her expertise and insight in sociocultural aspects of sustainability have gained her recognition as a leading voice in the field, often representing the UK press at international level in expert panels, and delivering consultancy, mentoring and keynote speaking in the subject.