Sophie Thomas Masterclass at Saturday Club


Design is a crucial part of modern living. From college prospectuses to adverts on the sides of buses, to social media and beyond, design is everywhere. But what makes a sustainable and appropriate design? In March, we welcomed Sophie Thomas from Thomas.Matthews to lead a masterclass for National Saturday Club to talk to us about how graphic design can influence political and social change.

Firstly, Sophie got us thinking about what makes design ‘good’. “At Thomas.Matthews, we believe in good design, and, by that I mean design that is appropriate, sustainable and beautiful,” Sophie said.

A (brief) introduction to design activism

Sophie encouraged us to think beyond design for a moment, and to ask ourselves ‘what goes into the products we buy and consume?’ and, ‘what happens to the materials when they are thrown away?’ Thinking about the responsibility for the products that we use day-by-day is an integral part of sustainable design. While design can largely be about selling products, it can also be used to articulate complex social messages and disrupt the status quo.

Generating Ideas

Following this, Sophie asked us to think about today’s political climate and the issues that we face each and every day. Through a series of workshops, we generated a large list of challenges that people encounter on a day-to-day basis. A few of these issues were cuts to education services and the NHS, mental health stigma, homophobia, body image and representation, and environmental pollution.

Harnessing collaborative power to make a change

Thinking about the issues that affect us is one thing, but what about making a change? Sophie asked us to use design to create solutions to these problems, “you may feel that you don’t have much influence in political issues, but actually, as a designer, you have a lot of impact on these things whether you feel it or not.” Sophie allowed us to voice our worries, fears, challenges and upsets and use them as a catalyst for social change.

So, in a world where design is everywhere, how do we use it to bring about change? In part, through collaboration. Sophie encouraged us to collaborate with each other and gain an insight into the issues that make each other angry.

“I have worked with a wide range of people from poets to landscape architects in my own work. Collaboration is a huge part of art and design.” – Sophie

We then worked in groups to produce potential solutions to the challenges that upset us the most. In a single afternoon, Saturday Club was able to develop several solutions to social issues as wide as homelessness, low-quality council housing, and feeling the need to fit in. With the support of Sophie, we were able to produce a network of practical solutions to each other’s worries.

Producing Practical solutions

One solution to tackling the stigma that surrounds mental health was to study mental health education in schools and colleges. Allowing young learners to create their own posters about mental health would eliminate judgemental attitudes and make a space for everyone’s voice. One #natsatclub member highlighted the importance of mental health awareness, “there’s a lack of understanding surrounding mental health. We think developing a mental health education could reduce the stigma of mental illnesses and encourage people to get help and not to worry about other people’s pre-conceptions.”

Design was clearly at the heart of these solutions, with bright colours being used to catch the observer’s attention, and further, by using catchy slogans to compress ideas into designs for social change.

One group, who decided to tackle the problem of body image designed a magazine cover. This cover featured illustrations of a series of real women to increase representation of different body sizes and shapes.

Body image proved to be a big issue of the day, with another group focusing on creating a social media campaign with the hashtag #lovemybody. They said: “We have created posters for a social media campaign because social media is so influential. We want to circulate positive images of role models to inspire young people.”

The importance of sustainability

Another group chose to focus their designs on issues that affected the environment, such as litter and pollution. “We want to use design to create a campaign focused on the environment. We want to get rid of litter and plant more trees,” one member said.

The ‘turn litter into trees’ campaign highlights how the things that upset us the most can be changed, and, with a little innovation, a sustainable world may not be that far away. Through well-thought out design and collaboration, Saturday Club was able to generate a network of practical, sustainable and appropriate solutions for a wide variety of modern problems.

“As designers, you have a huge role in creating change and supporting a sustainable world.” – Sophie

Want to know more about Saturday Club?

The National Art & Design Saturday Club at Manchester School of Art is a free project for young people in school years 9-11. “Saturday Club is focused on developing skills in all areas of art and design. Over the past year we have taken part in filmmaking, 3D, graphic design, animation, photography and textiles projects. As well as developing skills in art and design, members have also built their confidence, made new friends and started to consider paths into higher education”. – Kate Dunstone, Outreach Assistant

To find out more about Saturday Club visit