Sue Fairburn
First Name: Susan
Surname: Fairburn
Position: Lecturer in Design Futures and Critical & Contextual Studies Design Researcher
Telephone: +44 (0) 1224 263657
Linkedin: LinkedIn Icon

Sue Fairburn joined the school in 2007, having previously worked in Knowledge Exchange and Research Management for the University of Aberdeen.

She is co-pilot of City As A Spaceship (CAAS) and was a co-founder of a social innovation (Design for Development). Her research activity spans design for extreme environments, design as knowledge exchange, and various projects into collaborative working and design education.  Educated in Western Canada, Sue relocated to Scotland in 2005 to take up a Research Management post in international health. Her research and design practice over the past 15 years have seen her involved with a variety of disciplines and environments – bridging Design and Science.

Sue is an educator and designer with a background in human sciences. She has over 15 years experience teaching and writing curriculum on topics such as design methods, research methods, design for social innovation, design for extremes, and cross-disciplinary practices. 

Sue Fairburn on twitter

Sue Fairburn's Academia Profile

Sue Fairburn's Researchgate Profile

Duties and Responsibilities

Her teaching responsibilities at Gray’s School of Art include modules within Contextual and Critical Studies and post-graduate student supervision.

Academic Background

MEDes (Industrial Design)
MSc (Environmental Physiology) BSc Kinesiology (Hons)

Research Interests

Her research programme focuses on examining how extreme environments challenge our survivability and response to the unfamiliar – and designs to mitigate. Her interests bridge design and science; with current projects including the exploration of reciprocities between living in space and living in dense urban settings, textile thinking, researching future bodies; and opportunities for art and design to enhance unlikely settings in developing economies.

Her interests include scenario-based methodology, trans-disciplinary working and all things creative and design-related. She has collaborated with a range of disciplines, including: epidemiologists, pharmacists, secondary school teachers, astronauts, commercial divers, architects, entrepreneurs, engineers, food futurists and more. 

She has her own design consultancy. She combines practice with research. Recent design projects include Collective Futures (2012), Design Specks (2013), Future Textile Visions (2013) and The Big Clean Bus (2014).

Current Research

 Her current research projects include: City As A Spaceship (2016), BUKA (2016), Textile Thinking (2016) and SurvivalLab (2017).


Wellcome Trust International Engagement, Skills Development Scotland, Creative Scotland, and Aberdeen City Twinning Fund.
International collaborations include Academic colleagues from Milan Politecnic, University of Ulster, ENSCI, and Industry/Agency Colleagues from Austria, India, Zimbabwe, and Canada. 

Professional Memberships

Fellow of the RSA (FRSA)
DESIS, Scottish Academy of Fashion.

External / Professional Roles

  • External Examiner for Product Design/Social Digital at DJCAD, University of Dundee
  • Adjunct Professor at Polytechnic di Milano
  • STEM Ambassador
  • Mentor for the Queen Young Leaders Programme


Book Chapters & Peer-Reviewed Journals

Mohanty, S. Imhof, B. and Fairburn, S., (2016) Terraforming Our Cities, Book Chapter in Star Ark: A Living Self-Sustaining Spaceship, Springer International Publishing, Switzerland. 2016. ISBN: 9783319310404

Fairburn, S. Steed, J, Coulter, J. (2016) Spheres of Practice for the Co-Design of Wearables, in Journal of Textile Design Research and Practice, Volume 4, 2016 – Issue 1: FutureScan3, p 85-109.

Arvind DK., Duplock, P., Fairburn S., Oliver, R., Stricevic, Verhoeven, A., (2013) Design Specks: Connecting People with Speckled Computing, Edited by D.K. Arvind and P. Duplock, Centre for Speckled Computing, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.

Fairburn, S. (2011) Designing Transformations: Schools of Excellence, Acta Astronautica 69 pp. 1132–1142i.


Select Conference Presentations

Fairburn, S
., Heeley, R., Pengelly, J. Crossing Over, Into and Back: Design Disciplines and Identities. E&PDE (Engineering and Product Design Education) Conference, Aalborg University, Denmark Sept. 2016.

Fremantle, C. Gulari, M.N., Fairburn, S. Hepburn, L, Valentine, G, Meagher, L. Impact by Design: Evaluating knowledge exchange as a lens for evaluating the wider impacts of a design-led business support programme. Proceedings of the 20th DMI: Academic Design Management Conference, Boston, USA, July 2016.

Steed, J. and Fairburn, S. Second Skin Iterations: Programmes and Prototypes, Futurescan3 Conference: Intersecting Identities, in Glasgow, Scotland, UK November 2015.

S. Fairburn and A. Dominoni. (2015) Designing from the Unfamiliar: How Designing for Space and Extreme Environments can generate spin-off and innovate product strategies. “The Value of Design Research” - 11th European Academy of Design Conference:22-24 April, 2015 Paris France.

S. Fairburn, S. Mohanty, B. Imhof (2014) City As A Spaceship, International Astronautical Congress, Toronto 2014.

Gulari, M.N. and S. Fairburn. (2013) Is Generalist Designer an Oxymoron? The value of Specialisation in the Design Field. E&PDE, Dublin, Ireland September 2013.

Craddock, C. and Fairburn, S., (2013) Design for Social Innovation and Inclusion. “Crafting the Future” - 10th European Academy of Design Conference: Crafting the Future, 17-19th April, Gothenburg, Sweden.

Gulari, M., Fairburn S., Malins J. (2013a) Trust Me, I Am An Expert, Why Is There A Lack Of Trust To Design Expertise, 10th European Academy of Design Conference: Crafting the Future, 17-19th April, Gothenburg, Sweden

Pengelly, J., Fairburn, S., Newlands, B. (2012) Adopting ‘FabLab’ Model to Embed Creative Entrepreneurship Across Design Programmes International E&EPD Conference (Engineering and Product Design Education) 6-7 September 2012, Antwerp, Belgium

Media Coverage

Recent Exhibitions / Newsworthy Public Engagement

@ KHOJ: International Artists Association. February 13 – 2 March, 2015

Extensive Coverage in the Indian and Delhi press: 26 Feb 2015 7 Mar 2015 1 Mar 2015

2. #BUKA: Bulawayo Art and Health Collective, Bulawayo Zimbabwe November 11-19, 2016 30 Nov 2016