top of page

V I V I A N   G E O R G E


Veejay Villafranca, Behance , 2010, Displaced Earth: Climate Refugees in the Phillipines Project


Design Principles for the Cultural Integration of Climate Refugees

Global warming is not a future threat but a reality. We are facing the price of our actions through climate change with some communities and nations paying disproportionately more. It is our duty to help those impacted by our collective polluting actions. This dissertation speaks to the heart of the international climate migration debate and discusses the design principles necessary to accommodate the impact of climate change migration on social transformation at an individual, community and national level.

Migration has always been a determinant and an accelerator for cultural diffusion and globalisation. From refugees seeking asylum as a result of political disorder to the disappearing cities due to sea level rise; the mass movement of people can disrupt culture, economy, environment and politics. Migration is salient in today’s political climate where nationalism and cultural identity has changed the realities of our daily life. From Brexit and its ramification on Europeans living in the UK to Trump’s Administration Action on the construction of a border, to the admission of certain majority- Muslim countries, cultural identities are mixing with nationalism and right-wing ideologies to create a world that engenders discomfort by contradicting humane values and secular beliefs.

Climate migration is not a chronic phenomenon yet, but the cultural repercussions of international climate migration are important to analyse -- because in legal terms, they are neither refugees nor economic migrants. Although migration is considered a positive contributor culturally and economically to the host country, we face challenges such as social services, competition on the labour market and its ensuing discordance. We must acknowledge that migration is a natural part of our global ecosystem, but it is important to know how to manage migration on a national and international level to alleviate some of the associated challenges from mass movement due to natural disasters and chronic climatic conditions. 

I examine the relationship between the flows and patterns of mass migration and cultural globalisation. I focus on the future of climate migration and explore the current evidence showing how environmental refugees and migrants will have an emerging impact on culture, immigration and integration policy in the future years to come. This dissertation critically analyses ongoing debates and the policy considerations, but further critically extends it with design considerations to accommodate climate migration. Design can, indeed, have a role to play in redefining policy, integration, and services for climate refugees. 


Design, particularly service and experience design, is all about catering to the needs of our stakeholders, therefore understanding people’s cultural identity, their values and beliefs, can be crucial to create services that feel familiar to them. The current policy landscape does not cater for climate refugees and I look at how design can take a unique position on integration policy and service delivery. I am aware that the issues are rather complex and interdisciplinary, and so my aim is to distil key topics to help individuals understand the best ways to help cultural integration. 

The design principles are curated based on my understanding of the future implications of climate migration combined with primary and secondary research. There are three key principles that I believe are fundamental in achieving cultural integration for climate migrants. Designing for individual resilience focuses on helping individuals strive through times of difficulty by embracing culture and existing social networks. Designing for empathy encourages the community to engage with the culture of newcomers and create social cohesion through empathy. Employment is critical for integration, including cultural integration as it not only helps utilise newcomer’s full potential they are also considered as valuable members of society and this refers to design for two-way investment. Within these design principles, I provide a unique approach to cater to them through exemplars and ideas. It is important as a designer to critically consider some of their design approaches and ideas, so that they can shape and improve the overall effectiveness of future services.

If you would like to read more of my dissertation, send me an email at

November 2017- May 2018
Royal College of Art 
bottom of page