‘Thinking object’ – a puzzle for exploration and reflection – MAGIC Project 2016-2017


University of Exeter, Professor Katrina Brown and Dr Tara Quinn, designed in collaboration with Dr Lucy Hubble-Rose


Product design: design strategy, product development, project management


Produce a ‘thinking object’ as a playful tool in response to findings from the Creative Data designed Hi-VIS workshop at the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus, in Cornwall, UK. In the bespoke workshop, designed and delivered by me and Lucy Hubble-Rose in October 2015, risk decision-makers mined their experience to find new opportunities and ways of working in relation to their personal and professional understandings of risk and vulnerability.


With the MAGIC Pathfinder we wanted to visualise and make tangible an under-discussed topic in organisations, which is that of 2nd order risks in emergency decision-making – that is to say, the inter-personal dimensions of risk scenarios, which often go unexamined in relation to the 1st order risk, which is the serious incident such as coastal flooding, an oil spill, or a public transport incident. Each hexagon of the pathfinder is dedicated to one aspect of 2nd order risks and the puzzle is designed to prompt discussion and reflection around the challenges people are facing in these areas.


This thinking object – The MAGIC Pathfinder – is designed to promote reflection and encourage professional development. It can be used individually or in a group. The design of the puzzle enables exploration of specific challenges, while also assisting the evaluation of risk decision-making practices as a whole. Playing with a physical 3D object like this can help you process thoughts in new ways and spark fresh ideas.

The puzzle is made from oak, using digital manufacturing technologies such as a CNC Router, which cut out the hexagons and made the notches in the side of them, and laser etching, which burns the lines and text into the surfaces.




The Additive Toolbox, July- November 2014


Forum for the Future (UK) / Plan C (Belgium)


Production design: communication design, print design, packaging design, copywriting


Develop a toolkit that will help the additive manufacturing industry (3D Printing) design with purpose while making a positive contribution to the world. The toolkit will be given to designers, makers and manufacturers who enter Plan C’s Additive Challenge – a design competition, using additive manufacturing, for products and services that serve both people and planet.


I collaborated with fellow designer Joana Casaca Lemos on this project. We were commissioned by Forum for the Future who were in turn advising Plan C on their iMade project which looked at the sustainability issues with the additive manufacturing industry – which they termed the third industrial revolution. Joana and I worked together to create the overall form and identity of the Additive Toolbox, with Joana executing the graphic elements while I focused on the copywriting and messaging.


The Additive Toolbox included a poster, a set of postcards and a worksheet. These tools outline 6 making principles and 6 maker communities to guide designers, makers and manufacturers through the considerations of materials, production methods and life cycle for their products. The toolbox prototype was produced by Plan C in Belgium and sent out to all entrants to the Additive Challenge to help them consider the social and environmental issues related to their designs. The first finalist in the competition will be revealed in October 2015. Updates are available on the project website.





The Healthy Eating Exploratorium, Kew Gardens


Your Future London


Interactive set design for a one-day workshop at Kew Gardens


Enable the Your Future client to explore ideas about healthy eating through an immersive one-day workshop.


Collaborate with client to understand the subject of their workshop. Design concept and manage production of interactive elements to facilitate the workshop activities during the day. Set up and take down installation on the day.


In the first room a Family Kitchen environment was created where the workshop group could gather together for conversation, refreshments breaks and end-of-day presentations.

In the second room a Library Lab space was created where the attendees could gather to work in their breakout groups. Each team was given a large table, a small library of books, images and ingredients, and a huge enlarged version of the sketchbook portfolio they had been working in during their field trip the day before.

The enlarged portfolios could be used for brainstorming during the day and for their group presentations at the end of the workshop.

Attendees were impressed by the theming of the spaces in the small cottage on the edge of Kew Gardens. The atmosphere created by our designs greatly enhanced their immersion into the workshop content.



The Great Recovery, Oct 2012 – June 2013


The Royal Society of Arts and the Technology Strategy Board


Content Creation: observation, interviews, photography, research, writing


Work with project co-directors, Sophie Thomas and Nat Hunter, to document The Great Recovery project workshops. Pay special attention to participant interaction, group dynamics and barriers to collaboration, stages of co-creation and blockages in the re-design process. Distil findings into The Great Recovery Report.


Leonora documented all nine Great Recovery workshops, building up a body of content for the project using photography, process observation and participant interviews. This involved visits to 7 material recovery centres around the UK, 2 associated workshops at The RSA and, finally, travelling to a pulp and paper mill in France.

These events brought designers, manufacturers and policy makers together to explore issues, investigate innovation gaps and incubate new partnerships in the circular economy.

Leonora wrote up the observations and learnings from each workshop to feed them into the final report. Working with Sophie Thomas to summarise the first phase of the Great Recovery Leonora structured the report and fed in her documentary photography  and interviews, as well as her observations of the barriers to creating a circular economy in the UK.


The Great Recovery Report was launched at The House of Lords on June 4th 2013. You can download the report via the link below.

The Great Recovery Report – Investigating the role of design in the circular economy.

Leonora’s insights into recycled paper manufacturing can be found on the Great Recovery blog – Arjowiggins Pulp and Paper Mill Visits and supporting interviews.



Project Wild Thing with Good for Nothing, July 2011


Project Wild Thing / Green Lions


Structuring stories: research, strategy, communication design, print design, writing


Devise creative ideas for getting children and families to spend more time outdoors in nature.


Working with the Good for Nothing model of fast collaboration at the Global Generation skip garden with the Green Lions production team working on making the Project Wild Thing documentary.


Out & About – a national programme from 0-8 yrs old that encourages parents and children to spend more time outdoors.

Booster 1

Title: Parental Guidelines

For: Newborns, given to mothers in their Bounty Pack in the hospital before they go home.

Product: Illustrated card inserted into Bounty Pack

Key word: advice

Booster 2

Title: Parent/Child Relationship

For: 2-3 yrs old

Product: sensory book/box – texture and sound

Key word: sensory

Booster 3

Title: Childhood Adventures

For: 4/5 yrs old

Product: storytelling toolkit – images and magic formulas

Key word: imagination

Booster 4

Title: Growing Up

For: 7/8 yrs old

Product: Guide/sticker book to practical outdoor activities

Key word: practice



SCIBE – Sightlines Exhibition, The Mayor’s Parlour in Bromley-by-Bow, June 2013




Production design: curation, exhibition design, graphic design, print design


Pull together architectural research and community projects from the Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment programme. This EU funded research explores the relationship between scarcity and creativity in the context of the built environment by investigating how conditions of scarcity might affect the creativity of the different actors involved in the production of architecture and urban design, and how design-led actions might improve the built environment in the future.


In collaboration with curator Crystal Bennes, Leonora conceived a theme for the SCIBE exhibition, that of Sightlines, to represent the local context of the architectural projects created with members of the Bromley-by-Bow community. Using The Mayor’s Parlour gallery space in Bromley-by-Bow, the exhibition was designed to represent the creativity that can be found in deprived urban environments and the spirit of making the most of what you have on offer.

Crystal and Leonora liased with the architecture teams to bring their work together for the exhibition, with the help of Flora Bowden from the Seed Foundation. Kerry Ryan of Mayor’s Parlour assisted in the sourcing of materials and installation of the exhibition. Crystal and Leonora invited Dougald Hine to write an introductory text for the exhibition catalogue.


Sightlines was a cleverly networked exhibition with colour coded lines connecting the work on the walls to the context of the larger SCIBE project on a huge banner in the main corridor space. The lines also lead people from the street entrance of the Bow House through the corridors and up the stairs to the 1st floor, acting as intriguing visual signage that pulled people up the Mayor’s Parlour and then guided them around the gallery space.

Dougald Hine’s story ‘Seasons of Scarcity’ was printed on the exhibition catalogue in both English and Bengali. The catalogue also featured introductory texts to the four main SCIBE projects and the architecture teams that worked on them – Booom Collaboration, BOW DIY, BOWNANZA, Community Collabor-8.

The exhibition also featured a large selection of photographs taken by Bromley-by-Bow community members who had been given cameras and asked to document their local area.

In the main gallery space two walls were fully covered in an enlarged A-Z map of the local area. Visitors to the exhibition were invited to write suggestions of what they would like to see in Bromley-by-Bow and then stick them on the map in a particular location.

For the exhibition opening the BOWNANZA team served delicious Bengali dishes from their customised street food bike on The Mayor’s Parlour roof terrace.


My job is to translate complex information into meaningful narratives for people in their everyday lives.

Through creative storytelling and working collaboratively my work inspires businesses and individuals to create positive change. I believe forging emotional connections between people and their environment is one of the greatest design challenges of our time. Designing those connections is what gets me out of bed in the morning. You can learn more about my work on the Working With Me page.

My guiding principles for design storytelling are:


I believe positive behaviour change starts with an emotional connection. In order to create a deeper understanding of social and environmental issues we need to design engaging conversations with people. This is my starting point.


I work with artists, architects, scientists and curators to bring a richness of experience and skills to every project, enabling new connections and fresh perspectives. Innovation is all about uniting existing things in new ways.


Being “of our time” means embracing contemporary culture and the current needs within it. Through my creative work I see myself as part of the cultural fabric of society that develops delightful creative concepts and solutions.


What do our future landscapes look like? How will we live with scarce resources, degraded land and polluted cities? My work on the environment is a thoughtful focus on a desire to enable a healthy future for everyone.


People are the key. Who are you and what do you care about? I work with local people in local places on issues that are meaningful to them. Whether your community is a business, university, village, or street, I want to tell your story.


Nothing is worth working for if there isn’t a whiff of fun and excitement in the air. I’m enthusiastic and energetic about my work and see the challenges that lie ahead as all part of life’s great adventure.

If you’d like me to design your story, please do get in touch – leonora [at]


Using design and writing skills, I specialise in crafting tales about social and environmental innovation.

Design Storytelling is the term I use to describe my work. It is a process of transforming complex information into engaging narratives. Working with collaborators, I use a range of tools according the needs of each project. These include: art practices, design strategy, writing and research.

Through my creative adventures I have come to understand that people’s care for the world they live in depends on their emotional relationship with themselves and their environment and the stories they tell themselves about both. You can learn about what drives me on the Mission page.

Here are five ways in which you can work with me:

1) Content creation (pre-narrative)

Document key events, observe how people interact, identify emergent themes, structure into a cohesive narrative demonstrating impact.

2) Print Communications (structuring stories)

Develop an engaging narrative from complex, diverse information. Where’s the pattern? What’s the tone? Where’s the beginning, middle and end?

3) Dynamic workshops (event production)

With creative vision, workshops can be dynamic, entertaining, and fun. The important thing is to get participants involved physically and mentally.

4) Interactive exhibitions (embodied learning)

Exhibition spaces that engage people. Embodied space and physical learning is an attention grabbing antidote to our screen based culture.

5) Public Speaking (sharing experience)

I relish opportunities to connect in person and welcome invitations to share my specialist knowledge and experience.

Getting started

As an initial offering, I suggest a half day ‘Pick my Brain’ session where I can listen to your current challenges and work with you to develop strategic narrative solutions. Do get in touch – leonora (at)


Leonora Oppenheim

I’m a creative strategist and communications designer exploring the power of purposeful design.

For 15+ years I’ve been innovating across the fields of design, journalism and academia – translating complex information into meaningful narratives for people in their everyday lives – usually around environmental and social challenges.

This happens through visual and participatory storytelling built into exhibitions, installations, workshops, and most recently ‘thinking objects‘.

From 2000, I earned my stripes working for celebrated creative mavericks such as Thomas HeatherwickMarcel Wanders and Atelier Van Lieshout. As early as 2005, I was regularly promoting sustainable design for both online and print publications.

In 2009, I started my own design practice to create groundbreaking projects that build capacity for reflection and co-creation.  In addition to Elio Studio, I was, until April 2017, co-director of Creative Data Projects with Dr. Lucy Hubble Rose. Our design and social science collaboration is now on pause, but there’s lots of interesting public engagement projects still to see over on that site.

I’m grateful for the regular invitations I receive to speak, judge and teach on my specialist areas of knowledge. I’m looking forward to being a judge for the D&AD New Blood Awards 2017.

This year marks my tenth year living in London, having previously lived and worked variously in Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Barcelona, New York and Quito.

I keep a design storytelling journal over here.






The University of Exeter


Knowledge Transfer Network

Bristol Health Partners

The Collett School

Met Office / British Library

Forum for the Future / Plan C

RSA – The Great Recovery

SCIBE (Scarcity in the Built Environment) – Jeremy Till, Jon GoodbunDeljana Iossifova

WWFLiveWell Project

Jonathan Wise

Good For Nothing

Project Wild Thing

Pop Up Festival of Stories

Sustain RCA

Good Gym

Global Generation

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

BioregionalOne Planet Living

Anglian Water – The Butterfly Effect Schools Project

University of East Anglia – The Butterfly Effect Project

Nick Hancock Design Studio





Cool Hunting



Planet Green (Now MNN)

In Print

House & Garden


Resource Magazine

The Ecologist


Knowledge Transfer Network

Martineau & CoUNDP


Hypernaked – Sony Make/Time

Think Public

Ben Weaver Associates

Tangerine FilmsLand Rover


Jane Withers

Gong Communications

We Are Caper


Future Cities Catapult

Design Junction


Royal College of Art 


British Museum

Imperial College 

Cineforum – The Road to Ecotopia

Barbican – Radical Nature

HEC Social Business Conference, Paris

Pecha Kucha, Barcelona

Grand Designs Live

Birmingham City University