Meet Nicholas, a PHD candidate at Umeå Institute of Design and Creative Sustainability (CS) Design Alumni.
Originally from Santos, Brazil, Nicolas studied Industrial Design in Brazil before embarking on the Creative Sustainability Masters programme in 2011. During his bachelor studies, Nicolas became disillusioned with designing yet another consumer object and began to question how we can use design for positive social change. It was this discomfort with the conventional field of design that eventually led Nicholas to work with social design and to later apply for the CS Masters programme.
Time in CS
The CS Masters programme was a positive and inspiring experience for Nicholas and he found many interesting courses and people to collaborate with. His favourite courses include “Continuous Transformation” (now discontinued) led by Finnish philosopher Maija-Riita Ollila. Nicolas also appreciated learning from fellow students and the community that built up around the program.
“The relationship between classmates was very good, we are like a little family spread all around the world but still in touch.”
However, Nicholas’ experience was not without challenges and he found that one course based in Mozambique gave a clear picture of what he didn’t like about design. He found that the UN funded design project imposed western values and worldview on the community who lived in the area, which illustrated to him how the field of design and sustainability can act as an colonizing and oppressive force.
Nicholas thesis ‘A Journey Through Alternative Ways of Living: a design approach for scaling up grassroots initiatives towards sustainability’ aimed to answer the question: “what could ‘sustainability’ mean to person living in a Finnish urban environment in 2013?” and was based on his own journey of discovering how to live sustainably in a urban center. To support the thesis Nicholas was involved in several extra-curricular activities including volunteering at Dodo, a community-led environmental organisation as well as at Trash Labs Repair cafes. As part of his thesis, Nicholas developed a ‘Guidebook for Urban Freedom’. His thesis and guidebook were published as ebook by Cultura21 in Germany.
Nicholas’ current PhD research project is titled: Anti-oppressive and decolonial design for sustainability – learning to become together. His research explores anti-oppresssive and decolonial approaches to design for sustainability arguing for a critical examination and change in design in order to support collaborative ways of being with/as each other and the planet.
Advice for Future CS applicants
“Get lost. When you have an opportunity, take the chance to challenge yourself with lots of amazing people to supporting you. Do it for yourself not for the degree.”