Laura Dusi is a transdisciplinary designer and big believer in the impact of integrating consulting and capacity building. At Echos, Laura teaches Designing Desirable Futures and Design Thinking classes for non-designers and consults for innovation projects that aim for gender equality and diversity through design. She has collaborated in projects with organisations such as IDEO,Institute for the Future (IFTF), Instituto Tellus, Knight Foundation, ORGE Innovation, SEBRAE, United Nations.
Laura holds an MFA Degree in Transdisciplinary Design from Parsons – School of Design at The New School (2016) and a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from UnB – University of Brasília, Brazil (2011).
Laura Dusi wearing a Project IRIS t-shirt: “The future is feminine”.
In this interview, we talk about Design Thinking, speculative design, designing futures and female freedom.
RG – Hi Laura. Could you start by telling us who Laura Dusi is?
LD- Hi Rani, I’m from Brasilia, also known as the “city of the future” in 1950’s Brazil, and I have been living for a while in Sao Paulo, since 2012. I think it was growing up in Brasília that made me really interested in urban spaces and how designers and architects can impact daily life. That is why I became a designer. Currently, I’m more interested in gender issues, dancing, hiking and drawing. I’ve recently started an Instagram account to share my illustrations. At Echos, I work exclusively with learning experiences.
RG – You have a Master’s Degree in Transdisciplinary Design from The New School Parsons in New York City. What is a Transdisciplinary Designer and how does that skill apply to your day-to-day?
LD – Great question. A transdisciplinary designer is someone that is system-oriented and who addresses urgent social issues in their practice. Through design, we can solve wicked problems; ideally using multidisciplinary teams to avoid silo thinking. In my daily life, the abilities and attitude I’ve developed during the Master’s program have helped me when thinking about projects and places for intervention in different scopes of the systems they’re in. It has also taught me to be comfortable when facing uncertainty, which is great since uncertainty is always a part of complex topics. Most importantly, I learned how to work outside my comfort zone.
RG – You are a strategic designer and the Design Lead for many of Echos’ projects. Tell me about a project that has made a mark on your design path.
LD – One project that was important for me in my career was the first-ever project I did at Echos. It was for a medical cooperative in Brazil called Unimed. Echos was hired to help them shape the future of their company; it was a project that opened space for me to apply my recently acquired knowledge and skills from my Master’s degree, and go beyond service as a practice. Historically, in Brazil, it had always been hard to find a space within companies to explore other ways of designing, especially when it comes to a consultancy such as ourselves. I was invited to join the team for the Unimed project – that was led by Francisca Limberger – because I had some experience in speculative futures design. The consultancy lasted for six months, and the project was highly complex. This project was significant for me and Echos because it was the first time we officially talked about the need to design inclusive and diverse futures. It was because of this experience that we developed our methodology called “designing desirable futures”.
RG – Could you explain what exactly are “speculative futures” and how this concept is being used at Echos?
LD- I’ll start by explaining what “linear future mindset” is first. We are used to thinking about time in a linear way. We are born; eventually, we go to school, then to work, then we get married, and so forth. This process is a part of a collective impression that time is linear; and the highest form of choice we have within this mindset is to say yes or no to things: going to college, or not going to college, having children, or not having children. And although this mindset helps us navigate through life, and inform all the probabilistic of the future – trend research often follows this mindset – it does not make room for the unexpected. The “black swans” or wild cards, as we call it. The truth is that this mindset keeps us reactive to what is happening now, in the present. But our lives, as a species, are made by these wild cards. For example, 9/11 is the most obvious “wild card” of this century, just think about how it changed international diplomacy, security, etc. Here is where the speculative mindset comes in. It allows us to speculate, create alternatives for futures that are not reactive to today. We create thinking “What if this happens?”, and from there, design better narratives that can guide us to more desirable solutions for today.
Laura Dusi (far right) conducting a Designing Desirable Futures course.
RG- Alongside with Francisca Limberger and Echos founder Juliana Proserpio, you were responsible for the concept and creation of Echos’ course, Designing Desirable Futures. Was this course a natural progression from the “speculative futures” approach?
LD – Speculating futures is a process that happens without judgement; it shouldn’t matter if the speculation is good or bad. Our intention of working with the “desirable” scenarios was always clear; we wanted to go beyond; as Milton Glaser puts it: “Design is moving an existing condition to a preferred one”. We wanted to get people to co-create realities that they will be willing to working towards reaching. This is our creative challenge in the Designing Desirable Futures course; to aim for utopian scenarios. This aspect of the approach is particularly challenging because it is easy to fall into a creative dystopian trap. Our brains have been programmed to do that, to always see the negative outcome of any intervention or narrative. But honestly, to find that, we can simply look at the daily news.
RG- The present time is forcing humanity to face many important and life-altering issues – such as climate change – that no longer can be ignored. In your opinion, what is the importance of the Designing Desirable Futures approach to our rapidly-changing society?
LD- Getting people to co-create realities that have diversity at their core; making those realities more resilient and creative. Creating samples of what they would like to see in society, how they would like to be living; changes that are relevant enough that they will be willing to make changes to their today-life to achieve them.
RG- LGBTQ rights, inclusion, pay equality, and female freedom are some of the other pressing issues we must resolve in the near future. You are one of the leaders of project IRIS – Freedom of The Feminine. Why is this an important project for the future of society?
LD – IRIS is a project that aims to achieve gender equality in Brazil by 2030. I know, it’s ambitious, but also very necessary. To illustrate, every two hours, one woman is murdered in Brazil; and this is only one of the reasons why the UN considers Brazil to be the 5th most violent country for women in the world. So this is a pressing issue that cannot be solved by traditional methods and politics. For this project, Echos’ Designing Desirable Futures methodology allows for all elements of the issue and the solution to emerge locally; from the ground up. Also, although we are talking the feminine, the project is inclusive of everyone regardless of gender; all of us have experiences of our feminine expression being repressed by society. This is important because finding common ground helps to mobilise those who have misguided conceptions – or none at all – when it comes to feminism and gender issues. We help them to work on issues that will help achieve gender equality actively.
RG- You are a seasoned Design Thinker with a vast resume in innovation projects. What pearls of wisdom would you share with someone who is starting their innovation journey through Design Thinking?
LD- Work with people that don’t always agree with you but that you enjoy working with. I’ll explain: It is important to be surrounded by people that challenge your views and help you see part of the systems that weren’t obvious to you at first. Disagreeing is healthy in a design project scenario. Also, nowadays our workplace is where we spend most of our day, so find colleagues that you enjoy spending time with.
Laura Dusi (left) and Francisca Limberger (right) at Primer19, in NYC.
RG- I’d like to finish by asking you to share a quote that inspires you.
LD– “People! It’s not about breaking structures, but knowing what to do with the pieces”, Mafalda, the comic by Quino.
RG- Thank you, Laura.
LD- Thank you.
To learn more about Echos’ Designing Desirable Futures course, click here.
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