Creative Sustainability master’s student Michael Buchta shares his experience in the programme
Tell a little bit about yourself: What is your background?
I am originally from Bavaria in Germany, where I also did my bachelor's degree in communication design at the University of Applied Sciences in Würzburg. I built up my knowledge in many areas, such as motion design, graphic design, editorial & branding, interaction design & interactive media. For three years now, and especially since I’m here in Finland, I have been more or less specializing in UX research & service design.
What made you choose your program? What are you specializing in?
For me, this transdisciplinary approach was one of the reasons why I applied in the first place. In the last semesters of my bachelor's degree, I felt like my work as a designer didn't make sense anymore, especially when I look at what's happening in the commercial design industry, where many designers are moving up in one way or another. However, I had very passionate and forward-thinking professors who promoted the value of design collaborating with other fields and the impact they can create together. The designer in the role of naive outsider and mediator, with a fresh take on things. My interest was sparked and I looked for more opportunities where I can discover this new purpose of my discipline for myself.
I consider myself a generalist, so it is hard to say that I am specializing in anything, but I would say big topics within my field of UX / Service design right now are sustainability strategy and participatory design, and Social Innovation. I am very interested in how communities can be transformed to improve their capacity to better absorb change and disruption and which role social innovation (and designers) can play in this.
What skills have you learned in your program that you find valuable?
I have been able to get to know and try out many useful design methods that help to deal with complexity and to be still able to draw conclusions that can be built on despite this. This also includes the ability to convince stakeholders of solutions and, if that doesn't work, to listen to them and work out a solution together that feels good for everyone.
Doing a lot of project-based courses throughout my studies I feel very confident in teams with different backgrounds and have already figured out how to best use everyone's skills to solve complicated problems. Through various group work with successes and failures alike, I feel very strengthened in my ability to lead teams and projects. This also means taking ownership of projects, no matter how good or bad it goes.
What inspires you at the moment?
I am inspired by the various activist groups fighting for action against the effects of our western way of life, such as Extinction Rebellion or Scientists for Future. I am deeply in awe of their courage and their hope to still turn the tide, as well as the perseverance and patience they show, even though they have to explain themselves a thousand times a day and seem to talk against a wall most of the time.
I am also inspired by many new movements that fundamentally question capitalism in its current form and try to offer alternatives that are better for the well-being of people, living beings and the environment. These include, for example, the Degrowth Movement or the concept of the common good economy. Both are based on principles such as locality, community ownership (commons) and participation. I am a big believer that change starts small and that designers can provide great services in this direction with the principle of participation. This makes me look positively into the future and gives me purpose.
Do you integrate your knowledge from studies into your everyday life?
Yes, I do. As a student, I already live a relatively low-carbon lifestyle, so it doesn't take the biggest effort to my lifestyle. Limiting air travel, keeping meat consumption (especially beef) to a minimum, and buying local and second-hand are definitely among the things worth mentioning.
What projects sustainability-related are you doing (have done/participated in) apart from studies?
This year I had the great opportunity to serve as the chairman of the Aalto Sustainability Club. It is founded by Aalto University students who share a common interest in sustainability-related topics, bringing together students from the business, arts, design, and technological fields. It was a rewarding experience to build back a sense of community after the pandemic brought club activities to a near standstill.
Since I started at Aalto I am also involved a lot in the Test Site, which is a student-led network encouraging experimental projects in practical sustainability. I had a lot of fun building up the community there, doing permaculture gardening, and building a shed and chairs out of waste wood.
Why would you recommend your program to prospective students?
This program gives you the tools and knowledge for change, as well as a drive to change things together in a positive direction. It can sometimes be frustrating how much ignorance and denial people have in the face of an approaching climate, food, and biodiversity catastrophe. It's all the more amazing to be surrounded by people who, like you, want to figure out how to tackle these problems together and not give up hope.