10 Questions to Alumnus Savannah Vize - CS Design

Read about Savannah's valuable experience and learnings in studying and working around sustainability topics.
Savannah Vize and Uma the dog
Creative Sustainability Alumnus Savannah Vize and Uma the dog

Creative Sustainability alumnus Savannah Vize answers 10 questions and shares her experience in studying Creative Sustainability as well as working in and around sustainability topics.

Can you give a short introduction of yourself? Who are you, and what is your relation to the CS program?

I’m a regenerative designer-researcher from the UK (although this is a self-assigned job title that’s always changing!). I have a background in visual design and illustration, as well as place-based community engagement from when I studied and worked in London. I moved to Finland in 2020 to study Creative Sustainability and graduated from the programme around a year ago in December 2022!

Briefly describe your journey to and from Creative Sustainability

I always wanted to work in sustainability, but maybe started with a bit of a one-dimensional idea of what sustainability meant, as in environmental sustainability. Working in a community engagement studio after my bachelors really kick-started a much more intersectional approach for me, seeing the correlations and connections between social, ecological, economic, cultural and political issues. This really made me want to learn more about how design and designers can play a role in this space - so I applied for CS!

The systemic and interconnected view that is so central to CS was great at connecting the dots and seeing how more ‘traditional’ design skills might be reapplied to tackle wicked problems. From the programme, I became especially interested in futures thinking and sustainability transitions, as well as how playfulness and imagination can be tools for these.

What are you working on now?

There’s never a straightforward answer to this, but I’ll do my best! At the moment I work both as an independent (freelance) designer-researcher, and as a core member of the Falay Transition Design collective.

In my independent work I still use my visual design background a lot, especially in communicating complex sustainability topics into more digestible and engaging formats - so using a lot of information, systems and service design approaches. I typically work with organisations who are active in eco-social sustainability work, such as charities or research companies. I’m especially proud of a project I finished this year with Adaptation Scotland, co-designing a community adaptation routemap.

At the Falay Transition Design collective, we’re a multidisciplinary group of designers, researchers and sustainability experts trying to take a more radical approach to sustainability consultancy. We have a lot of different interests in the group, but my key areas are using creative approaches to support sustainability transitions, and ‘hospicing’ of obsolete systems, as well as developing approaches for imagination and playful work to shift mindsets around sustainability issues.

What’s your favorite part or stage working with design and sustainability?

I think my favourite parts are the bits where design and sustainability work feels empowering and motivational, rather than overwhelming and depressing (which it can be, a lot of the time). I’m so happy to be able to use imagination work throughout my practice, and have inspiring conversations about what a sustainable, regenerative future could actually look like, and how we can get there.

What have you learned in your current job that you will remember far into the future?

There’s a lot of pressure to get employed immediately after graduation. Throughout my CS master’s I was working as a freelancer, but only ever saw it as a short-term arrangement. After graduation I was encouraged by those around me to stick with it full-time, and I’m so glad I did. Don’t get me wrong, I understand this is a huuuge privilege that’s enabled by my passport, background and economic situation, but being an entrepreneur has meant that I’ve not needed to squeeze all my skills and interests into a relevant cover letter and dilute some of my more radical approaches for sustainability. It certainly has its challenges, but working as a freelancer has been a real freedom space to understand where and how to apply my skills.

What do you like to do outside of sustainability and design? (i.e hobby or interests)

I’m now a year into my kombucha-making journey! There have been a few explosions, and more than a few bad batches, but it’s lots of fun - and any Helsinki-based folk are more than welcome to come grab a starter kit from me!

I love textile crafts and have recently started a sewing-circle with friends to exchange skills and craft together. And then of course there’s my lovely dog Uma, who I love spending time with and taking on overland adventures with my partner.

What did studying CS change about your approach to work and life?

CS wouldn’t be CS without its systemic teachings, and it’s really changed the way I approach problem spaces. Rather than trying to jump to a solution or address issues in isolation, zooming out and carefully investigating the full picture is such an important learning for designers, and especially for designing transitions.

Regenerative design is more-than-human!

Savannah Vize, Creative Sustainability alumnus

What would you like to work on in the future?

I love the multiplicity of my work at the moment, and that’s something I would love to keep. At the moment I’m looking at avenues to explore more hopeful imagination work, alongside the themes of death and grieving when it comes to the climate crisis. 

I’m using playful approaches in a lot of my work, but I would also love the opportunity to focus again on the value of play in sustainability - perhaps as an extension of my thesis work, or in another project.

What is one key concept of sustainability that everyone interested in Creative Sustainability should know of?

Regenerative design is more-than-human! This was a switch in my brain that got flicked in the ‘Sustainability Transitions and Futures’ course, and has stayed that way ever since. Rather than taking a separatist view of ourselves from the environment, when we apply a planet-centric approach to design we embed a systemic, empathetic, conscious and much less extractive way of thinking, which is so so important.

Your 3 books recommendations for people interested in sustainability topics

"Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer

"From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want" by Rob Hopkins

"Climate Justice" by Mary Robinson

Bonus: What advice would you give to current CS students or people interested in applying to the programme.

Make the most of being able to tailor the degree to your interests - find a thesis topic that researches your niche interests, use course assignments to explore a bunch of different topics, and make the most of the flexible study right of Finnish universities by finding external courses to complement your transcript. 

Find out more about studies in Creative Sustainability

Aalto University Learning Centre Library

Creative Sustainability Thesis Works

Creative Sustainability Thesis Works

Creative Sustainability
From The Test Site. Copyright Creative Sustainability.

Creative Sustainability

Creative Sustainability (CS) is a joint Master's degree programme at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, School of Business and School of Chemical Engineering. Established in 2010, the CS programme brings students from a variety of fields together, to study and work in multidisciplinary teams and create novel sustainable solutions for human, urban, industrial and business environments. The pedagogical approach is based on integrating teaching and research, problem-based learning, design thinking, blended learning and strong connections to practical outcomes. The graduates of the programme have the endeavour to understand and address systemic phenomena and wicked problems.

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