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Professor İdil Gaziulusoy: ‘Our future visions are not ambitious enough’

Associate professor in sustainable design İdil Gaziulusoy wants to challenge peoples’ assumptions of what is possible and impossible in the future. And to find how desirable futures can be achieved – even if they might appear impossible to reach.
Idil Gaziulusoy

What does your professorship mean?  

‘Sustainable design historically deals with improving environmental and social performance of products, services, business models and systems. But, increasingly more so it deals with creating new imaginaries of alternative – desirable and sustainable – futures and generating actionable knowledge on how we can achieve those. This is very interdisciplinary and internationally collaborative work.’ 

What brought you to Aalto? 

‘Before Aalto University, I knew about University of Art and Design Helsinki, a globally well-known design school. When Aalto University was born, I was inspired by the interdisciplinarity and the vision of the university. I thought there is freedom to interpret what innovation means for your research. Chance and luck and coincidence made us meet when I was just finishing my postdoc in Australia. Thus, I came to Finland for this position.’ 

What are the highlights of your career? 

‘I decided to become a professor at the age of six, not yet really knowing what it meant then. Doing my master’s in design put me into this track of sustainability. I did my PhD in New Zealand, in sustainability science, which changed my perspective in many things, primarily understanding sustainability issues as systemic problems. I then had the opportunity to work in the Victorian Eco-innovation Lab in Australia during my post-doc, a pioneering research environment that did very forefront work in design for sustainability transitions. The project we did was amazing; we developed visions, scenarios and pathways for transitioning to post-carbon and resilient futures in Australian cities, using design-led methodologies for research and engagement. 

Also, finding the job in Aalto University, and to get tenured, are big highlights. Becoming tenured means a lot to me, it offers me an option to settle and finally implement my long-term research strategy. I did not have preconceived expectations to what I could do here at Aalto. I appreciate the environment and atmosphere here, I work in a very inspiring and motivating environment. I have enjoyed it here and learned and developed quite a lot. And I feel I’ve meaningfully contributed to the school and to the whole university. 

I’m an interdisciplinary researcher, having degrees in different fields, so all this experience has exposed me to wider thinking. It has all affected my researcher persona.’

We need to understand how we can implement design for multispecies sustainability in practice.”

İdil Gaziulusoy

What do you research and why? 

‘My research is future oriented research. As a sustainability scientist, one of my legs is in systemic transformation research, very real life and action oriented. The other leg is in design and design research. I have been contributing into the intersections of sustainability transformations and design research since my PhD. It was the first thesis globally that integrated design, systems innovation and sustainability transformations. I’m interested in bringing design understanding into this research area, and what roles and agencies design has and can have in these structural, societal, systemic transformation processes. 
 
This intersection is empirically not well researched. We need to understand what happens there, and what existing and new methods of design research and practices to use in these transformation processes. Transformation and transition research has been going on for a while, but transformations for sustainability is not happening as fast nor as ambitiously as needed. There is a need for theoretical and methodical renewal and design and creative practices can make significant contributions in this.’ 

What is topical in your field right now? 

‘I have multiple interests currently. One is, how I can help businesses to develop long-term strategies in alignment with these transformations, that can affect their innovation paths. The other topic I’m interested in is, how to move away from human centricity and anthropocentricity, and to design our living environments with better alignment between humans and nature – to understand how we can implement design for multispecies sustainability in practice. 

The third area of interest of mine is, how can I, through my research, challenge peoples’ assumptions of what is possible and impossible in the future. To open paths that are invisible to us at the moment. The visions generated and circulated on sustainable futures are not ambitious enough. I want to challenge the assumptions underlying these visions, and what we increasingly think is impossible to happen in the future – for us to open paths to desirable futures, the futures we want to achieve for ourselves and for the future generations.’  

What are your expectations for the future in your field?  

‘Our research and research-based practice must keep on pushing the boundaries of perceived realities and help in collectively imagining and acting on visions of desirable futures. We also need to develop new methods and tools for businesses, and other organisations for transforming their innovation paths’ 

Why should one study design for sustainability? 

‘It is a topical field at the moment. Hot topic. And very important. It is also applicable into so many parts of real life, from policy making to making new products. Its scope is quite large. Experts in practice are much needed.’ 

What other interests do you have? 

‘Sustainability work is also my life work. I’d like to contribute to transformation of the society outside of my research as well. I love doing consulting work, which is a chance to put my expertise in use. I love reading speculative fiction, it helps me imagine alternative futures. I have two cats and love spending time with them. There’s also an urban jungle in my apartment. I love traveling, although, I’m conflicted because flying is not sustainable. But I try to do slow travel as much as possible. In addition, I’m a member of two kayaking clubs in Helsinki, and I love avantouinti (ice swimming) and sauna. Helsinki is a good place to live, you can be close to nature also in the city.’ 

See video: Transforming our now for sustainable futures

Woman in dark sleeveless suit or dress is holding a handrail in front of a white wall, smiling to the camera

Who?

Position: Associate professor in sustainable design at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture; leader of NODUS Sustainable Design Research Group 

Background: Originally from Türkiye, studied in New Zealand, a postdoc in Australia 

Hobbies: Traveling, hiking, outdoor sports, cooking, photography, cinema, reading 

Contact: 

İdil Gaziulusoy, School of Arts, Design and Architecture, [email protected], +358505671137 

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