Mafalda graduated in 2020 from the Innovation School’s MDes Design Innovation and Citizenship, having already completed a Masters in graphic design at the Lycée des Arènes in Toulouse. In this podcast she talks about how working at the council allows her to compare public institutions in Scotland and France, and why she came to Glasgow to do a Masters in a foreign language.

Mafalda’s Masters research at the Innovation School looked at potential new frameworks for democracy

Her training in graphic design helped her to visualise the structures involved in the democratic system

Mafalda’s interest in social design began with her involvement in community led projects in France

The economic and political obstacles she encountered led to her interest in design and democracy
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I’m currently in the southwest of France, living very close to the ocean, which is nice. I went home during the Christmas period to visit my family and got stuck and couldn’t get back to Scotland, so I’m now working remotely. It’s quite difficult to connect with a new team and do a new job. It takes away a lot from the building relationships and getting to know the people you work with. I can’t complain, it’s a nice place to be, but I miss the Glasgow life.

 I started working for the council in February. I came to know the CCI (Centre for Civic Innovation) because Kirsty Ross, who is a Product Design lecturer at GSA, reached out to me when I was graduating and offered me a position in a project called Collaborative Futures, which is a collaboration with the council and the Centre for Civic Innovation. It’s half academic and half a real job, so I got to meet them and learn about their work, whilst still being involved in education. That’s how they offered me a position in their team.

I think it’s going really well. It’s very interesting to be looking at things from the position of an institution like a city council. My work is about using design research methods and design skills to assist the team at the CCI, the partners and the people we work with to try to achieve the projects. It’s about supporting people to share their stories and being attentive and kind. It’s not like there’s a set thing you do every day. It’s a very flexible position where you have to adapt, especially now. It changes a lot so you have the opportunity to learn a lot of new stuff. It can be very different from the experience you have in education but that’s great.

I’m really enjoying the team I’m working with now. They’re very kind and I’m enjoying the perspective of working from an institution point of view because before I was working more in the community side of these kinds of jobs. I’m getting a clearer picture and being able to compare the practice that this team has compared to what public services or institutions look like in France. It’s also very interesting to see the relationships people have with those institutions and the symbols and the meanings it has.

 When I was studying in France I did a graphic design Masters that looked at social design more specifically and I was involved in a few community led projects, at first just as a citizen in my neighbourhood but then I began investing my design skills into this project. The city I was working in had a lot of economic and political interests so we encountered loads of obstacles and difficulties running projects. This has led to my interest in looking at how design relates to democracy and how it can help support people in achieving things for themselves.

 That’s why I wanted to get to know the field of research a bit better, because by the end of these projects and the Masters I did there I realised I was entering a completely new territory and I wanted to dig more into it. I felt like at GSA and in Scotland generally there were loads of people working on that topic too – on collaboration and democratic processes, as well as the relationship between design and social justice and representation, so I wanted to dig more into that. Also I was doing those jobs with a very superficial knowledge of design and the skills [needed] to collaborate, and also a superficial knowledge of the context I was working in, so I felt I needed to give strength to my practice and study a bit more and GSA was giving me this opportunity.

I can’t say there was really a plan in the choices I’ve made in my education, just because I feel like sometimes it’s about the people you meet and the people who make you curious and for me this changes my plans all the time. I never thought that I would do another Masters, and especially not one in English! I was always interested in people and I wanted to do something that I felt had meaning for people and I was lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people, or at least I encountered really interesting people that made me more curious about academia, and also allowed me to practice in the field. The collaborative project was also about that – trying to look at the value of academia in a real project, a social project, a democratic project. I just find it fascinating how much you can plan for stuff but it never goes according to plan.

For me the whole value of the Masters course was the people. It was great to be able to learn with people coming from everywhere. I’m really interested in how people interpret things, like something that has a symbolic value to you would have a different symbolic value to someone else. It’s definitely interesting to work in large teams and to try to understand each other, especially when for most of us English is not our first language. I feel like it teaches you patience and the kindness to listen to others.

I was lucky to have Elio Caccavale as my tutor for my Citizenship speciality. There were only six of us and he fostered moments for us that were very special. We had the opportunity to have discussions about defining our practice and also have difficult discussions about why design is important and what it should or shouldn’t be. We never really got answers to that but I feel it was so valuable to have those moments in such a small committee. I think it had a huge impact of the six of us, I just can’t measure it yet.

My Masters project looked at political representation and democratic processes. It was challenging representation as the only form of democracy but also majority as a form of democracy. I was trying to look for different frameworks for civic engagement and ways of making democracy happen. My work was very theoretical and trying to be critical so I looked at analogies in vegetal and animal philosophies but also in network theories, just to look at different ways that multi-species assemble themselves and different ways of organising ourselves. It was not about drawing an idealistic picture of what democracy should look like, it was more about trying to see the value in conflicts and the value in hierarchies too.

The Collaborative Futures project allowed me to put all that theory into practice and see how those concepts that are very beautiful on paper clash with the reality of how things work. So it was really about creating common cultures of democracy and about representation, not only political representation but representation in itself and everything that it presupposes onto people.

It was also about being didactic. I tried to illustrate a lot of these processes because politics is something we are told is for experts. A lot of people remove themselves from being involved for lots of reasons so I just wanted to try to make this accessible.

I think it informs the work I do now but it also makes me feel more comfortable just because I understand things better and I’m able to be more critical about the things I do. Sometimes it’s hard if you get caught up in a piece of work and you’re not critical about what you’re doing. I feel like the experiences I had, good and bad, they remind me to be critical. I think this is annoying sometimes for the team I work in; I’m being the typical annoying French person who is critical about everything but I feel like that’s totally informed the job I have now.

 I’m not really sure yet what I would like to do [in the future]. I’ve been lucky enough not to really plan too much. I just know that I want to do a job that is about people and working with people. I’m definitely interested in research. I love to do research with somebody else, not just by myself. I’m really interested in things that don’t necessarily relate to design, like sociology or philosophy, but I also don’t want to lose the skills of making in design. I feel like that happens a lot, that you forget the mechanics of how to make things. So I hope I will be making loads of stuff and I hope it will make people feel better and be meaningful. That’s what I’m aiming for.

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