Cindy Kohtala


Professor, Design for Sustainablility


I am a Finnish-Canadian researcher, writer, educator and designer, with degrees in industrial design and craft design from Canada and Finland. I enjoy working translocally: I am an active member of several international networks for design-for-sustainability and for fab labs, as well as a participant in local urban activism projects. I like to inhabit the peripheries of design, where activists collaborate on alternatives to conventional mass production and consumption offerings.

I did my doctorate in Aalto University where I examined fab labs, distributed production and sustainability issues in my dissertation.

What I do at UID

I am Professor in design for sustainability. I aim to build people's capacities for sustainability assessment and collaborative knowledge-making in research projects and in design education. I facilitate design students' ability to develop their own design-for-sustainability skills and profiles.

Before coming to UID, I taught sustainable product-service system design and design-for-sustainability courses at the Master's level, introductory design at the Bachelor's level and introductory doctoral research skills at the PhD level. I give lectures and workshops in courses locally and internationally, on open design and maker culture, distributed economies, design for a circular economy, and co-design. I have been a guest teacher in Design-for-Sustainability courses in Mexico, China and India.

I am interested in grassroots activism: how active people engage materially in sustainability issues and how they build infrastructure for others to get involved in locally relevant and socially valuable production. As tools and knowledge become more accessible, people have more and more opportunities to participate in design and technology. At the same time, people need to participate in decision-making in their direct environment and often want to learn about local sustainability issues - even changing their lifestyle. I study examples of industrial transition, alternatives to mass production and consumption. This can be a local community technology workshop (fab lab) or a micro-factory that manufactures on-demand.

I explore how researchers and activists can collaborate on knowledge making for sustainability transformation using design-led methods.

Talk to me about  

  • Open design, fab labs and maker culture

  • Values in design

  • Sustainable Product-Service Systems

  • Science & Technology Studies

  • Active user engagement in design and technology

  • Co-design and collaborative design

  • Ethnographic research