Eleni Kalantidou On Sustain-able Design Education and Design Psychology.

Dr Eleni Kalantidou is a design psychologist, project designer and educator. She is a senior lecturer in Design at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University.

Her projects and collaborations with national and international NGOs and organisations are related to developing a new understanding of Design Psychology. Eleni’s research focuses on the importance of repair not only in relation to artefacts but also the community and the self, and the necessity of re-evaluating contemporary psychologies and the practice of everyday life.


Eleni shares her insights and experience in design psychology and repair, the shift in tertiary design education and intercultural collaborations.


Highlights from the interview (listen to full details on the podcast)

[Tom Allen] - Could you please share a bit about your background in design and psychology and what led to your move to Australia? [2:50]

[Eleni Kalantidou] - I was born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, I hold a bachelor degree in Psychology and a PhD in Architecture. Despite the fact that those two don’t seem connected psychology is the driving force behind design and design strongly affects psychologies, ontologies and cosmologies. I tried to combine the two as part of my PhD research, which was conducted in London and Barcelona. The intention was to show the role psychosocial factors play in how intelligent interior working environments affect their users. The reason why I moved to Australia was because I wanted to work with Tony Fry, a design theorist and philosopher so as to turn my ideas into projects and educational material and develop the field of design psychology.

What is it that drives you to work in academia? [3:57]

Academia provides the space to test ideas, experiment with pedagogies and interact with fresh minds. It is also a constantly changing environment, for better or worse, that challenges me to reinvent myself, my teaching and practice. Academia also allows me to bring together students and organisations and produce work that benefits both parties. Students gain experience from working with a real client and NGOs receive services for free. 

Your work centres around reconfiguring humans’ material and technological dependence. Could you please share more about this work and some of the projects you’re working on to do this? [4:48]

We currently take for granted the material world and our connection to it, a condition that perpetuates wanting more and doing less. Our predisposition towards our position in the world leads to damaging our natural environment and losing basic skills based on our cognitive abilities. One of the main goals of my research is to discover how to reactivate the need for human interaction, collaboration and agency in order to preserve what we’ve got and prevent more damage.

In collaborating on projects with clients and travelling with students to countries like Indonesia and Nepal, what have been some of the outcomes from projects like these and what are the key challenges in making a collaboration like this happen? [5:39]

In Nepal my students worked with local students and teachers so as to built toilets for a school under the supervision of the late Paul Pholeros, one of the directors of Healthabitat. The project is currently completed. In Indonesia, my students and I conducted research in order to help Animal Friends Jogja, an NGO based in Jogjakarta to contest animal brutality and repair local biodiversity. This project produced a number of design strategies that were the outcome of analysing the material collected in Indonesia and in collaboration with Animal Friends Jogja. It also produced a photographic exhibition, the profits of which were donated to Animal Friends Jogja. The key challenges are for both parties to respect cultural differences and be open to different ways of doing things. Another issue is how to foster an ongoing relationship and remove the charity aspect from it -

intercultural collaborations should be about mutual empowerment and learning from each other.   

Making Under The Influence Symposium, ANU, Canberra.

Making Under The Influence Symposium, ANU, Canberra.

A lot of your work is related to un/sustainable ways of living. Could you please share what you believe the top 3 issues are related to humans to living unsustainably? [7:36]

Negation, nihilism and imposed comfort.

Negation is our inability to see our selves as existentially ecodependent, a phrase coined by Edgar Morin, which sums it all. Nihilism is related to how we see the future, as something that will never come and if and when it does, it wont affect us. Imposed comfort is a condition of losing our curiosity, our animal capacity to constantly rediscover the world, to evolve through trial and error, which leads to negating change and not wanting to face the inevitable. 

In 2014, you co-authored ‘Design in the Borderlands’ with Tony Fry. Could you please tell the listeners what this book is about and what the central arguments are? [8:50]

Design in the borderlands opens the dialogue regarding the monocultural nature of contemporary design, how it operates from a Eurocentric point of view and how existing and erased designs found in borderlands reveal cosmologies that need to be acknowledged as a means to sustain habitats, cultural and natural.

With your vast experience across different continents, how have you seen the tertiary education sector shift and what challenges do you think universities will face in the future? [9:35]

For me education is all about the true meaning of pedagogy. Agogi is showing pedia/peda (children) how to act socially, teaching them values and helping them to built their own character.

These days tertiary education is more market than pedagogy driven and is trying to survive in conditions of capitalism.

I don’t see the business model followed by a number of institutions producing graduates that can think for themselves and contribute to a better future. And given the rise of unemployment and the replacement of jobs by machines, it doesn’t even give them the means to be agile, inventive and cope with that reality.

Workshop with Healthabitat

Workshop with Healthabitat

What key steps do you believe tertiary educators should be taking to best prepare their students as changemakers and social innovators? [11:28]

In my opinion, creativity lies in resourcefulness. It is about teaching students that we need to take small, careful steps in order to first understand and then handle contemporary world problems. If you’d asked my students they would tell you that I hate the word ‘solution’.

I think that the most important thing we can teach our students is to believe in the process of doing and learning and what this brings into existence instead of having a fixed goal and always expecting a certain outcome.

The world is constantly changing and they should be able to realistically keep up with these changes. 

What advice would you give to students from the creative industries who are passionate about using their future career to create positive social change? [12:23]

Focus on the work, not themselves. It sounds really noble but I strongly believe that most of them get quickly frustrated after graduation because their priority is not to improve their craft but to get established in the profession.

The work should be about identifying problems from a systemic point of view, understanding that everything is interconnected, not about creating more.

What inspirational projects are you currently observing from around the world and who are the academia or practitioners leading these projects? [13:03]

Mostly projects that provide refugees with opportunities to work and be part of their new homes, such as Mazi mas (which started in London), and around social and physical repair such as Chris Hellawell’s tool library in Edinburgh, Furniture bank in Toronto and COOPAMARE, a collective of trash collectors in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Are there any particular projects you have on the horizon which you are excited about? [14:12]

We’re currently updating the Handle with Care platform by adding the E-waste locations and facilities. I’m also designing a few projects related to social and self-repair as part of my ongoing investigation of how to develop the field of design psychology. This project is related to creating pragmatic models of living, designed according to psychologies grounded in acceptance of risk and exploring the psychological dimensions that could lead to the evaluation and re-approach of human adaptation by redefining sacrifice, enacting self and community agency.

To finish off, are there any great design, psychology or social impact books that you could recommend to our listeners? [15:15]

From the classics I would recommend Niklas Luhmann’s Ecological Communication, a great book about social systems and the environment, and Giorgio Agamben’s The Coming Community.


Resources, people and initiatives mentioned on the podcast

Recommended books


You can contact Eleni on Linkedin or twitter. Feel free to leave comments below.

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