Cynthia V. Lusilu is a transdisciplinary designer and researcher working around ways of engaging with people through design thinking and participatory practices.

01. ABOUT ME

    ︎WHO AM I?
    ︎MANIFESTO

02. ACADEMIC RESEARCH    
    ︎HEALING CHRONICLES
    ︎RIGHT OLD LAUGH

03. SELECTED PROJECTS
    MORE PROJECTS COMING
    SOON (WIP)︎  



Mark



“I've learned that
people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou





I am Cynthia Voza Lusilu, a transdisciplinary designer born raised in Paris, and currently living in London. I am all about creating positive emotions in people through design and make the world a kinder place. ︎

My recent research is centered around ways of engaging with people through community-based participatory practices. I explore care and repair as vehicles to support emotional wellness and sense of place. 

I have been working as a UX designer alongside a variety of businesses and non-profit organizations these last couple of years (download my resume).

For commercial inquiries please feel free to contact me via email.

Let’s keep in touch for further collaborations! ︎

︎︎︎Twitter

︎Email

︎LinkedIn


© 2020 Cynthia Voza Lusilu.  All rights reserved.


MANIFESTO ︎               MANIFESTO ︎               MANIFESTO ︎               MANIFESTO ︎               MANIFESTO ︎

(1)

Put care first.

Always. 

“...We suggest that caring be viewed as a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web.”
— Joan C. Tronto

(2)

Stay focus.

Stay curious.

“Keep the child within alive. A child never tires of hearing the birds sing, never gets bored looking at flowers.”
— Mata Amritanandamayi

(3)

Don’t isolate,
collaborate.




“Without community, there is no liberation… But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist. ”
— Audre Lorde

(4)

Think systems
before artifacts.




“Remember, always, that everything you know, and everything everyone knows, is only a model. Get your model out there where it can be viewed. Invite others to challenge your assumptions and add their own.”
— Donella H. Meadows

(5)

Challenge the
status quo.




“Hard to love a design industry that monopolizes the privilege of a solution whilst structurally rejecting responsibility for the problem.”
— David Rudnick

(6

Trust yourself
beforethe process.




“It always seem impossible until it’s done.”
— Nelson Mandel

© Photography: (1) Timothy Goodman • (4) Devostock • (5) Unknown.




2019/20

healing chronicles –––– MA Design, Goldsmiths College

healing chronicles is a 2 in 1 project approaching the issue of mental health and emotional wellness through the meaning of objects and storytelling. 


︎READ MORE︎                    ︎READ MORE︎                  ︎READ MORE︎                    ︎READ MORE︎                  


Specifically designed from a culturally sensitive perspective, healing chronicles is composed of two pieces:
  1. A magazine made up of selected stories from Black Britons living in South London.
  2. A playful toolkit to foster dialogue through creative means between care providers and the general public by developing reciprocal understanding and empathic resonance to support health literacy.




CONTEXT


My role
End-to-end product design from
research to conception, prototyping 
and visualization 

Project time
September 2019 (ongoing)

Location
London (UK)
Mental illnesses are spreading at alarming rates in the UK. According to the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, a sixth of the population in England aged 16 to 64 have a mental health problem. Among minorities, Black people are disproportionately impacted: African-Caribbean people living in the UK are more likely to be diagnosed with severe mental illnesses than any other ethnicity.

Through this design project and writing autoethnography, I intended to raise questions about how to challenge current narratives on mental and emotional health that particularly affect the Black British community/ies from the inside out.

healing chronicles research methods were used during #Hackthehospitalday, a full-day workshop commissioned by the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust in December 2019.



PROCESS


Preliminary directions
This research study stands at the core of my personal fields of interest in relation to my design practice. It prompted me to work on emotional wellness within the Black populations living in the UK, and ask myself the following questions:


  1. How to design ways to talk about mental health within the Black British community/ies? 

  2. How to position myself as a designer when engaging with a community I self-identify with? 

  3. How to manage power relations? What are the implications and limitations?



Brainstorming wall

Reclaiming Black British narratives
Legacies of marginalization, displacement, discrimination, media representation, etc. are non-exhausted systemic oppressions that have direct impacts on mental health and well-being. Passed down from generation to generation, those specific traumas are hardly ever treated.

From this point, I started to experiment with the potentialities of storytelling as a tool for collective healing. What if we freed ourselves from the roles that were assigned to us? Or that we set to ourselves? How can we shift from trauma-related narratives to powerful stories? (Ginwright, 2018) 


Untitled - Black Panther movement march. 
London, 1971 © Neil Kenlock



A conversation through objects of resilience (ACTOOR)
After deeper research on the topic, inspired by the work of American designer Myriam D. Diatta, I organized and conducted ACTOOR: an afternoon workshop bringing together Black British people to reflect upon ways to approach resilience and reparations within the community.

The workshop took place in October 2019 at Goldsmiths College. I asked participants — 9 in total including myself — to bring any personal possession that tells a story of how they cope with the experience of displacement marginalization, otherization or any form of distress.

The first part of the session was dedicated to sharing stories through the objects. Later on, the participants were asked to materialize conceptual ideas and key notions that had been exchanged beforehand through a collective building activity.








“I really liked coming together
with people from different ages, genders, life experiences,
country of origins.
This experience was healing
for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

ACTOOR participant










“Great opportunity to
deeply listen and hear the
intricacies of everyone experiences.”
ACTOOR participant




“I would love to have this safe space again.
It helped me feel comfortable to express things
like my struggles as a young black female.”

ACTOOR participant



‘SHARE’: this key notion was thought about building a resilient system. A table-like shape that stands in the middle of a rectangular frame. The table is surrounded by multiple colored beads representing the plurality of members within a united community. This composition symbolizes the importance of shared moments where everyone has a seat around the table.


PRODUCT OUTCOME


Toolkit
This playful toolkit is a handmade box, containing two activities:

  1. Show, Hide & Tell: players have to bring a personal object related to challenging life experience. Once all objects are collected, the participants have to guess the owner of each object, then reveal their own object and share their stories.
  1. Build Café: participants have to collectively materialize key concepts and ideas with selected materials. The shapes created are based on stories and conversations shared during the previous activity.


#Hackthehospital — a full-day design workshop led by Daniel Blyden (Spaghetti) in December 2019 at Sandwell General Hospital (Birmingham).
With the participation of selected hospital staff members, we envisaged ways to create spaces that invite the hospital community to learn from and get involved in health R&D. The Build Café activity was later on introduced to local school children. 




Mag-box
The magazine is a result of a collective endeavor. It gathers a series of empowering and healing narratives from Black Britons, an anthology of untold stories that take shape in a singular way.

The project stands as an ongoing conversation meant to be extended and perpetuated outside the box. It interrogates ways of building an archive of feeling (Ann Cvetkovich, 2003) and possibilities to nurture our own legacy. 


KEY LEARNINGS


healing chronicles is an ongoing self-led project that is deeply meaningful to me as it empowers me.
What I’ve learned about this experience is:

  1. Learning the realities and complexities of community engagement as a designer — establishing trust, setting boundaries, dealing with the responsibilities of ‘speaking for’ the others, being aware of the power dynamic, etc.

  2. Being accountable for the ethics that comes along when dealing with “unsolicited” research.
  1. Paying attention to the value produced in co-design and participatory practices: value to whom? to what end? (Shana Agid, Elizabeth Chin, 2019).

  2. Making tangible products (Toolkit and Mag-box) — prototyping using suitable materials, paying attention to costs and resource limitations.
Mark



2019

Right Old Laugh –––– MA Design, Goldsmiths College

Right Old Laugh is a  collective research about understanding the meanings of care in relation to our design practice.


︎     READ MORE     ︎             ︎     READ MORE     ︎             ︎     READ MORE     ︎                  ︎     READ MORE     ︎   


Care is not always about doing grand things, it also involves the very mundane things. It is more than a practical act of maintenance. Through this project, we engaged with a local community, the Deptford Action Group for the Elderly (DAGE), and designed two symbolic objects: 
  1. a 7-inch vinyl featuring a thank you note addressed to DAGE’s manager.
  2. a photo album that highlights the most memorable moments of our journey.



CONTEXT


Our team
Hester Ju
Khanh Pham
Tanishia Rane
Cynthia Voza Lusilu
Project time
From February to April 2019

Location
Deptford, London (UK)

The purpose of this research was to unpick, rethink, rebuild, redefine what is meant by understandings and practices of care as designers. This project led us to put care into practice through physical and emotional repair. Our presence in DAGE brought to light the relantless effort made by its members to care for the place. 


PROCESS


Situated practice
Our first approach was to share common interests on the topic of care and position our work. We gained more insight by doing fieldwork, and opted to focus on themes related to intergeneration, accessibility, ‘non-expertise’ and community engagement. Ultimately, this phase led us to come across DAGE and meet its affiliate members.


DAGE is a community cafe/vintage shop based in Lewisham. Founded by Harry and Sharon Haward in the late 90s, this formerly vibrant cafe is in decline since the death of Harry in 2016. DAGE is a warm, convivial, and accessible place where you can meet kind people, get free coffee and found rare artifacts like a broken jukebox 477.



Brainstorming wall





Difficult beginnings
John, DAGE’s manager who voluntarily takes care of the place, kindly welcomed us with open arms. We got acquainted with the space and members through time. We quickly realized that the assumptions we had —supported by our off-site research, about a supposed gap between generations mostly affecting older persons — did not apply to DAGE’s members. Most of the members we disccussed with were not in any way feeling stigmatized in regards to their age. From this point, we reconsidered our approach and came to understand that the probes we designed so far were too biased, thus unexploitable. 

The probes we designed were misleading as they were based on a false assumption.



Establishing a practice of care
This episode was an opportunity for us to reflect upon our work and ourselves. We started get to know each other and building trust by addressing the things left unsaid that was frustrating and preventing us to move forward.

Instead of coming with our views and looking for a problem to be solved, we invested more time to listen to DAGE’s members’ stories and concerns. The more time we spent there, the more we got to understand the situation that was actually paralyzing DAGE.


The ecosystem of care
DAGE’s members, who used to be very close to Harry, revealed that since he passed away, tensions were rising between them and those who were taking care of Harry’s legacy. The latter did not seem to care enough about DAGE’s members. Thus, we contacted Sharon and had a casual conversation about DAGE’s past and present. She confessed that she and her son were trying their best to keep DAGE alive in a difficult economic environment. We realized that and miscommunication and mistrust stood at the root of the current discontent.

As we got familiar with the space, we found a broken jukebox, dating from the times when Harry was alive. We did not have any expertise on repairing the machine, but took the initiative to fix it. DAGE’s members got really excited and started being reminiscent about the good old times.




















The ecosystem of care: DAGE, us and more.


PRODUCT OUTCOME


7-inch vinyl
A Love Letter To John is a vinyl featuring Sharon’s interview and a thank you note addressed to John, DAGE’s ultimate caregiver. The choice of a 7-inch size record refers to the Rockola 477 jukebox. It was played at DAGE and contributed to easing the tension between the members and upper management. The original soundtrack, Love Letters by Ketty Lester, is one of John’s favourite.









Photo album
Right Old Laugh is a photo book that illustrates the most memorable times of the project from the encounter with John to the repair of the jukebox.





KEY LEARNINGS


Right Old Laugh is really meaningful to me as I got deeper into the notion of design for care.
What I’ve learned about this experience is:

  1. Building trust and being aware of the power dynamic — how much can designers take/give when interacting with a community?

  2. Learning to detach myself from the expected outcome and trust the process, with the aim of creating new methods/approaches to design research. Thinking of value of the care that goes beyond the certainty of impact (Hamington, 2010). 

  3. Being careful of assumption and contextual inquiries — paying attention to how people feel to build empathy: acknowledging and challenging our biases and pre-conceived ideas we (all) have when starting a project
  1. Although I had multiple teamwork experiences in the past, both professionally and academically, this project was different. We, as teammates who didn’t know each other beforehand, took time to get to know and care about one another which truly made the difference on the overall experience

  2. Being an “expert” in a conventional sense, can actually distance us from care, but once we take the initiative to engage in the acts of care itself, we become “experts of care”, which has as much authority and importance than the existing structures of care

Mark