Meet Erika Braccini, a happy designer working on eco-social development and implementing a life-centred design approach, which focuses on how design can create transformation, especially in relation to the coexistence between humans and other living beings. Since joining the Amazon Voyage in 2015 , she experienced a life changing shift and we wanted to find out more!

Tell us a bit about yourself!

When I joined the voyage, I was living in London where I graduated from studying design. I decided to study design because I felt that it is a powerful way to help solve environmental issues. The way you design a product, service or even infrastructure can have an impact. Now I’m back in Italy studying for a Masters in Eco-Social Design so that I can begin my career with knowledge of the impact we have on the environment.

Photo Credit: Katrina McQuail

How would you describe your superpower?

My superpower is finding ways to reconnect humans and other living beings through design, giving agency to the other living beings through a different medium.

“Human-centred design has always been the dominant approach, but if we put the ‘non-humans’ at the centre then it’s interesting to see how it impacts the end product.”

You describe yourself as a ‘Life centred designer’, can you tell us what this means?

It’s about pulling away from ‘human-centred’ design, where everything is created for human needs and focusing on all the living beings, meaning wildlife and nature too.

Human-centred design has always been the dominant approach, but if we put the ‘non-humans’ at the centre then it’s interesting to see how it impacts the end product. It’s quite spiritual really, you have to discover the ‘wild way’ and create with more empathy for the world around you.

What kind of products do you design?

I came from a more product design background, finding ways to upcycle materials. For example, I created this cabinet to learn more about composting furniture with worms which led me into learning more about food waste. I wanted to dive deeper and understand the cycle of nature and how we are part of it. I used this knowledge to hold workshops with children and teach them about compositing and reducing food waste. As a result it became more of a participatory design project where the product was the centre but the most important and interesting element was sharing the concept with others.

Credit: Stella Marina Stabbins

How did your journey with eXXpedition begin?

It was early 2015 and I had attended an event about the circular economy in central London. We listened to speakers talk about the Great Recovery Project and looked at the challenges of waste and the opportunities of a circular economy through the lens of design. Afterwards, I went to the workshop and they mentioned eXXpedition. I looked it up after and applied when I saw the opportunity!


Credit: Katrina McQuail

What was the most surprising thing you learnt during your Voyage?

Firstly, I learnt the power of my own mind. When we set off I was really scared. I could see the city sinking into the horizon behind me, and we were faced with this vast open blue. That was my world for a whole month. I remember though this moment where I just decided to face it and not be scared anymore, I felt proud because I was able to shift my mindset even though I was in this unfamiliar environment, I was so young and so far from home.

The other thing that surprised me was learning about the five gyres and just how much plastic had accumulated in them. With the movement of the earth’s axis, all this plastic was just in one place and I hadn’t anticipated the scale.

Credit: Katrina McQuail

“As a designer we have the power to go deeper into what we create and why.”

How has the experience influenced your work since?

When I came back, I wanted to figure out how to give a voice to this issue and create more impact with design. Storytelling is such a great tool and we need to be telling the story of our siblings, meaning the other living beings. Humans are here now but design will, in many cases, out live us and have impact on the future.

As a designer we have the power to go deeper into what we create and why. Since the experience, I wanted to explore more participatory design where different communities are involved in the process.

I also realised that I wanted to work more with non-humans and learn how we can respect and protect them with what we design.

I recently designed a board game to spread awareness of the mountain wildlife here and bring light to the issues surrounding the impact we have on them. With my designs, I don’t want to tell people what to do, I want to encourage a more neutral dialogue, to inspire change or transformation within us. We need to realise we’re not the only ones on this planet and we can still respect ourselves whilst respecting the others that live here too.

“Every creature is important. If we eliminate one species then it creates a chain reaction that will eventually affect us in worse ways.”

What has your experience been like when introducing more sustainability into design? 

Sadly, there is a lot of greenwashing. In the world of design, there are overarching companies who are misrepresenting how to make the right choices as a consumer and designer. 

For my bachelor’s thesis I explored this issue and many of the designers I interviewed talked about the struggle of how to change something that is already so big – which is easier said than done. Many people feel that change should be straightforward like not buying certain products but it’s also about the bigger picture of demand and scale. 

I made a conscious decision to work in the field of design where I can address environmental and social transformations in a deeper and more concrete way.

For example with my board game project, which is about the complex situation in the Alps regarding coexistence with carnivores, mainly bears and wolves. The eastern part of the Alps, is populated by bears and wolves and many people don’t want them around as they eat crops and venture into towns – which has become quite a complex situation. 

With my project, I’m trying to show the importance of these animals in the food chain and in keeping a balanced ecosystem. If we eliminate one section in the food chain, for example eliminating the carnivore, it will create a chain reaction that will eventually affect us in worse ways.

Credit: Katrina McQuail

What are your plans going forward?

I would like to create more design with this life-centred approach. I’d love to go back to the UK and find a way to use it there too by unearthing connections with nature.

At some point, I would also really like to plan a Mediterranean voyage, because it’s an area that is so heavily polluted and impacted by humans and create a board game about ocean and plastic pollution.

I also use performance and circus to showcase the relationship humans have with other living beings so I would love to explore this more.

Credit: Francesco Marini

“Instead I choose to believe in the determination of humans and the strength of nature and the ocean to heal.”

What keeps you hopeful about the future of the ocean?

For me it’s very difficult to use the word ‘hope’. It feels like a never-ending kind of wish. Instead I choose to believe in the determination of humans and the strength of nature and the ocean to heal.

There are people that are fighting and taking action in all areas of the world like eXXpedition, and that action drives change.

“What you serve outward to the world will come back to you.”

If you could give one message to the world, what would it be?

Heal yourself first. Take time to reflect and try to make choices out of your heart, not your mind. Our hearts are the best place to start. When people make changes in themselves, then their mind is more clear to look outward. You can’t force anyone to do what they don’t want to do. And if people don’t care about nature or they don’t want to, you’re not going to change their mind. You have to inspire them and make them think – which I believe we can do with design.

What you serve outward to the world will come back to you.