Spotlight: America(s)

American Design Stories: Nicole Nomsa Moyo

Wava Carpenter

The Toronto-based rising star offers her take on American design

In the American Design Stories series, we ask designers from across the Americas to share their insights on American design today, along with three images that represent their vision of American design.

For our latest installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with Nicole Nomsa Moyo. This emerging urban and architectural designer is turning heads across the globe, thanks to human-centric designs that champion future thinking, innovative and disruptive sustainable development, and community engagement. Born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, Nomsa Moyo is also a proud Canadian who has called Toronto home for the past 5 years.

What does “America” mean to you?

I’m not sure yet. I’m constantly being enlightened. What I was taught about America and my experiences are hard to define.

What makes your American story unique?

My story isn’t unique... at least not yet, because the best part of my story is just getting started.  I am not the first or the last to have any of my good and not-so-great experiences. But, if I consider this question through the lens of the young immigrant woman I am, then my story has simply been about optimistically, often beautifully navigating the unknown.

"This image speaks to immigration, to the journey that many of us take to America," Nomsa Moyo says. "In doing so, we design a society of blended thoughts, culture, and identity."  Photo © Nicole Nomsa Moyo

What are the most urgent topics that designers can and should address today?

All topics related to inequality are urgent. First we should all unlearn and challenge the norms our societies are built on. Then in everything we do, let's ask the right kinds of questions before we invite an audience to engage with our work.

For example: Who does this serve? Myself, my race, my gender, my community? What kind of message am I sharing? Whose story isn’t being told? Who directs and makes decisions about design? How does it interact with the environment? What is design?

What impact have the events of the past year had on your perception of your role as a designer?

My work, my voice, and my journey need to become even more visible. Representation of all things good and all things possible matter more than ever.

"I call this image Fragments. It speaks a message of unfixed identities to me. I think the same way of design... it's evolutionary, transformative, political, relevant, and objective. The work featured is Alicia Henry's Witnessing." Photo © Nicole Nomsa Moyo

Do you feel a sense of responsibility to use your platform as a designer in a particular way?

Absolutely, I find ways to bring awareness to topics that are often overlooked. I’m particularly interested in addressing urban related challenges through the lens of design. One of my favorite projects, Ukubutha, is about addressing real urban challenges with an optimistic, human-centric approach to design. I find that people frequently focus on the aesthetics and beauty of design, but I like to make all things beautiful through design. Above all, I use my platform to celebrate being myself and encourage others to do the same.

How can design support a more equitable society?

Firstly, in recognizing the uneven representation, celebration, opportunities, values, and engagement of all things pertaining to design. The opportunity to support a more equitable society through advocacy is not new. However, representation, ​diversity, equity, and inclusion design will always matter. I am a great advocate of education, mentorship, networking, and outreach as ways to minimize the effects of discrimination and increase the impacts of opportunity.

"To my mind, design is colorful, fun, layered, diverse, and playful," Nomsa Moya notes. "There's room for everyone to express themselves in the best way they know how."  Installation view of The Obliteration Room by Yayoi Kusama at the Art Gallery of Ontario, 2018.  Photo © Nicole Nomsa Moyo

What gives you the most joy in your work?

I love problem solving. I love bringing joy to other people's lives. I love to promote opportunity and equality for all.

Where do you look for joy or optimism?

Wherever love is—whether it be in nature, faith, community, or culture. That's where you will find me. I consistently find joy in these places.

Do you have a personal mantra?

“Victory of the people.” This is what my name, Nicole, means. I believe it is my inherent purpose to serve others for the greater good through my work and existence.

Thank you, Nicole!

 

Nicole Nomsa Moyo earned her MA from Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism. Her award-winning thesis, Ukubutha, was presented at Design Indaba, Africa’s biggest design conference, and included in the 2020 State of Extremes exhibition at Design Museum Holon in Israel. Ukubutha focuses on community-based, waste-to-energy management, designed with socially-driven architectural solutions. Nomsa Moyo was also recently announced as a finalist for the Miami Design District’s Annual Commission.

 

Inspired by the 2020 Design Miami/ Podium theme America(s)—and all the complexities that go along with it, especially in this moment—Anna Carnick and Wava Carpenter of Anava Projects connected with a selection of outstanding designers with personal ties to the Americas to get their take on “American” design today. Their responses were insightful, inspiring, and diverse: From thoughts on the most pressing issues and challenges facing designers now, to hopes and suggestions for a more equitable future, and reflections on their own American design journeys to date. Each story is accompanied by images provided by the designer that embody what America(s) or American design means to them.

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