Renata Leitao
Renata Leitao
Assistant Professor
Human Centered Design

2429 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall



Dr. Leitao is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Centered Design at Cornell University. She is a graphic designer and social justice-focused design researcher with several years of experience in intercultural and collaborative projects with Indigenous and marginalized communities. Her research is at the intersection of critical design, participatory design, communication design, and design anthropology. Dr. Leitao’s specialty is participatory action research.

She holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Design and a MASc in Design & Complexity (Université de Montréal, Canada) and a BA in Graphic Design (Mackenzie University, Brazil). She was awarded a Postdoctoral Fellowship by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (under the supervision of Dr. Dori Tunstall – OCAD University). Before joining Cornell, she taught in the Graphic Design program at OCAD University in Toronto.

Raised in a multiracial family, Dr. Leitão is committed to decolonizing design research and education. She launched, as co-chair, the DRS Pluriversal Design Special Interest Group (PluriSIG), an international research network that aims to highlight multiple perspectives in design, especially from those commonly oppressed by and excluded from mainstream design narratives. Dr. Leitão is also a founder of the virtual conferences PIVOT, which focuses on decoloniality and pluriversality in design. She chaired its second virtual conference, “Pivot 2021: Dismantling and Reassembling—Tools for Alternative Futures”, hosted by OCAD University.

My main research interests are:
1. The empowerment and self-determination of Indigenous and marginalized communities, which might be enhanced and supported by the practice of design. Most of my research practice evolved in close collaboration with Indigenous cultural stewards in Canada and Brazil.

2. Redesigning design to foster social justice and the civilizational transition towards sustainability. It is grounded on recognizing that design has been a fundamental political socio-technical activity to create the globalized modern world and the Anthropocene. Therefore, in order to produce any significant societal change, design (as a discipline and human activity) has to be disconnected from the values and beliefs that led to the creation of the world in which we live today. In other words, a design for change is a design that is willing to redesign itself in the first place, redefining its vocabulary, assumptions, frameworks, and practices.
3. Intercultural knowledge mobilization and the implications of different worldviews and epistemologies to the theory and practice of design. 

Peer-Reviewed Publications
LEITAO, R. M. (2022). From Needs to Desire: Pluriversal design as a desire-based design. Design and Culture. DOI: 10.1080/17547075.2022.2103949

LEITAO, R. M., & Roth, S. (2020). Understanding culture as a project: Designing for the future of an Indigenous community in Québec. Form Akademisk, 13 (5), 1-13.

LEITAO, R. M. (2018). Recognizing and overcoming the myths of modernity. In C. Storni, K. Leahy, M. McMahon, P. Lloyd & E. Bohemia (Eds.), DRS 2018 Conference Proceedings (pp. 955–966). London, UK: Design Research Society.

LEITAO, R. M., & Marchand, A. (2018). Le design et l’empowerment au sein des communautés autochtones: s’engager avec la matérialité. Recherches amérindiennes au Québec, XLVIII (1-2), 91-99.

LEITAO, R. M. & Marchand, A. (2017). Graphic Design as an Instrument of Identity Assertion for Indigenous Peoples: The Case of Tapiskwan Project. Communication Design, 5(1-2), 203-223.

LEITAO, R. M., Sportes, C., Marchand, A., & Roth, S. (2017). The Tapiskwan Project: A Design Approach to Foster Empowerment among Atikamekw Artisans. The International Journal of Design in Society, 11(4), 17-32.

LEITAO, R. M., Marchand, A., & Sportes, C. (2015). Constructing a collaborative project between designers and native actors: an example of the collective articulation of issues. Cumulus Milan 2015: The Virtuous Circle, June 3-7, Milan.

LEITAO, R. M. (2020). Pluriversal Design and Desire-based Design: desire as the impulse for human flourishing. In R.M. Leitao, L.A. Noel, & L. Murphy (Eds.), Proceedings of PIVOT 2020: Designing a World of Many Centers (pp. 2-14), 4 June, held online.

LEITAO, R. M., & Noel, L.A. (2020). Editorial: Highlights – Pluriversal Design SIG. DRS 2020 Design Research Society International Conference Proceedings, August 11-14, Brisbane.

NOEL, L.A., & Leitao, R. M. (2018). Not Just From the Centre: Editorial. DRS 2018 Design Research Society International Conference Proceedings, June 25-28, Limerick.

Graphic Design
I am a professional graphic designer since 2003.

Co-chair of the Design Research Society (DRS) Pluriversal Design Special Interest Group (PluriSIG)

Conference Chair
Pivot 2021: Dismantling/Reassembling – Tools for Alternative Futures (OCAD University)

Conference Co-chair
Pivot 2020: Designing a World of Many Centers (Tulane University)

Conference Track Co-Chair
DRS 2020 Design Research Society Conference, track ‘Pluriversal Design SIG’ 
DRS 2018 Design Research Society Conference, track ‘Not just from “the Centre” — Multiple Voices in Design’

Design and Culture Journal
Strategic Design Research Journal
Learn×Design 2021 – Engaging with Challenges in Design Education
PDC 2020 – Participatory Design Conference

Ph.D., Environmental Design, University of Montréal

M.A.Sc., Design & Complexity, University of Montréal

B.A., Design (Graphic Design), Mackenzie University

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