Shifting anthropocentrism in the DESIS network: Conversations 2020 (Webinar)

DESIS founder Ezio Manzini discusses a need to focus social innovation on relations with other beings. DESIS speakers  from around the world include: Louise St. Pierre (on social innovation for biodiversity at 48:54); Virginia Tassinari (Belgium); Ralitsa Debrah (Afrika); and Davide Fassi (Miilan).

Call for Students – 2020 Summer Residency Program

Call for Students – 2020 Summer Residency Program
DESIS Lab and Shumka Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship

Satellite is a five month residency for Emily Carr project teams to develop major self-directed sustainability and social innovation projects through the DESIS Lab and Shumka Centre.

Residents will have access to studio space, mentorship, peer support and funding toward the goal of developing projects within a  real-world context, including developing products or services; initiating events, programs, initiatives or community partnerships; or starting studios, collectives, agencies or non-profits. Satellite will run from May – October 2020, beginning remotely until campus reopens.

Participants are expected to devote 20+ hours/week to project development through the summer, with 4 hours per week devoted to process documentation and peer/mentor meetings. In the fall, teams will prepare to present and disseminate projects through the DESIS network.

Participants will receive full time access to work space, mentorship and peer support, structured feedback and guidance, and funding of $2000 to support eligible project costs.

Online Information Session: Tuesday, April 7, 12:00 – 1:00 pm
Deadline to Apply: April 12, 2020

Projects best suited for the Satellite x DESIS program:

  • Create new relationships, or expand/enhance existing ones
  • Support community or seeks to create social equity
  • Expand relationships with the natural world/nature
  • Celebrate the small, slow and local
  • Reassemble existing assets rather than making new artefacts or media
  • Are shareable, with learning that is open to others
  • Do not create new hierarchies or systems which funnel wealth away from communities
  • Support designer agency, practicality, navigating a way forward
  • Establish designers’ participation in or creation of community
  • Help establish conditions for designers to financially support themselves through project lens, give financial sustainability to the project itself
  • Negotiate “how” alongside “what”

Applications are welcomed from individuals or small teams made up of 2-3 people, including recent grads and current undergraduate and graduate students. Participants must be actively engaged in developing applied projects or collaborations (as opposed to doing contract work) and must be able to commit adequate time and attention to fully benefit from this opportunity.

Please note that access to this program is competitive and limited to 5 projects in this cohort. Applications will be evaluated for depth of proposal, suitable match with the program intent (see FAQs below), feasibility, fit with spatial and programmatic requirements, and commitment to the proposed project.

How to Apply
Please submit a single PDF or link to including:

  • A cover letter stating your interest in the program and DESIS
  • A proposal outlining your project, including potential collaborators, materials/equipment/other resources that you are looking to develop or that you anticipate requiring, and a brief timeline for a five month residency
  • A simple budget showing how funds would be used to support project development such as material expenses, fees or other costs
  • A portfolio of work samples and/or link to a portfolio site
  • Names and contact information of 2 references

For More Information: Attend and Online Information Session Tuesday, April 7, 12:00 – 1:00 pm or contact Laura Kozak, Research Associate:

Deadline: April 12, 2020

The Emily Carr DESIS Lab supports research that advances design for social innovation towards sustainability. DESIS envisions a future that supports resilience, equity and diversity across human and ecological systems through social innovation, design and environmental justice.

Emily Carr’s lab joined the DESIS network, made up of 46 labs worldwide, in 2012 and is currently the only DESIS lab in Canada. The lab supports a range of projects and activities, including mentoring DESIS students, contributing to curriculum at Emily Carr, supporting academic and extra-curricular activity, and contributing to discourse and advocacy for sustainability and social matters.

About the Shumka Centre
The Shumka Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship fosters the movement of artists and designers into systems and situations where their work can have the most impact. The Shumka Centre addresses the lack of support artists and designers face in actualizing projects by creating dynamic programming and tactical platforms.

Full Call and FAQs

Creative Community and Disaster Resilience

Naomi Boyd, reporting for the DESIS lab, June 24 & 25, 2019

This two-day lab co-sponsored by the City of Vancouver, 312 Main and the City of Melbourne’s REFUGE project focused on ‘Creative Approaches to Disaster Resilience,’ aiming to launch a dialogue surrounding community-based resilience tactics in the face of a changing climate and the impending possibility of natural disaster in Vancouver. 

This Creative Lab brought together professionals from a range of fields, including a seismologist, an architect, a playwright and creative director, and a multitude of people working in the public sector. Those from Resilient Vancouver were the driving forces behind the two-day marathon of learning. The hosts were the lovely folks at 312 Main—a symbol in and of itself towards reclamation of colonized spaces, of steps down a path towards more resilient communities.

The majority of both days consisted of presentations and panels, largely guided along by two visitors from Melbourne, Jen Rae and Maree Grenfell, two of the creative minds behind ‘Refuge,’ “a series of compelling events where art meets emergency, preparing the community for climate crisis” (Arts House, Rae is the co-founder of Fair Share Fare ( and artist-researcher in the field of contemporary environmental art, while Grenfell was representing Resilient Melbourne, who are participating in the 100 Resilient Cities project alongside Vancouver. We also had the privilege of hearing from a number of Indigenous knowledge-holders, about their experience with climate resiliency through the lens of Indigenous Science and the ways in which their perspectives can and should be embedded into the greater conversation moving forward.

“What do you know, that you don’t know you know, that we all might need to know in a disaster?” one conversation began, eager to draw out answers from both left and right brainers in the room. In other words, what is your untapped ‘survival skill’ that may have been overlooked in the past. Our list grew to include those such as storytelling, deer-skinning, infection control, and playing the ukulele. Reassessing past assumptions was one of the main focuses going into the first day, highlighting many skills that may speak to the more intangible factors of a disaster. It was beneficial as well moving to address prejudices that may limit one’s scope of care and attention.

It was promising to simply see this collection of people coming together in a physical space, communicating face to face and beginning to understand each other’s perspective on the issues at hand, whether that be one’s personal or professional opinion. To me, as a soon-to-be-third-year design student, many of the activities we engaged in were familiar and comfortable, whether that be post-it-note brainstorming, word clouds or ‘creative’ ideation. However, it was evident that to many in the room this was challenging their threshold of comfort, pushing them into new territory in terms of what to expect from a working environment.

This lab hopefully has helped individuals to look outside their sector and consider how other disciplines and perspectives can be accessed and utilized to be most effective, particularly when dealing with issues of care in emergencies. Extending the threshold of who is involved in the conversation on the prevention and preparation side of things can no doubt add to the diversity shared by the public who may benefit from these creative interventions in the future.

2019 DESIS Radical Sustainability Award: Kelsey McDonald “Afford–ability”

The 2018/19 academic year was busy for the DESIS Lab at Emily Carr. This year also saw the creation of the DESIS Radical Sustainability Award. This award honours a student project that best demonstrates how design can “activate, sustain, and orient processes of social change toward sustainability” (Jégou & Manzini 2008).

This year’s winner is Kelsey McDonald and her project Afford–ability. In her own words: “Afford-ability is a campaign that is designed to inspire, educate, inform, and activate Vancouverites and other North American’s to come together against the commodification of social movements for capital gain and the unfair judgment of those who have effectively been “priced-out” of sustainable and ethical living due to systemic barriers.”

Kelsey’s project is a great example of how designers are tackling engrained social behaviours and attitudes, while also looking at the structures within a society that supports their continuity.

“Many current social movements are compelling, but the imposition of ethical and moral standards can be classist and polarizing. Often, these movements can reinforce the idea that those who cannot access or afford to live according to socially-determined sustainable behaviors do not deserve to be considered “good” people—despite their ethical and moral values. But why?”


Afford-ability poses the questionhow can we be environmentally sustainable and ethical without the economic means to do so?

You can read more about the project and the Afford-ability manifesto here: and on Kelsey’s website:

Single-use Plastics Research (SUPR)


DESIS Emily Carr is questioning our relationship with single-use plastics. We speculate that deep inquiry into our personal relationship(s) with single-use plastics would lead to insights about how social innovation could support the cultural shift from dependency on single-use plastics.


The SUPR team is a group of faculty members and graduate student researchers that meet regularly to guide the activities of the research lab. This team is complemented by expertise from Zero Waste Canada and Nada Grocery, Vancouver’s first no-packaging grocery store.


ACTIONS are different methods for inquiring into everyday relationships with single use plastics. These can include caring, belonging, presencing, conversation, everyday life and journaling. Each SUPR team member has their own method to explore their relationship with plastic.


We commit as a community to an ongoing caring relationship with these single-use-plastic artifacts. Keeping them close to us, we nurture them. We are encouraging an ethos of care that can generate both a situated and relational response. Caring in this context is about being attuned and having the foresight to intervene as needed.


By repositioning single-use-plastics as our belongings we are questioning typical behaviours and seeking new actions. A belonging is not so easily tossed off or disregarded. New actions can include care, repair, preserving and keeping. And if we do discard plastic belongings, might there be affect?

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye points out the brevity of our relationship with single use plastics. By bringing awareness to the act of disposal, we become more mindful of where we part ways with the ones we inevitably encounter. We began to document how the plastic became our belonging, why they became our belonging and where we said goodbye, along with a quick drawing of the item.


The Buddhist approach embraces plastic as a presence with which we are interdependent (we inter-are). Breathing mindfully and remembering to be non-judgmental about the material provides new observations and insights.


Being mindful of our everyday plastics, we started engaging in an intimate conversation with them through our daily journal. This includes educating ourselves about what actions these plastics play in our daily life and how is our response to those. Every day a letter to one of our plastics provides a time for self-reflective moments.


Public conversations around avoiding single use plastic (such as asking for a product that is not packaged in plastic) can lead to “social frictions”, which are a normal part of social change. This in turn leads to inspiration for how social innovation can support change in the way that members of a household, the public, service staff and members of a community rely on single-use-plastics.

SUPR Network

Unmaking workshop

The Unmaking workshop engages students in the unmaking of technology by taking it apart to its simplest form. Objects and tools are provided with one goal: To deconstruct, disassemble and or reduce the object as far as the tools will take you. This workshop takes a constructivist approach in which learners, when facilitated in a group setting connects and overlaps with several conceptual frameworks that relate to how we learn and absorb information.
The research goal of this workshop is exploratory and experiential, a component of learning in this context that Stephen Sterling argues for as essential for sustainable education (Sterling, 2001, p. 38). A diversity of experiences and, exterior and interior cognitive influences, help shape our understandings of the world and the skills we acquire.

This workshop provides an opportunity for students to actively engage in an activity that might universally relevant to their future learning (designed consumer based technologies and products) but also facilitates an exploration of the insides of these objects and provide and opportunity to question its purpose, construction and philosophical place in the world. The learning that happens within this workshop is emergent and it is this collaborative act of unmaking that can be understood as a “community of practice” that require an active and critical engagement with the process.

Furthermore through this workshop this contextual collaborative exercise, a value based practise might be initiated by having a active discussion with each other in relation to sustainability, materiality, purpose and disposal before even engaging in the act of design. This inquiry based hands-on material practice sparks curiosity  and curiosity as a vehicle for learning leads to discovery.

Students are engaged with ideas that support the realities of undoing what has been done and this work might enable them to better understand and situate themselves within the problem space relative to the ecological issues associated with these artifacts. This process might then reveal the role design might need to play in that process and how they might see themselves in that potential future and and, they may become empowered and they may now situate themselves, may know their capacity relative to the ecological issues associated with these artifacts.

The NeighbourHub: Community Resilience

Nestled between the ocean and the mountains on Canada’s west coast, beautiful Vancouver sits on the meeting point of two tectonic plates, which means we face a one in five chance of experiencing a serious crustal or megathrust earthquake in the next 50 years (Wagstaffe, 2016).

Our team of five set out to explore themes of resilience, natural disaster preparedness, and community building. We defined resilience as a population’s ability to develop regenerative solutions to challenges, being both structurally adaptable and socially responsive (Nirupama, Popper & Quirke, 2015). Through the DESIS community we hosted a Resilience walk. This earthquake (workshop) would take place outdoors, rain or shine. During the walk, we came together to share stories as we walked along the liquefaction zone of Surrounding neighbourhood of Emily Carr. We discussed the potential shocks that Vancouver could experience and had participants question what our real survival tools will be post natural disaster.

Each place that we visited along our walk held significance to us as members of the Emily Carr University Community. As we discussed the implications of each space, we framed the conversation it in two different scenarios: the present and the future.

We also set up a secret location check point at our neighbourhood Disaster Support Hub, one of 25 community centres designated by the City of Vancouver be the site of information and resource-sharing during an emergency. Here, participants engaged with maps of Disaster Support Hubs in their own neighbourhood and outlined the people they would want to contact if there was an emergency.

Participants composed messages to friends, family and neighbours that explained their newly developed plan and outlined where they could be found if an earthquake did shake the coast. They asked their friends and family to respond with their own plan and forward the conversation onto others. This simple message helped us to better understand people’s perceptions of emergencies and what preparation means to them. Through DESIS, we were able to start a dialogue about the diverse definition of resilience. These responses are meant to help facilitate the next steps in our project.

Follow up: This design process has led to the design of NeighbourHubs, a disaster backup system that provides essential resources like drinking water, light, power, and radio communications in green spaces across the city. This central organizing unit could inspire residents to collect rainwater and monitor water levels, peddle on the bikes for exercise while generating localized power, interact with neighbours, and form disaster plans with others. The NeighbourHub is a model for how to facilitate conversations around social connections, civic engagement, and preparedness for citizens to overcome diverse threats such as social isolation, climate change, drought, and earthquakes, that affect us today and tomorrow.

Emily Carr DESIS Lab Assembly meeting March 30, 2016

Interesting people having interesting conversations….



The DESIS Lab meeting this March hosted four DESIS format presentations. Topics were Transition Town Collaborations, Who is Social (Post-human design), and DESIS goes to Milano. This was followed by a lively discussion, with emerging themes of:

  • Can DESIS provide for alternative learning models, such as projects that integrate graduate students with undergraduate, and allow for courses that are initiated by students?
  • The presentations began a process of reflection. We’d like to continue to look at the work of DESIS as a body of work, and then evolve the conversation about DESIS: what are the larger themes and meanings we can draw from this?
  • There is an excitement about the possibility of collaborating with DESIS labs internationally…. Starting of course, with our presence at the Triennale in Milano this summer!


Connection Means: Action Together

Emily Carr DESIS lab at the 2016 Triennale

The Emily Carr DESIS Lab is bringing action and connection to the 2016 Triennale in Milano. Through a series of facilitated activities and events, we will research the physicality of collaborative making as a method for creating new social relationships.

Featured as part of Emily Carr University’s Liminal Lab popup studio and exhibition, the Emily Carr DESIS lab will offer serial collective actions that investigate how making common things (books. hats. poems. bread. ropes. clothes pegs. pizza. . .) together fosters meaningful ties. Participants will actively make artifacts in collaboration in order to draw out embodied knowledge in our hands, feet, shoulders, and elbows. Does this foster new social relationships? Allow us to generate new value laden collectives?

All projects will be documented physically through the immediate means of polaroid photography and posted regularly at the Liminal Labs exhibit.

First Emily Carr DESIS meeting of 2016

This widely attended meeting brought forward a discussion about a number of questions. Students wished to know how they could initiate DESIS projects. Students also brought up questions about experiments in new ways of living that they were conducting in their own lives; how could this be formalized as DESIS research? Faculty raised questions about societal change related to policy: how does DESIS embrace policy work? Eminent Professor Emeritus from the U of A, Jorge Frascara reminded those present to look for projects and initiatives that are small scale, local, and attainable; success builds positive momentum and energy for DESIS work.