DESIS Info Meeting for Students

The Emily Carr DESIS Lab is hosting an information meeting for students interested in getting involved.

Please join us Monday, September 26 from 11:30 – 12:15 in the DESIS Lab (Room 3150) to speak to lab coordinators, hear about recent projects, and find out how you can get involved.

You can also join via zoom:
Meeting ID: 880 8410 6310
Passcode: 348007

Hope to see you there!

Louise, Laura and Helene

Emily Carr is hosting a DESIS Cafe

In coordination with the International DESIS Network, the DESIS Lab at Emily Carr is pleased to host an DESIS Cafe event:

7:00 am* (Pacific) / 14:00 UTC, Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Room will open at 6:58 am to coordinate with the Vancouver sunrise – we will begin at 7:00

View DESIS Cafe Recording (65 min, Youtube)

This discussion includes ongoing and collective work staying with sustainability; positionality and place; project sharing and an open discussion:

How can we continue to stay with sustainability; to form understandings for working with the natural world?

Share a coffee, knowledge, and experience with all DESIS Labs. All are welcome!

My Creative Partner: Reflecting on our More-than-human (MtH) Interactions

Marcia Higuchi, Zahra Jalali and Kimia Gholami

Part l

Facing our current socio-environmental crisis, we can recognize the damage to the Earth caused by modern human society and the capitalist structures; often by overlooking our relationship with more-than-human beings. It seems to be more than urgent to challenge human-centred values, and perceive a More-than-Human perspective that asks:

How can we create more sustainable ways of living by accounting for more-than-human knowledge, agency, and collaboration?”

Facilitated by Marcia Higuchi, Zahra Jalali and Kimia Gholami (MDes 2022), and hosted by Emily Carr DESIS LAB, a workshop took place at Emily Carr University in March 2022, aiming to encourage participants to practice reflecting and creating with More-than-Human beings as their Creative Partners. As part of the facilitators’ graduate theses, the goal of this workshop was to investigate our relationship with the MtH world; how we interact with them, relate to them, learn from them, and how we can act responsibly towards them.

This workshop had been broken down into three main parts

  1. A short guided meditation followed by storytelling
  2. Filling out an MtH empathy map
  3. Practicing making as an act of care towards the MtH world
Choosing their More-than-Human Partner

On the day of the workshop, as participants entered the room, they encountered a big table filled with rocks, leaves, sand, seawater, etc. who were our More-than-Human guests. Before getting started, they were prompted to choose one of the beings as their creative partner for the workshop and were encouraged to hold their MtH being during meditation as well. The meditation guided participants to get to know their MtH partner through their sensory and tactile experiences and reflect on their memories or previous encounters with them. Afterward, participants shared personal stories about why they chose a certain being and what they discovered from them as they held them during the meditation.

In the second part, participants were asked to write down their understanding of their MtH partner on the paper by using empathy maps, as a way to learn how much we know or do not know about them. Filling out the empathy maps and thinking about feelings or thoughts of More-than-Human beings was challenging for many. However, the group was creative in their approach and ended up with varied ways of expressing empathy and relationality for their MtH partner. After discussion, the group concluded that there is power in acknowledging contradictions and accepting our lack of knowledge of the MtH world. This exercise also helped us recognize more-than-humans as beings who have unique life experiences, histories, and interactions.

Part II
In the final part, the participants were presented with a range of making materials to choose from. All materials were driven from natural resources. This prompt was focused on the act of making as a way of freely practicing reciprocity and creating in collaboration with an MtH partner. Some chose to make symbolic offerings: a water slide for the seawater, or a container that held the soil (since the soil usually supports and “holds” other beings). Others recreated the forms and shapes of the beings, as a way of learning and being guided by their MtH partners.

In the end, we discussed how having space for exploring with MtH beings as collaborators encourages experimenting and active learning without having to worry about a potential “design” solution. Everyone engaged and related to their MtH partner in their own unique way and contributed to the workshop by embracing the unknowing. In the end, the participants left their makings behind so all the beings could be brought back to where they were found, and the materials to be recycled. Leaving behind the makings was another attempt to acknowledge how we were not to “own” any of the beings or the creations but to encounter them, collaborate with them, and part ways.

Makings at the end of the workshop

Images by Yun Xiao, 2022

Summer 2021 Courses by DESIS Faculty

DESIS faculty are pleased to share a series of special topics courses in the summer of 2021:

Bi-scriptual Typography (COMD 350) will explore the relationship between language, typography, culture and diversity in the context of contemporary communication design. Through a combination of discussions, readings, informal exercises, out-of-class activities, walks and observations, students will explore the possibilities of working in an inter-lingual and inter-generative space of communication design. In particular, students will explore how an idea can be expressed and modulated across different languages, scripts and cultures. A series of projects will draw upon past learning in typography and communication, with students expected to investigate various ways of gathering, assembling and analyzing visual materials and urban typography. [Reyhan Yazdani]

Decolonizing Design’s Material Practices (INDD 350) This exploratory, interdisciplinary, course invites students to reconsider assumed prototyping strategies and production processes commonly used in Design. Drawing on insights from decolonial scholarship and applying embodied making as means of reflection, students will identify and consider their own individual affinities for particular aesthetics, materials, and modes of assembly. Collectively they will propose and develop strategies for delinking from aspects of material practice that bolster longstanding and arguably problematic colonial/modernist strategies embedded in Design and the design process. Asking: how do we do? why do we do? what is needed? The aim of this investigative summer studio is to find new ways to make – meaningfully. Insights from this body of work are intended to be shared with the Emily Carr Design Community – to seed further ongoing iterative development of new Design approaches that directly address the concerns of our time. [Hélène Day Fraser, with Marcia Higuchi]

Practicing Neighbourly Responsibility (CCID 201, 301 + HUMN 300)  Learning within the context place – that is, within active social, institutional and ecological dynamics on unceded territory – how might we collectively determine our learning space; critique and trouble hierarchical and exploitive structures; and take up the work of neighbourly and place-based responsibility? Drawing from mutual aid practices – responding to the immediate needs and concerns of a community, in conjunction with social movements demanding transformative change – this class is intended to be emergent and responsive, extending over the summer to better respond to needs and pace of community work, taking up the following questions:

  • What are our responsibilities, reciprocities and commitments to the land that we are guests on?
  • How can we as individuals and also as a collective take up the responsibility of contributing to the places where we are? What can each of us offer?
  • What would a design practice look like if it were in service of relationships?

[Jean Chisholm, Laura Kozak, Mickey Morgan]

Outdoor Practices (INDD 350) This roving* field school will take Emily Carr students to local green spaces to engage in a range of design activities that supports wellbeing, attention to nature, place-based making, and openings to land based practices. Making outdoors can inform us of our relationships to the natural world, but a practice outdoors will inherently impact everything about our way of life. Including the decisions we make and the designs we continue to privilege in our day to day. Dirty hands, wet knees, deep observation and a panoply of sensory experiences will be encouraged. Sitting, walking and movement practices will be explored. Students will create many projects, that may include earth art, Earthbound Prototyping, Design for Biodiversity**, and storytelling/story-sharing. Students will be given the opportunity to work beyond the disciplines of graphic, industrial, and interaction design. Collaborative projects are encouraged, but optional. [Zach Camozzi]

* with gratitude to the ECUAD collective, the Roving Designers for this framing.

**a long-running project of the DESIS lab, see posts on Project pages


DESIS Place-Based Grad Collective

The Emily Carr DESIS Lab is pleased to announce a 2021 award to a group of students for the formation and initiative of the Place-Based Grad Collective.

Place-Based Grad Collective

Melanie Camman, Christa Clay, Angela Dione, Avi Farber, Marcia Higuchi, Shankar Padmanabhan, Chiara Schmitt, Charles Simon, Garima Sood, Pat Vera, Julie Van Oyen; facilitated by Laura Kozak and Jean Chisholm

Formed in 2021, the Place-Based Grad Collective is a flexible network of design researchers assembling around a shared set of approaches to place-based design research. Specifically, this work looks at our responsibilities, reciprocities and commitments to the land that we live on, and forms emergent projects that actively respond to the needs of the people and systems around us.

In trying to understand what kind of infrastructure is useful or necessary to support this work, we aim to explore a model that can coalesce and disperse when needed, embracing the spirit of a collective: a flexible network of people with independent practices converging to respond to and create a shared experience or intervention. Through exploring, enacting, and connecting place-based approaches to collaboration, we are attempting to move from scattered fragments of siloed disciplines and projects, and black-boxed, bureaucratic hierarchies, towards a networked mesh of emergent grassroots relationships, knowledge and capacity sharing, and action. Together we are asking:

How can we as individuals and also as a collective take up the responsibility of contributing to the places where we are?

What needs to be done, and what can each of us offer?

This collective came together as a part of the research project Place-Based Responsibility.

Melanie Camman is an interdisciplinary service designer and researcher. She has 3 years of experience working alongside social service providers, anthropologists, and social scientists to rethink programming and delivery of social services, as well as, the structures of service organizations. Researching social issues and working alongside people who have been marginalized led her to return to school as a masters student to study coloniality and decolonization in design research and ethnography. Her current explorations include using textiles, making and workshops as a way to tell and share stories and create community engagement. Melanie currently works as a Research Assistant for the Fibreshed Feild School through the Shumka Centre. Outside of school you will find Melanie snowboarding in the local mountains, growing food and plants for textiles in backyard and gardens, or curled up on the red chair with a podcast and a knitting project.

Jean Chisholm (BA, BDes, MDes) is a designer, researcher, and educator. Her research explores place-based design practices and community collaborations that work towards relational, ecological and equitable ways of living, and has most recently been published through PDC 2020: Participation(s) Otherwise. She has experience as a graphic designer and art director, designing and overseeing production for printed, spatial, and digital touch points. Jean currently teaches at Emily Carr University.

Christa Clay is an MDes student, research assistant, and co-founder of the Place-Based Materials Lab at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, BC. She lives, works, and plays on the unceded, ancestral lands of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. Her practice is place-based, incorporating her experience in food, farming, and ceramics with natural material research that prioritizes the role of communities and their economic self-reliance. Christa is originally from the land of the Tonkwa, Lipan Apache, and Comanche peoples, known also as the state of Texas, USA. She graduated from the University of Texas with a B.L.A., focusing on International Relations and Global Studies (2017). Christa has called British Columbia home since 2018. 

Angela Dione is a mother, designer, researcher and maker situated on the unceded Coast Salish Territory of the Tsawwassen, W̱SÁNEĆ, the Stz’uminus and the Hul’qumi’num Treaty. Her research and practice-based explorations focus on natural materiality in craft and design with an additional interest in working with children in a place-based approach. With her background in woodworking and ceramics, Angela investigates the act of making within the context of natural materiality. Through this work, she uses traditional techniques as a connective tool between human and non-human living co-design and as an investigation of our connection to place. Angela studied at the Högskolan för Design och Konsthantverk – The Academy of Design and Craft at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) where she was completing her MFA in Child Culture Design. She is now pursuing her MDes at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada.

Marcia Higuchi is a communication designer and researcher from UNESP, Brazil. Her research is focused on which ways design can empower children’s ecological wisdom and political agency as future stewards in the environmental crisis. 

Through a dialogical and reflexive approach, she aims to investigate the importance of storytelling, sharing how our own personal experiences brought into a broader understanding of our social relations, can affect our sense of interdependence and belonging to nature. 

In her first year at Emily Carr, Marcia developed a series of cross-DESIS workshops that included participants in both the Emily Carr DESIS Lab (Vancouver), and the Rio DESIS Lab (Rio de Janeiro) who were invited to engage in a activity with their children and register their experience trying to listen to a more-than-human being.

Laura Kozak is a designer, educator, organizer and mother living and working on unceded territory Coast Salish territory. With a focus on relational ways of working, she has built partnerships and collaborated on projects with artists, designers and organizations since 2005, including Access Gallery, 221A, the Aboriginal Housing Society of Prince George, the Vancouver Park Board, and the City of Vancouver. A core interest in place-based design, systems of reciprocity and exchange and locality informs her research and teaching practice. She holds a Master of Advanced Studies in Architecture from UBC (2012) and a BFA from Emily Carr (2005). She currently teaches design in the Jake Kerr Faculty of Graduate Studies and is a Research Associate of the DESIS Lab and Shumka Centre at Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

Morgan Martino is an interdisciplinary designer, researcher and facilitator, whose work focuses on building and supporting communities that can foster caring relationships, critical learning, and informed social change. Morgan’s current research practice explores how everyday material culture and designed systems inform and reflect our complex relationships to care. 

During her career as a student of Industrial Design and Social Practice + Community Engagement (SPACE) at Emily Carr, Morgan has had many opportunities to foster her community practices. Through the creation of small communities such as the Mixtape Collective and Vintage Digicam Club, Morgan aimed to recontextualise perceived obsolete technologies as tools for artistic expression and alternative media engagement. 

In 2020, Morgan collaborated with Naomi Boyd to be a part of the Shumka X DESIS Satellite residency, where she was able to co-develop Pocket Change; a series of workshops centering the pocket as a lens to help unpack wicked design problems. Most recently, Morgan created the Roving Designers, a place based design collective exploring how to engage in design work outside of traditional studio contexts. This year, Morgan has acted as the Undergraduate Coordinator for DESIS, helping to communicate the values and goals of the lab and invite other students to become involved in its work.

Chiara Schmitt is a product designer, maker and design researcher focussing on material-driven explorations in craft and design. Through her work, she explores areas of sustainability by dealing with natural materials and resources in the field of material speculations. With a strong interest lying in their perception and sensation, her practice touches on the agency of social responsibility and sustainable behavior. Having completed her BA at the University of Applied Sciences Schwäbisch Gmünd in Germany, Chiara is now pursuing an MDes at Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Pat Vera is an architect, designer and researcher whose work focuses in incorporating Indigenous knowledge and alternative epistemologies into land-based design and pedagogy as a way of building sustainable futures with practices that already manifested in an equitable, respectful and balanced relationship with the earth.

Pat’s current research promotes the Pluriverse as the space in which to converse among different worldviews, creating community-oriented design practices that can work towards healing from the systemic damage caused by the colonial matrix of domination.

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