Service Design insights from Manuhuia Barcham and Nodin Cutfeet

These two talks were given as a set of workshop activities shared with Eugenia Bertulis’ third-year interaction design students later in their service design project work. Manuhuia and Nodin discussed practices for strategic service design approaches as well as detail design at executional phases of service design projects. The work helped designers see, compare, and resist colonial/modernist UX defaults and influenced visual design, experiential design, as well as structural design strategies.

In this 20 minute talk, Manuhuia Barcham introduces ideas from his paper “Towards a radically inclusive design – indigenous story-telling as codesign methodology”. (link:
In this 15 minute talk, Nodin Cutfeet talks about Service Design in strategy and detail development in his work building of a not-for-profit learning platform for indigenous youth,


Louise St. Pierre, Emily Carr University; Caro McCaw, Otago Polytechnic


This essay considers a design student project that practised methods and languages for connecting designers with the more-than-human. The term refers to ecologist David Abram’s phrase “the more-than-human world” as a way of considering our entanglement with earthly nature.1 Alongside ecological thinking, we drew upon New Zealand Māori and Canadian First Nation scholars and worked with local cultural advisors. This project was offered across two design classes, beginning with one in Vancouver, Canada, and the other in Dunedin, New Zealand, with a six-week synchronous window.2 These schools connected through DESIS, a network of labs that research social innovation and sustainability. Teachers and students were able to share their approaches and progress online, culminating in an online exhibition and conversation. Key ideas explored included Karl Wixon’s “whakapapa-centred design”3 and Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s “grammar of animacy,”4 indigenous values that centre the natural world as sentient and present with the world of humans. Students were tasked with becoming advocates for a more-than-human being. They drew upon multiple frames to learn about this being and conceive of possible different relationships. After conducting a series of immersive research activities including meditative, phenomenological and academic approaches, students drew upon their design skills to translate and share their learning. The outcomes are a variety of prototypes, designed to share this advocacy as experiences for others. Through a combination of online and embodied learning, many explorations brought to light understandings about the fundamental interconnectedness of humans with the earth, with all species and with each other.


This project began, as many do, with a conversation.

Conversations can collect thoughts. They require two or more participants and require attentive listening and appreciative reflection. Communication with open intention is inclusive of multiple perspectives and understandings. Time and space open up through skillful listening and attention. Thich Nhat Hanh identifies that “[t]o listen is first of all to be fully present and not distracted.”5 In this course, students developed abilities to be attentive and fully present to the life force in another being, shifting their attention and communication, “maybe just 20° away from what we have been taught to seek, to bring attention to the living earth; to forests, ravens and ground squirrels.”6 This shift affirms that more-than-human beings have much to offer to design conversations.

This project brought together design students across the Pacific Ocean, from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada, to Otago Polytechnic School of Design in Dunedin, New Zealand. Both schools were united through their common relationship in the DESIS Network, where research labs are dedicated to exploring social innovation for sustainability. The project drew together texts and experiences, local indigenous advice and our worlds around us; we endeavored to listen together appreciatively, reflect and use our design tools and languages to share and communicate our relationships with others.

Two texts framed the shared project. Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s essay “Learning the Grammar of Animacy”7 describes the author’s experience learning her indigenous language, and with it new relationships to the natural world, in constant vibrant flux, in states of being and becoming. Wall- Kimmerer combined perspectives from science with her grounding in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She shared multiple understandings of her sense of place and belonging in these worlds. She made connections between the traditional Potawatomi language and the biological world, as she integrated new learning made available to her through the vocabulary and grammar of her native tongue. At first, in frustration, she describes the limitations imposed by the predominant use of nouns in the English language. Nouns remove life, reducing nature to “things.” Most of the words in her Potawatomi language are verbs … “to be a hill” or “to be a bay.”8 These places are defined by their animate qualities, and only become perceived as fixtures in a landscape when considered in English, as nouns. Wall-Kimmerer describes her epiphany when she identified the difference that verbs allowed her in terms of perception:

In that moment I could smell the water of the bay, watch it rock against the shore and hear it sift onto the sand. A bay is a noun only if the water is dead. When “bay” is a noun, it is defined by humans, trapped between its shores, and contained by the word. But wiikegama, to be a bay, the verb releases the water from bondage and lets it live.9

Robin Wall-Kimmerer

Through breathing life back into her language Wall-Kimmerer is breathing life back into her world. This changes our conversation, too, as she asks us to use language and active thoughts as we consider our natural worlds. For instance, she suggests that we replace the use of “it” with “she, he, or they” when referring to natural beings.10 We encouraged this practice by example. For instance, we would say in reference to lichen, “She lives on the rocks.” Or, about a tree, “His roots are fed by the mitochondria.” By adopting this phrasing, students found themselves in more intimate relationship with their beings.

Founder of Māori Design Society Ngā Aho, Karl Wixon’s article “Whakapapa-centred design”11 was read alongside Wall-Kimmerer’s text, and also contributed to students’ conversations through their reading and reflection. Wixon identified indigenous Māori values and protocols (tikanga) and how these connect people and place and can also be read as a necessary approach to design: “‘Whakapapa’ is generally translated in English as genealogy, but it is much wider and deeper and is at the very heart of Māori ontology and identity. It connects people and place in an inseparable way.”12

As we began a project that required students to engage directly with their environment in order to forge social connections, these indigenous wisdom stories were a reminder to respect the important relationships that have been forged before us, during the times of our earliest ancestors arriving and becoming.

But Wixon’s knowledge, like Wall-Kimmerer’s, also proposed methods. “When we anchor design in whakapapa and tikanga, we open up all of our senses, we view people, place and environment as inseparable and interdependent, we engage deeply in ways that form enduring bonds, commitments and sense of consequence.”13

This sense of deep social connection and understanding of consequence that Wixon describes leads naturally to greater care in design. We regularly reminded the students to avoid extractive and exploitative approaches, such as harvesting materials to make artefacts, and to take care that insights from nature would not be operationalised in utilitarian contexts. Wixon cautioned as well that we not “extract natural resources with no sense of consequence or intergenerational effect.”14 These approaches need to be held at the centre of design practice, building non-extractive relationships that are inclusive and respectful of all beings.

We reached out to our local indigenous advisors to help us learn appropriate and respectful ways. In New Zealand this approach is considered within a bicultural conversation, encompassing the two cultures – indigenous Māori (First Nations) and non-Māori or Pākehā – who formed a co- governance treaty in 1840. Ron Bull15 describes how we have come to know each other’s ways, and through this ongoing conversation have opened up a third cultural space. He spoke online to our students about his identity and connections to his own whakapapa, as Māori, from the southern islands of New Zealand. These narratives, he adds, may be part fact and part story, but he is certain of their implications, of his connections and responsibilities toward the landscapes – mountain and river, the islands and the birds – that he is connected to through his whakapapa. He also talked about his experiences of meeting First Nation people in British Columbia, and the connections he made – forging connections across the ocean.

In British Columbia, things are more complex. This Canadian province is home to almost 200 First Nation communities, with over 36 dialects spoken. Among these Nations there are many overlapping forms of ritual, grounding, respect and greeting, but there are also different cultural ways. We cannot refer to a singular indigenous culture. In Canada, indigenous reconciliation has only just begun, and the infusion of indigenous wisdom into academia is not as far along as it is in New Zealand. Indigenous Advisor Connie Watts16 impressed upon us an understanding that seemed to be central among many First Nations: that everything is comprised of energy. The energy might be slow, as in a rock or mountain, but it is always moving, movable, and can be heard; this energy, whatever manifestation it might appear as, is all the same. Everything is alive. In these teachings, Connie made it clear that modernity’s notion that sentience is restricted to humans and animals is inaccurate. All beings, including trees, rivers and mountains are sentient. “Everything is one,” she said.

As part of her pedagogy, Connie led the Canadian group through several circle conversations in which she brought each person ‘into the room’ by inviting responses to a series of personal questions in turn, such as “Where are you from? Who are your ancestors? What do you love about this project?” This intimate conversational format left a legacy for the class. Circle conversations featured largely in later meetings and class discussions, and even replaced design critique. The classroom, whether virtual or in person, became a place to unravel questions and offer support for one another. This form of engaged pedagogy eases pathways for new and sometimes unsettling learning.


In our 2021 project, Canadian students were in lockdown, most working – and attending our online classes – from home. In 2022 the opposite was true, and this time New Zealand students were working at home through pandemic conditions, while Canadians were at last free to meet at design school and work in their studios. The online nature of the project was able to bridge our varying conditions and although many were home-bound, the core of this international exchange was a deep focus on the local. Even those with restricted travel conditions could walk outside their home and find evidence of nature with their first step. This brought new agents to our online conversation, and both familiar and unfamiliar species to our collective work. Although our classes coincided for six weeks, the Emily Carr semester had started six weeks before their Otago counterparts. These students began on their path in advance and were able to mentor and demonstrate their approaches and understandings as their peers in Otago approached the project.

As mentioned above, the project began with a conversational approach, as students were tasked with developing a social relationship with a more-than-human being. The term refers to ecologist David Abram’s phrase “the more-than-human world”17 as a way of considering our entanglement with earthly nature. Designers explore many different methods and processes in relation with people, nature, materials, forms and artefacts. In this project, we focus on how this can be considered a conversation in Donald Schön’s terms. Schön described this approach as “a reflective conversation with the situation.”18 Each situation is unique, complex and uncertain, and must be continually reframed, requiring reflective action, which is the basis of a conversation. In this conversation, the situation “talks back.”19

In this way, speaking and listening takes place between designer and material, designer and sketch model, and between models and sketches themselves, with increasing complexity. Bringing the animate world into this conversation opens an additional dimension that requires a new skill set for designers, one that rests largely, as we noted earlier, on building new listening skills. How long must we sit with a tree to hear her words? What does she have to say about this day? A process that was already very dynamic became increasingly emergent, and at times out of the control of the designers. This, we speculate, is a good thing. The natural world has been degraded for centuries due to the modern impulse for control.20 To not be in control means to engage in wholehearted spiritedness with an otherness that has integral rights and agency. It also has mystery.

The design brief asked students to learn first through their bodies – in Wixon’s terms “to open up all their senses.”21 This required apprehension, appealing to their being, becoming available physically in their world, in a phenomenological sense. The project began with roaming outside. Students can’t start this project in front of a screen. They need to physically relocate outside of the classroom to identify a possible project partner, all the while remaining open to different ways of feeling, listening and ‘being with.’ As Kimmerer said, “Listening in wild places, we witness conversation in a language that is not our own.”22 This took a leap of faith initially, but in order to participate in what Lynch and Mannion identify as “ongoing reciprocal response-making,”23 learners and educators must first become attentive. Through this process, most students became aware of their entanglement with other beings.

These early conversations were attentive to the centrality of the natural world as sentient and present with the world of humans. Students were tasked with becoming advocates for another (more-than-human) being, and drew upon many different modalities – experiential, sensorial, embodied, collaborative, collective and academic – in order to learn about their being and conceive of possible different relationships.

Students created a shortlist of possible beings – ranging from lichen, birds, bears, rivers and mountains – to work with, eventually narrowing the selection to one entity for each student. Importantly, the students also created a species card to describe themselves, within similar categorisations as for their chosen being. Students described their own class, species, habitat, food supply, food sensitivities, ecological sensitivities and other factors. Displaying their own species card alongside a card for their chosen being positioned them among other beings, rather than above them. This was a subtle challenge to human exceptionalism, the pervasive view since the seventeenth century, that humans are apart from and more important than other species.24 Referring to their parallel species cards throughout the semester, students were regularly reminded that they are included in the wondrous diversity of the animate earth.

After a species was selected, students conducted deep-dive research, including academic approaches and design approaches such as multi-sensory exploration, meditation, system mapping and sketching. At this stage, it was easy for some students to become overwhelmed by information, as it became increasingly apparent how many interconnections there were between their species, other life forms and surrounding ecosystems. In the midst of scientific knowledge, the question came up repeatedly: What is a designer? What does a designer contribute to this relationship? The system maps proved to be important ways of organising the complexity of new learning. Some students took it upon themselves to research ways of mapping, and developed highly visual charts that were integral to their project outcomes.

Once surrounded by different forms of knowledge, students drew upon their design tools and languages – along with other knowledge systems available to them – to translate and share their learning through the design of an experience that advocated for their chosen being. During this design and development stage, the students met online in small groups for feedback and critique, developing friendships and an appreciation for similar and dissimilar approaches, places and beings.

The outcomes are a variety of prototypes, designed to convey students’ learning and advocacy as experiences for other audiences. One student spent weeks trying to engage crows in a game that he had designed for them, only to see the crows regularly take his offering of food and skip away. He determined then to meet the crows on their own terms. He designed a shelf that would clip on easily to any window as a landing deck where crows (or other winged beings) could be offered water and food. Like him, many other students encountered the agency of other beings and shifted their designs to respond to them.

Themes of communication and storytelling resonated through the projects. One student was so enchanted by the stories her classmates told of their experiences with trees, bogs, mushrooms and nudibranchs that she designed and hosted a series of podcasts featuring each of her classmates’ beings. Another designer reached out to a mushroom foraging group and asked them to complete a survey aimed at learning about the different ways people got to know mushrooms, in order to gain insight into developing fungi friendships. One student spent weeks studying and listening carefully to decode the language of a stream. She created a series of interpretive tiles for an adjacent school, so that children could also listen more deeply and notice all the small beings who inhabit the stream.

Some of the projects were intimate and personally transformative. The student who swam in the cold winter ocean every week to honour the salmon; the student who went for a barefoot run and over the weeks developed an appreciation for the benefits of slow attentiveness to the task at hand, inspired by the worms beneath his feet. Qualities of attention and listening permeated all projects, some directly and others indirectly, and all led to a change of relationship between the designers and the natural world.


We referred above to Donald Schön’s conversation with a given situation where reflection-in-action is the reflective form of knowing-in-action, indicating that the languages of making are at play in a given student’s designing. While Schön was focused on identifying a spatial action language inherent in design, our conversation deepens the appreciation for phenomenological and design- making languages. The addition of animist practices helps to further “spread mind and creativity out much more widely.”25 We also share the belief that many “design practices can support other ways of knowing. Sketch models, drawings, reflective documentation, role play and storytelling can unlock designers from their thinking self and help them see things differently.”26

Numerous other elements were introduced to our – much noisier – conversation, which drew together multiple beings, multiple locales, multiple cultures and multiple approaches as designers shared their projects with peers, faculty and classmates. For many students there was a new and embodied realisation that everything is interconnected … that more-than-human beings have always had something to say.


The intentions of the DESIS network are to research design that incorporates social innovation for sustainability, with a focus on relationships and community. After this project, we now know with certainty that all beings have insights to offer our social innovations, and that limiting community to human-to-human has serious flaws for any sustainable future. Upon reflection, we realise that intriguing spaces and possible new communities opened up as a consequence of our trust in sentience. The design students took up all the necessary tools and languages to engage in ways that held these spaces open for periods of interconnected learning, for new conversations. Through these conversations we identified three design system relationships that can be understood differently.

Reconceiving systems: We recognise that our emerging methods reflect those of design ethnographies, drawing for example on observation techniques and empathic interpretation, engagement and sense-making.27 However, our practice reconsiders a design system without humans at the centre.

Trust and letting go: We found that this kind of learning is highly engaging and is available to everybody who is willing to pause and pay attention – and is willing to let go of preconceptions about knowledge, design process and an outcome focus. Personal trust in a different starting point is required, and an acceptance that designers can turn to design tools when they need them, rather than start with them on hand and let familiar tools dictate the result.

Tools and their place: This project helped us to reconceive what a design tool can be, and what an exploratory tool can be. In an online workshop held during lockdown, the Roving Designers28 asked students to raid their homes for spoons, yarn or other tools that could support exploration. The research tool was then something domestic and incidental. Further, the engagement between human and more-than-human allowed for tools to be realised during the research activity. For example, one designer chose to hang from a branch of a tree in order to see the world from another perspective. The branch became a tool for examining differing perspectives. It is only the relationship between the tree and the body that allows a tool-like quality to be identified in that moment. This example may help us see the limitations of both tools and ethnographies. The branch shifted from an element of observation to a device that helped to change the observation process. Within the system of observer–observed, the previously observed became a different element with a new role.

Another unsettling example can be seen in the student who asked, “What does the tree see when the tree sees me?”29 In conventional ethnography the designer does not ask, “How does the research subject see me”? This posture signifies an extraordinary amount of humility and a resetting of presumed hierarchies. It brings humans into the place, into an authentic relationship, one which is non-extractive and compassionate.

We recognise that we are not alone in these efforts,30 but are developing particular methods with which to form connections and relationships that may grow and connect us and our learners with an animate world. These methods acknowledge and make room for more than one worldview, including the views of our local indigenous cultures. In this project we have learned that through iterative design conversations and attentive listening, other voices can be heard.


We would like to acknowledge firstly the invaluable contributions of Connie Watts and Ron Bull, First Nation and Māori cultural advisors whose contributions to our project allowed us to better understand important indigenous relationships to local natural environments. The Canadian group The Roving Designers made an important contribution in the first iteration of this project, where they introduced students to alternative tools for exploring the natural world. Finally, we would like to acknowledge the trust in us and in each other shown by our students, in our evolving conversation, alongside the work of our students across 2021 and 2022 in INDD310 – Design for all beings: engaging with more-than-human species at Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver, CA); and DK733101 – Communication Design Studio Teams 1 – More than Human stream at Otago Polytechnic (Dunedin, NZ). We did not enter into this project with the intention of doing research, but with a curiosity that aligned with our values and as identified through collegial conversation. The project has not been subjected to an ethics committee process and we have attempted to remove all identifiable student information that may be considered in any way harmful to their wellbeing. We are grateful for our shared journey.

Caro McCaw is an associate professor and head of programme Communication Design at Otago Polytechnic. She employs creative social practice and approaches in art and design contexts. Embracing sustainable, decolonial and indigenous agendas, her workplaces emphasis on social relationships, interdependency and care, to suggest empathic and alternative ways of knowing and being, across diverse projects and contexts. She is the coordinator of the Otago DESIS (Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability) lab, a node in an international network, and an umbrella and a hub for a community of like-minded researchers.

Louise St Pierre descends from a long line of settler farmers and artisans. Her passion for the Earth has propelled her to research ecological design throughout her career. She is co-author of the internationally recognised Industrial Design curriculum, Okala Ecological Design. She established Canada’s first DESIS Lab at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver. She brings animist views to DESIS, decentering the human and contending that all beings are social. In her PhD, she integrated her concern for environmental sustainability with her Buddhist practice to understand how modern culture’s tendency to diminish our relationships with nature has implicated designers. Her recent publications including Design and Nature (with Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham) and Design for Biodiversity (with Zach Camozzi) offer a range of examples of how designers can reprioritise the importance of the natural world and challenge human exceptionalism.

  1. David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-human World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1996).
  2. Werefertoourrespectivenationstatesusingtheir non-indigenous nanes for the sake of clarity for our international readers. New Zealand is also know as Aotearoa and Canada is part of the larger nation known as Turtle Island.
  3. Karl Wixon, “Whakapapa Centred Design Explained …,” Linkedin, 16 August 2020, https://www. explained-karl-wixon.
  4. Robin Wall-Kimmerer, “Learning the Grammar of Animacy,” The Leopold Outlook (Winter 2012), 4-9.
  5. Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2021), 191.
  6. Louise St Pierre, “A Shift of Attention,” in Design and Nature: A Partnership, eds K Fletcher, L St Pierre and M Tham (Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2019), 20-25, at 25.
  7. Wall-Kimmerer, “Learning the Grammar.”
  8. Ibid., 7.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid., 8.
  11. Wixon, “Whakapapa Centred Design”.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ron Bull, tumuaki whakaako at Otago Polytechnic, identifies with Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe and Waitaha whakapapa or tribal heritage.
  16. Connie Watts identifies with Nuu-chah-nulth, Gitxsan and Kwakwaka’wakw ancestry.
  17. Abram, The Spell.
  18. Donald A Schön, The Reflective Practitioner (Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 1991), 76-104.
  19. Ibid., 132.
  20. Joanna Boehnert, Design, Ecology, Politics (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018).
  21. Wixon, ‘Whakapapa Centred Design.”
  22. Wall-Kimmerer, “Learning the Grammar,” 15.
  23. Jonathon Lynch and Greg Mannion, “Place-responsive Pedagogies in the Anthropocene: Attuning with the More-than-human,” Environmental Education Research, 27:6 (2021), 864-78, at 873.
  24. Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, 2nd ed. (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 1980).
  25. Val Plumwood, “Nature in the Active Voice,” in The Handbook of Contemporary Animism, ed. Graham Harvey (Slough, UK: Acumen Publishing Ltd, 2009), 441-53.
  26. St Pierre, “A Shift,” 24.
  27. Reflecting keywords identified in Keith M Murphy, “Ethnographic Design,” Society for Cultural Anthropology, 29 March 2018, https://culanth. org/fieldsights/ethnographic-design.
  28. Roving Designers, online workshop, Spring 2021, INDD 310.
  29. Student conversation with author, 2022.
  30. The pioneering design and nature work of Dr. Kate Fletcher is described in her books Wild Dress (Uniform Books, 2019); Design and Nature, A Partnership, with Louise St. Pierre and Mathilda Tham (Routledge 2019); Outfitting, with Helen Mort (Hazel Press 2022).

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.