The DESIS Lab at Emily Carr University of Art + Design supports research that advances design for social innovation towards sustainability.

DESIS envisions a future of resilience, equity and diversity across human and ecological systems through social innovation, design and environmental justice.

Emily Carr’s lab joined the DESIS network in 2012 and is the only DESIS lab in Canada. DESIS is supported by a volunteer steering committee made up of faculty and students.

2024 Steering Committee: Craig Badke,  Manuhuia Barcham, Eugenia Bertulis, Jean Chisholm, Helene Day Fraser, Keith Doyle, Laura Kozak, Louise St. Pierre, Pat Vera

Contact: Louise St. Pierre, Helene Day Fraser, Laura Kozak

DESIS Statements

DESIS is a network of design-led research labs based in universities around the world created  to trigger and support social change towards sustainability.

The network was created in 2009, in relation to the wave of social innovation that characterized that period: innovations  emerging mainly from grassroots initiatives aiming to solve, in a collaborative way, problems that people had to face in mature industrial societies.

Today, more than ten years later, these initial motivations remain valid. However in light of  the scale and depth of the ecological and environmental crisis, acknowledging its deeply intertwined with issues from environmental justice, such as the global rise of neo-fascism, along with ongoing crises related to the COVID-19 pandemic, wars, migration, racism, xenophobia and a global economic recession, other priorities and practices must be considered.

Our vision is that the new reality we find ourselves in could and should drive a new wave of social innovation, that while centred on environmental issues, has a web of interrelated economic, cultural and political implications.

We believe that this new wave of eco-social innovation is already emerging and, while still nascent, we can already recognize its first signals.

In this changed world, DESIS must change with it. A change that implies not only the re-orientation of our way of thinking and doing to directly address environmental and ecological issues, but one that also pushes towards clearer justice-based goals.

Moving forward, the DESIS Network reaffirms its commitment to sustainability by pursuing three interconnected goals: (1) to publicly acknowledge the radical planetary interdependence and recognize social, cultural and biological diversity as vital resources to nurture and protect all living species and environments; (2) to learn how to see and act on the interdependencies between natural systems and our own lives; (3) to value the importance of the commons for the wellbeing of all communities as a starting point for designing.

In the past decade, these three themes have gradually emerged in the design community at large and internally within the DESIS Network. It is time now to let them guide the work of the different DESIS Labs as well as  the network’s mission as a whole.

Today, the network’s  most ambitious goal should be therefore to foster and support the new wave of eco-social innovation. And in doing so, to collaboratively build platforms for teaching and research necessary to guide and strengthen the transition towards a more resilient, diverse and non-anthropocentric sustainable world.

Finally, this statement is meant to mark and deepen our commitment to a politics of design based on care and solidarity in order to advance equity, inclusion and social justice goals. We plan to continue to do so through the courses we teach, the research topics we take on, the projects we create and the voices we include and elevate.

(DRAFT 5 25.11.2020)


Emily Carr Design, with its strong focus on sustainability, design research, participatory methods and contextually grounded design, was an ideal candidate for a DESIS lab. We joined DESIS in 2012 and are currently the only DESIS lab in Canada.

DESIS Scholar

The DESIS Scholar is named annually. This Scholar is a graduate student who develops research in line with the theories and objectives of the DESIS Lab at Emily Carr University, and plays a supportive role in DESIS lab events throughout the academic year. The DESIS Scholar has direct access to DESIS Lab faculty and resources.

2023/24 DESIS Scholar: Morgan Martino and Parnian Anaa
2019/20 DESIS Scholars: Andy Simon and Josh Singler
2018/19 DESIS Scholar: Josh Singler

2018 DESIS Scholar: Reyhaneh Yazdani
2016/17 DESIS Scholar: Natalia Franca


The research that leveraged the theories of DESIS began with the EMUDE (Emerging User Demands for sustainable solutions) project in 2004. Working with a number of colleagues including Anna Meroni and François Jégou, Ezio Manzini decided to research what creative people were already doing to live low impact lifestyles. With support from the European Union, teams of design students from eight schools in Europe were mobilized to gather case studies of people who were shaping their lives resourcefully and creatively. The case studies were analyzed, sorted and disseminated in publications that reached a wide audience of academics, students and designers [2][3]. This was followed by projects that collected diverse case studies and interest from around the world. It is very important that this work has been distilled from the initial case studies and inspiration to principles and approaches for designing in new ways: social innovation toward sustainability, an emerging domain for design.

The ideals of social change toward sustainability were disseminated by Manzini via his prolific international teaching and speaking career. Design schools, as places for learning, experimentation and creation of new models for design, house and support much of the DESIS research work. Participating design schools, students, and faculty are important agents of change and contributors to DESIS. DESIS holds annual assemblies in conjunction with Cumulus, the largest association of Art and Design schools around the world. This draws members together for decision-making and builds the knowledge network and community of design for social innovation and sustainability.

The DESIS lab network was formalized in 2009 by the eight original member schools and by 2016 has grown to 48 member schools around the world. The DESIS organization supports the capacities of member schools to operate as design research teams that collaborate internationally to share knowledge through research relationships, and by presenting at the annual DESIS assembly.  These labs do ongoing research, promote the development of knowledge, and educate designers to meet the growing demand for design for social innovation toward sustainability.

Deeply embedded in the DESIS philosophy is the understanding that joy and satisfaction gained from social engagement surpasses any gratification one might find in consumerism, and offsets the notion that reduction of consumption brings any deprivation. Much of the value laden and ethical work of DESIS has been made possible by engaging research within design schools, where the pressures to provide for consumer culture can be tempered. As a result the methodologies and approaches of DESIS are changing how we design, live, imagine, feel and be.

[1]Manzini, Ezio. 2015. Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation. Translated by Rachel Coad. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. P. 62 [2]Jégou, Franćois, and Ezio Manzini. 2008. Collaborative Services: Social Innovation and Design for Sustainability. Milan: Polidesign.
[3]Meroni, Anna, Dr. 2007. Creative Communities. Milan: Polidesign.