Emily Carr University joined DESIS in 2012 and are currently the only DESIS lab in Canada.

We support research that advances Design for Social Innovation towards Sustainability. The Emily Carr DESIS lab coordinator (Louise St. Pierre) and manager (Hélène Day Fraser) are in regular contact with the international community that comprises 46 DESIS Labs worldwide. They also host local meetings and café discussions that are open to the public and the broader community.

The Emily Carr DESIS lab features a number of initiatives including cloTHING(s) as ConversationTransition Town Collaborations, and Who is Social, an inquiry into social engagement with other-than-humans, and celebrates student-initiated research by hosting student workshops in partnership with supporting faculty.

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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.

[4] St. Pierre, Louise. 2015. “Nature’s Systems.” In The Routledge Handbook of Sustainability and Fashion, edited by Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham, 33–42. Oxon, New York: Routledge.

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