DESIS-Lab Melbourne creates liminal, non-institutionalised spaces to connect, relate, critique and play in the aim of fostering companionable, peer-to-peer learning opportunities. We care more about grass-roots wellbeing – going fishing or sharing a meal – than strategizing problem-solving. In valuing inclusivity and plurality, we seek to meet complexity and contradiction head on, recognising that initiating and sustaining change is rarely easy or pleasurable. We aim to contribute to design’s transition from valuing commodification and progress to respecting inter-relatedness and reciprocity, exploring together how to build capacity and resilience in people and communities. We seek to keep alive questions of care and responsibility by engaging with the dynamic, but often toxic processes of change consuming our world the level of the local and place-based to the scale of cities, regions, nations and continents.

As part of the international network, Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS), DESIS-Lab Melbourne was established in 2012 as a joint initiative by RMIT University and Swinburne University of Technology. Since then RMIT University has signed a MOU yet the structure is governed by a strong volunteer committee of various experts named below. Our work focuses on building partnerships with design practitioners, academic researchers, industry and public institutions to collaborate, share knowledge and make the contribution of design for social innovation and sustainability visible at a national and international platform. We support several activities, including public events, educational studios, community projects and research initiatives. Most of our talks are recorded and the project outlines are shared through an on-line platform. The range of issues that concern us are ageing, social exclusion, disasters, public service innovation, mobility, food security, climate change, urban revitalisation that impact Australian communities. DESIS-Lab Melbourne currently has over 400 members and is supported by major design academic institutions in Melbourne including RMIT University,  Swinburne University of TechnologyVictoria University, University of Melbourne, and Monash University. Partnerships with organisations range from public services like the City of MelbourneDepartment of Human ServicesWorksafe AustraliaAustralian Emergency Management Institute (AEMI); Non-profit organisations like the Green Living CentreOxfam Australia and Victorian Eco Innovation Lab (VEIL); and social enterprises like Co-Design StudioDesign Managers AustraliaEngineers Without BoardersShareable, and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI). It is also affiliated with several prominent networks, such as Service Design Melbourne, the Centre for Social Impact and Design and Social Innovation in Asia-Pacific (DESIAP).

If you would like to join this group, receive notification through our Mailchimp newsletter, share your projects or enquire about doing specific projects with DESIS Melbourne hub, please feel free to join us!

Yoko Akama

Yoko Akama

Dr. Yoko Akama is an Associate Professor in Communication Design, School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, Australia and Co-founder and leader of DESIS-Lab Melbourne. Her practice is entangled in social ‘wicked problems’, to strengthen adaptive capacity for disaster resilience in Australia and Japan, and to contribute towards the efforts of Indigenous Nations enact their self-determination and governance. Trained as a communication designer, visualisation features strongly in her work to catalyse meaning-making, learning and dialogue through participatory interactions. Yoko co-leads several networks including Design for Social Innovation in Asia-Pacific network and Design + Ethnography + Futures research program. She is an adjunct Fellow of a Japanese ecosystem innovation studio, Re:Public Inc; Visiting Fellow of the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, Bournemouth University; serves on the Advisory Committee for Service Design and Innovation conference, Participatory Design Conference and International Journal of Design and Culture, and is a recipient of British Council Design Research Award (2008); a Finalist in the Victorian Premier’s Design Award (2012); and two Good Design Australia Awards (2014). See RMIT & Academia pages for more information.

Carolyn Barnes

Carolyn Barnes

Dr Carolyn Barnes (PhD Melb 2004) is Academic Director of Research Training in the School of Design, Swinburne University of Technology, where she teaches research  methods for academic and practice applications. Her research investigates how to harness the knowledge and power bound up in individuals and groups to address their primary needs and interests. Using social research approaches, Carolyn works in two main areas. The first is participatory design, examining how co-creation methods can mobilise stakeholder knowledge to achieve the best outcomes for people. The second is research into practitioner networks, which investigates the transfer of knowledge and skills within networks of designers and artists. Carolyn is an associate editor of theInternational Journal of Design and a member of the editorial board of The Journal of Visual Arts Practice.

Emma Blomkamp


Dr Emma Blomkamp is Research Coordinator of The Policy Lab at The University of Melbourne. With a background in arts and cultural policy research, and experience leading social innovation projects, Emma now focuses on exploring creative and participatory approaches to policy design and evaluation. Emma joined the Policy Lab in late 2016 after several years’ work in a social innovation agency, specialising in human-centred research and leading projects for public sector and non-governmental organisations in New Zealand. She also has experience in governance roles with cultural organisations and has taught at universities in Australia, New Zealand, France and Cambodia.

Emma co-edited the 2015 book Making Culture Count: The Politics of Cultural Measurement (Palgrave Macmillan). Her research on cultural policy, local governance and evidence-based policy has been published in international journals including Evidence & Policy and the International Journal of Cultural Policy .   

Tania Ivanka

Tania Ivanka is a Lecturer in Communication Design at RMIT, her teaching and research interests include systems thinking, transition design and design for sustainability. In 2009–2010 Tania took part in the Birds of a Feather Bush Fire preparedness research project in Southern Otways, with Dr Yoko Akama. The team used design methods to initiate engagement, prompt thinking and discussion, facilitate awareness and reveal tacit knowledge among the community related to bushfire planning. Playful Triggers were used to facilitate visualisation and mapping site-specific knowledge and ‘What if’ scenarios were used to prompt thinking and planning for unexpected events. More recently Tania has worked with Richard Cooney (Swinburne) and Nifeli Stewart (RMIT) on the best practice of the Worksafe Victoria Return to Work system, using visualisation to make sense of and represent the complex relationships and practices of the multi stakeholder system. Tania’s research continues through her PhD in Industrial Design at RMIT exploring Codesign for healthcare using systemic thinking principles to make sense of complex social situations for the codesign of patient experiences.

Kate Bissett Johnson

Kate Bissett Johnson

Katherine Bissett-Johnson has been teaching into the area of Socially Responsible Design for the past 8 years, furthering a passion for community-based projects developed over many years in her career as an academic. Her interest in Design Process and Design Methods Tools was first sparked during her Masters degree, and has continued to be refined through research and teaching practice. She teaches into Product Design Engineering at Swinburne University, blending her extensive knowledge, experience and practice of Design and Sustainability with Engineering.

Ryley Lawson

RyleyLawsonRyley is a designer-researcher who balances an interest in design’s capacity to affect meaningful change with a sensitivity to the social, environmental, and political implications of what constitutes meaningful. He has written a thesis on the politics of critical and speculative design practices as developed and informed by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, and contributed to Tony Fry’s Studio at the Edge of the World.

Educated as a communication designer and trained as a printer, Ryley currently operates as a studio lead at RumbleHive and as a research assistant with Design and Social Innovation in Asia Pacific. He runs an ongoing discussion event series called Future, Sensitive, which explores ways in which understandings of design shape the practice of an individual designer.

Simon Lockery

Simon Lockery

Simon Lockrey is an award-winning designer, engineer and academic who explores innovation in business and technology through his design, sustainability and business ventures. Simon is currently a Research Fellow at the Centre for Design and Society (CfD+S) at RMIT University and Director/ Founder of global urban gardening brand Glowpear. Since 2000 he has worked on over 100 commercial design and engineering projects for organisations such as Breville, Dyson, Whirlpool, and Nestle, which has resulted in the generation of many millions of dollars in income and Intellectual Property (IP). His work has crossed a large range of industries including design consultancies, leading commercial interior furniture manufacturers and multinational appliance companies. The products he has designed have been both ‘small run’ and ‘mass produced’, as his roles have covered all stages of the design process. He has worked with a range of materials and processes in both design and manufacturing environments.

Rowan Page

Rowan is an industrial designer currently undertaking a Ph.D. at Monash University. Rowan’s project-grounded research explores how the usability of medical devices can be improved through a more active inclusion of device recipients within the design process and is undertaken in collaboration with Cochlear Ltd. Rowan also assists with research within Monash Art Design and Architecture’s Health-CoLab, in collaboration with Monash Health and the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering (MIME), and centered around improving the patient experience with medical devices and services.

Separately to this, Rowan has a passion for the intersection of emerging fabrication technologies with craft processes that he explores through his own projects, through previous work at Studio Batch, and teaching within Monash’s undergraduate industrial design program.

Mark Richardson

Formerly a senior designer at Ford Motor Company, Mark was involved in both conceptual and global manufacturing projects, such as the R7 show car, Territory, European Mondeo and Asia Pacific Fiesta. Mark now lectures in Industrial Design at Monash University, having completed a PhD seeking evidence to support the advance of ecologically and socially sustainable mobility systems through hands-on practices of making. His research now investigates how we can transition from current design and production methods to more sustainable, resilient and accessible systems of creating, making, sharing and learning.


Juan Sanin

Juan Sanin is an Industrial Designer with postgraduate studies in Aesthetics (Ms) and Cultural Studies (PhD), and more than a decade of experience in teaching and research across South America and Australia. His research explores conceptual aspects of ‘design culture’ revolving around the intersections between design, consumerism and everyday life. As designer he is interested in the contribution of collaborative and participative approaches to design for sustainability and social innovation. He is also interested in alternative ways of learning and teaching for Design Education. Outcomes of his research have been presented in international conferences and published in academic journals, books and industry reports.

Darren Sharp

Darren Sharp is a sharing economy strategist with a background in community engagement, research and consulting. As founding Director of Social Surplus he leads strategy and facilitates capacity-building using strength-based approaches including Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and Human-Centred Design. He works with clients to design programs that amplify the strengths of people and communities through sharing. As the Australian editor of Shareable, Melbourne coordinator of the Sharing Cities Network and a global curator for Collaborative Consumption, Darren provides thought leadership in social innovation, the urban commons and Sharing Cities. He is also part of an international team writing a book on Sharing Cities to be published at the start of 2017.  Darren is a PhD candidate at Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute where he is undertaking research into Livewell Yarra, an Urban Living Lab funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living.

Helaine Stanley

Helaine Stanley

Helaine’s involved in projects that bring together sustainability and transport, housing, public space or more generally projects that achieve livability outcomes through strategic collaborations. Helaine is experienced in strategic planning and communications: drawing upon service design approaches to codevelop strategies, and consults through 226 Strategic. Recent projects include co-authoring the walkability section of Paul Hawken’s upcoming book and associated website Drawdown.org, providing placemaking communication services for Optus workplace experience team, producing a guide for the (7.5 star rated development) Mullum Creek and designing and managing community-led websites and social media.

Design and the Social Sector: An Annotated Bibliography
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