Using technology for sustainable design: An interview with Emily Carr MAA student Karen Whistler

Karen Whistler is a currently completing her MAA at Emily Carr. She has a particular interest in systems, sustainability, and getting to know Vancouver. In an interview for the SIM Centre, Communications Intern Samantha Lefort sits down with Karen to talk design, SIM, and the future.

Samantha: What brought you to Emily Carr?

Karen: I am from Seattle and grew up in the northwest. My husband and I enjoyed  Vancouver every time we visited and were delighted to find out about Emily Carr. I was drawn to the emphasis on research in design, focus on sustainability and resources on campus. 

Samantha: Have you had a chance to explore the SIM Centre, and if so, how/why? What was your initial reaction?

Karen: I have worked in digital agencies and helped build social media strategies for clients and I can say that work was very flat. It was driven by technology as an end and sought to capture how people were currently engaging with media instead of pushing the concepts further. So, I think the SIM Centre is a working on a much deeper level.

Samantha: What is your involvement with the SIM Centre?

Karen: I'm working with the SIM team on the branding for the iDMAa conference with another MAA student, Marten Sims, and a group of undergrad students. It is a fun collaboration and I can't wait for the conference. 

Samantha: Are you a web designer or a print designer?

Karen:  I don't think that print and web are competing ideas, rather they enjoy using a variety of media to work together to reinforce the same message. It is all about telling the story and building the voice of an organization.

Samantha: How can technology help what you do? 

Karen: I want to promote a shift toward sustainability. Through technology and social media, people are coming together in ways like never before. I see technology as a tool for education and a way to join people in an authentic conversation around battling social barriers to sustainability.

Samantha: What is it about sustainability that interests you? Certain facets or aspects?

Karen: I am interested in the cultural aspects of sustainability. It is an attitude, behavior and system that restores natural balance. I like looking at the problem holistically to see how the smaller problems impact the big picture. 

Currently we have a system that is not working well for the planet or the people in it. I am exploring how can we adjust that system in a way that engages and empowers people to participate and take responsibility for their part in promoting sustainable or wasteful practices.

To me, sustainability is not just about making products that can be labeled green. It is about doing what is right. Stewardship of natural resources and human rights are critical ethical issues. 

Samantha: What are you currently working on?

Karen: My first month at Emily Carr I really dove in and it has been wonderful. This semester I am doing research on Systems Thinking for Louise St Pierre and PowerTech, analyzing research data for BC Children's Hospital for Deborah Shackleton and fellow MAA student Elisa Yon and working with Haig Armen gathering research for Pulse Energy.

I am also refining my thesis direction by looking into the history of the concept of disposability within our culture to better understand the root of unsustainable practices. The most valuable part of my experience here so far has been the people I have connected with. I am constantly learning and am inspired by the potential for the future.

Samantha: Where would you like to go?

Karen: Ideally, in the future I would like to have a nice balance of practicing research based design and teaching at a university. I am at Emily Carr to work on those long range goals. For now, I love the work I am doing and am excited to see where the future leads me. 

Thanks Karen! We look forward to all your upcoming creations!

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