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2020 Year in Review: Wilson School of Design

2020, the year none of us expected, is coming to a close. It feels simultaneously like it lasted an eternity and like we blinked and it’s over. We may have felt afraid and isolated this year, but we also learned to adapt and grow, despite the difficult circumstances we found ourselves in. It’s time to reflect on our resilience during a year that shook the world.

Diving Back In & Meeting Future Designers

We jumped into the new year like we always do—refreshed and eager to sink our teeth into new projects and new learning opportunities. We welcomed back Jen Rainnie and Alyssa Klimek, Fashion Marketing alumni, from Malvados to inspire Fashion Marketing students on capturing brand culture. Then at KPU Surrey’s Open House and information sessions we met, talked design, and made buttons with future designers.

It’s always such a great honour presenting to the students of Kwantlen Polytechnic University—sharing my experiences with the next generation of fashion marketing professionals. We are so lucky to have this incredible facility and school in Vancouver. Thank you Chip Wilson for this fantastic building and legacy.

— Jen Rainnie, Fashion Marketing Alumna and Founder of Malvados



WSD Alumni Chapter

Later in February, we launched our WSD Alumni Chapter, an official chapter of the KPU Alumni Association. Join our WSD Alumni Chapter on LinkedIn

Our Social Fabric Award

We teamed up with Our Social Fabric (OSF) to put on a design competition challenging students to create garments out of materials provided by OSF and producing zero fabric waste. Our Social Fabric is a textile recycling initiative that receives donations of textiles, fabric, and sewing-related supplies from the film industry, theatre, manufacturing, etc. Volunteers sort through and offer them back to the community at drastically reduced prices. They have diverted over 50 tons of fabric from landfills since 2009 and we’re proud to partner with them and teach students about the best practices for textile waste reduction toward zero waste and a circular economy. See more event photos on our Flickr

Our Social Fabric Award 2020

Designer Spotlight

One of our must-see events of the year: Designer Spotlight is an amazing opportunity for industry, media, and students to connect with graduating designers from both the Fashion Design and Product Design programs.

Students at Designer Spotlight

Students at Designer Spotlight


Students at Designer Spotlight


Industry Guidance & Advice

In March, our innovative third year product design students demonstrated their final prototype for Alta, a personal hyperbaric chamber, to industry members for feedback and guidance. A lot of time, research, and development went into this 8-week project and it couldn't have been possible without the help of our generous expert stakeholders. A big thank you Liz Rose, the youngest Canadian to climb the Seven Summits, for occupying Alta and our industry network partners: Thin Red Line, Tangible Interaction, Mustang Survival, and Baro Medical for the guidance and support.


Shooting our First Video

We shot our first promotional video with the help of Georgia Straight Media! Learn how we disrupt what is possible:


Covid Transition

Then everything changed. Covid cases began to rise and schools shut down, leaving faculty and students very little time to prepare for the transition. However, when one door closes, a bigger and better door always opens. Despite adapting to a global pandemic, this year was a year of resilience, grit, flexibility, and success. On behalf of all our faculty and staff, we created this short video for our students.


Grad Showcase Website Launch

Grad shows are so last year, right? We knew our usual celebrations had to change, but as designers we adapted and presented a year-end graduate showcase on Congratulations to our Wilson School of Design class of 2020!

Grad showcase website mock-up


COVID-19 Initiatives

Our students and faculty rose to the challenge of tackling social/educational issues caused by the pandemic. Product Design instructor Victor Martinez guided a project using 3D printers to create “ear savers,” mask straps that are held around the heads of healthcare workers, easing the discomfort of mask-wearing. Producing 1,000 ear savers was a collaborative effort with the help of two Product Design students, Birk Zukowsky and Russell Kirstein; one Interior Design student, Leo Zhuo; and five instructors in KPU’s Physics department, including Michael Chernoff, James Hoyland, Takashi Sato, Fergal Callaghan, and Flavio Ruiz-Oliveras. 

Additionally, many of our students, faculty, and graduates began creating reusable masks, including a version with a clear vinyl panel to allow for lip-reading created by grad Alisa Yao. We’re so proud of how quickly our community stepped up to make a difference. 


Scholarships & Awards

Wilson School of Design students proved their exceptional skill and creative thinking by receiving a number of design awards this year. Riley Scott from the Technical Apparel Design program received a runner-up award in the Core77 Design Awards. Graphic design students Carmen Cheung, Liam Kennedy, Linda Luu, Paris Summers, Melissa Fraser, Arden Leidl, Joshua Groom, and Brett Boivin received awards from ADCC, AppliedArts, GDC, and more. Congratulations to our students!

Field Trips

Field trips looked a little different this year, but we adapted to create rich learning experiences for students remotely. Faculty member Susan Ju from the Foundations in Design program invited Squamish designer/artist Pam Baker for a virtual presentation and Carson from Chairman Ting and Annie from LEMONNI for a delightful interview. Pam's advice for students? “If you do things easy in life, life will be hard. If you do things hard in life, life will be easy.”

In Product Design, we invited guest speaker Alyssa Lewis from Studio Block to hear about her process and unique approach to design. Thank you for providing insight and advice on collaborations and connections. Students can always learn from role models in our diverse local design industry.


Faculty Recognition

We also congratulate our incredible faculty members for their ability to adapt to the change in circumstances and accomplish incredible things this year. Here we feature Heather Clark, Paola Gavilanez, Erika Balcombe, and Stephanie St. Loe (not pictured); contributing to the future of design. 

Heather Clark Portrait

Paola Gavilanez

Erika Balcombe Portrait

Heather Clark and Paola Gavilanez speak at the THESA Conference

On October 23rd, Heather delved into how the global pandemic has affected and will continue to affect the fashion industry. Her workshop explored how these shifts will affect the skills that students will need to learn in order to succeed after graduating as well as the methods teachers will need to guide them. In addition, Paola presented tips and tools to teach the Housing and Living Environments 12 course. Participants learned how to encourage critical design thinking in students, particularly in the context of residential environments.

Erika Balcombe contributes to Award Winning Exhibit Design

The exhibit Shadows, Strings, and Other Things: the Enchanting Theatre of Puppets at the Museum of Anthropology won the Canadian Museum Association's Award for Outstanding Achievement ("for temporary, permanent, or traveling exhibitions that effectively and distinctively contribute to increase public understanding"). Interior Design faculty member Erika Balcombe is very proud to have been a member of this team as illustrator, researcher and curatorial assistant under curator, Dr. Nicola Levell and designer, Skooker Broome. The show welcomed over 110,000 visitors and will continue to live past its 6 month run as a virtual reality experience (in progress). 

Stephanie St. Loe co-authors "Self-Organising Floor Plans in Care Homes"

Self-Organising Floor Plans in Care Homes presents and discusses an optimisation approach applied to spatial layouts in care home building design. With this study, the team introduces a method for increasing the floor plan efficiency using a self-organising genetic algorithm, thus reducing energy consumption, improving the wellbeing of residents and having an implicit impact on the costs of energy and health care. In order to find an optimal spatial configuration, the group elaborated and tested a number of design criteria based on existing literature reviews and interpreted through initial considerations of care home layouts. These were used as objectives in a Genetic Algorithm (GA) to evaluate the best design solution. The self-organised floor plan is then used to run a final simulation to observe how residents could use the optimised spaces and to measure the improved efficiency of the new plans. The paper concludes with the discussion of the results and some considerations for future studies and experiments using emergence behaviour models to improve sustainable development in design. 


Events were a little different this year, but we still continued to support our students and creative industry by hosting GDC’s Launch! Conference and participating in National Portfolio Day.

National Portfolio Day
GDC Launch Conference 2020


Looking Ahead to 2021

Look forward to seeing you all back for Spring 2021 on January 4th. We can’t wait to see what you create!

Congratulations for completing the semester and prepare for some time to relax and take care of yourselves! We admire your energy, resiliency and collaborative efforts to foster a positive learning experience and we continue to send our support to you and your families during these challenging times. Wishing you much joy for the holiday season! Stay safe, healthy and take care — Andhra