Parsons Festival 2018: Art and Design History and Theory Graduate Student Symposium

Thursday, May 3 1000 am – 5:00 pm
Friday, May 4 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

The Bark Room, Room M104
Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
2 West 13th Street
New York, NY 1001

The School of Art and Design History and Theory will sponsor a graduate student symposium as a part of the 2018 Parsons Festival. Planned by HDCS, MAFS, MADS students- the two day event will feature short presentations followed by a reception. All are welcome to attend.

Parsons Festival is an annual series of art and design events in which cutting-edge student work is presented to the Parsons community and the public. The festival takes place at the end of each academic year and includes thesis exhibitions and critiques, thought-provoking public programs, interactive installations, gallery openings, workshops, and special events.

The New School’s Parsons School of Design, which was recently named the number one art and design school in the United States by Top Universities, has been a pioneer in art and design education for more than a century. Based in New York but active around the world, Parsons offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the full spectrum of design disciplines. Critical thinking and collaboration are at the heart of a Parsons education. An integral part of The New School, Parsons builds on the university’s legacy of progressive ideals, scholarship, and pedagogy. Parsons graduates are leaders in their respective fields with a shared commitment to creatively and critically addressing the complexities of life in the 21st century.

Unruly Design: Making, Changing and Breaking Rules

A colloquium in Design Studies, Fashion Studies, History of Design & Curatorial Studies

Friday, March 2, 2018
Opening conversation with Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Design and Architecture, MoMA, and Jamer Hunt, Vice Provost for Transdisciplinary Initiatives, Parsons School of Design, The New School
Theresa Lang Center, Arnold Hall 
55 West 13th Street,
New York, NY 10011


Friday, March 2, 2018
Join us for an unruly feast
RSVP required
Wollman Hall, Eugene Lang
65 West 11th Street, New York, NY 10011


Saturday, March 3, 2018
Panel presentations and discussions
Theresa Lang Center, Arnold Hall
55 West 13th Street,
New York, NY 10011

The School of Art and Design History and Theory is pleased to announce its inaugural colloquium, scheduled to take place Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3, 2018 at Parsons School of Design in New York City.

“Unruly Design” explores the rules that govern design concepts, acts of making and fashion practices both historically and in today’s context. Who sets the rules within a design field, designers, clients, consumers or end-users? How should designers engage the legal structures that bind production and consumption and/or respond to market forces? How might consumers and end-users rewrite explicit or implicit codes of use through practice? How are the rules of design made, changed or broken? Discussions will move across several fields of design— from design history to fashion studies; design studies to intersections of design with artistic practices—taking into account current historical and contemporary perspectives including policy making and service design. This two-day colloquium responds to current discussions on the inherent political and ethical implication of design practices, as well as an expanded cultural terrain where the idea of design has become mainstream. This series of interventions and conversations navigates the complex relationship of design with a certain sense of order—with ways of doing and modes of saying that frame design processes and their outcomes within more or less strict, often conflicting sets of rules. Is today’s design unruly or can it be?

Speakers: Paola Antonelli, Museum of Modern Art; Otto von Busch, Parsons School of Design, School of Design Strategies; Lily Chumley, New York University; Tracy L. Ehrlich, Parsons School of Design, History of Design and Curatorial Studies; Carma Gorman, University of Texas at Austin; Denise Green, Cornell University; Elizabeth Guffey, State University of New York at Purchase; Victoria Hattam, New School for Social Research; Jamer Hunt, Parsons School of Design, Transdisciplinary Studies; Charlene K. Lau, Parsons School of Design, Fashion Studies; Ulrich Leben, Parsons School of Design, History of Design and Curatorial Studies; Andrea Lipps, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Lauren Downing Peters, Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University; Nicole C. Rudolph, Adelphi University; Georgia Traganou, Parsons School of Design, Design Studies; McKenzie Wark, New School for Social Research.

Event Schedule

Friday March 2, 2018

5:30 – 7:00pm Opening conversation with Paola Antonelli and Jamer Hunt

7:00 – 10:00pm Unruly Feast

Saturday March 3, 2018

10:00 – 10:30am Participants arrival & coffee

10:30am – 12:00pm Session 1 – RULE MAKING

Drawing Beyond the Academy in Eighteenth-Century Rome 
Tracy L. Ehrlich, Parsons School of Design, History of Design and Curatorial Studies

The world of plenty or a headless chicken?
Ulrich Leben

Dangerous Curves: Disciplining the Fat, Female Body Through Design Discourse
Lauren Downing Peters, Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University

Design wants to be free: copying as democratic practice in the USA
Carma Gorman, University of Texas at Austin

Lily Chumley

12:00 to 1:15pm Lunch break

1:15 – 2:45pm Session 2 – RULE CHANGING

Robes of Resistance: Nuu-chah-nulth Declarations on Cloth
Denise Green, Cornell University

Making and Breaking Rules: Selwyn Goldsmith Designing for the Disabled
Elizabeth Guffey, State University of New York at Purchase

Rule-makers and Their Discontents: Who Changed French Postwar Housing?
Nicole C. Rudolph, Adelphi University

Border Rules: Design and Production across the Rio Grande
Victoria Hattam, New School for Social Research

Design in Autonomy
Jilly Traganou, Parsons School of Design, Design Studies

2:45 to 3:00pm Coffee break

3:00 – 4:30pm Session 3 – RULE BREAKING

Touching and Taking power: Hacking and DIY Activism
Otto von Busch, Parsons School of Design, School of Design Strategies

Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Era
Andrea Lipps, Assistant Curator, Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, Smithsonian Design Museum, NY

The “Porn-Again Avant-Garde”: Transgression and the Contemporary Fashion Vanguard 
Charlene K. Lau, Parsons School of Design, Fashion Studies

Design for Concepts
McKenzie Wark, New School for Social Research

4:30 – 5:00pm Closing Reception


Organizing Committee:
Rosemary O’Neill, History of Design & Curatorial Studies;
Caroline Dionne, Design Studies;
Rachel Lifter, Fashion Studies

Students Launch Design Studies Wikipedia Page

Graduate students from the Fall 2017 course Writing for the Public Realm, taught by Susan Yelavich, joined forces to give the discipline of Design Studies its very own nook in the world of Wikipedia.
The Design Studies Wikipedia page was entirely student written, with Professor Yelavich providing editorial support. In the true spirit of crowd sourcing, both the Wikipedia community and Design Studies community at large are expected to contribute to the ever-evolving article moving forward into the future.

Left to right: Susan Yelavich, Diana Duque, Kayla O’Daniel, Mariann Asayan, Irem Yildiz, Kashish Mittal, Lane Rasberry, Narender Strong.

Professor Yelavich awarded a 2018 Bogliasco Fellowship

Susan Yelavich, Associate Professor of Design Studies, has been awarded a month’s residency at the Bogliasco Foundation in Bogliasco, Italy, located outside of the city of Genoa. (See:

While she is there in February 2018, Yelavich will be working on the final chapter of her book Thinking Design through Literature (Routledge, 2019). She joins a distinguished group of 32 artists, composers, musicians, performers, writers, and scholars of the humanities and literature, who have made significant contributions to the arts and humanities. During her absence, Jilly Traganou will serve as Acting Director of the MA Design Studies program.

Join Parsons Alumni Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler for a talk at the Met

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, founders and designers of Proenza Schouler join journalist Alina Cho for a fast-paced, insightful talk about fashion at the intersection of art and ideas.

Pioneers of style and craft since they launched their brand 15 years ago, the fathers of the perennial “It Bag” known as PS1 will chat with journalist Alina Cho about why they showed their most recent collection in Paris, how they manage their personal and professional relationship, and what inspires them. Named after the designers’ mothers, Proenza Schouler won the inaugural CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and has won five CFDA awards including Womenswear Designer of the Year and Accessory Designer of the Year.

Use promo code is STUDENTPS to secure your ticket for just $15.


Stand up for Democracy

By Susan Yelavich

The following posts grew out of a Parsons Design Studies workshop on “Design and Political Agency,” which was inspired by “Stand Up For Democracy,” on September 8th, 2017. Each student read the “Open Letter to the Design Community: Stand up for Democracy” and chose an object that fosters (or deters) people’s power to speak and act in the political sphere. In the particularities of each observed thing, the students identified the potentialities of design to afford a larger form of agency and politics.

Design and Political Agency

Tsai-Hsun (Maggie) Lin ‘15 published in DMI Journal

Congratulations to MA Design Studies alumna Tsai-Hsun (Maggie) Lin on the publication of her article “Redesigning Public Organizational Change with Care” in the Design Management Journal, Vol. 3, 2017. Maggie graduated from the program in 2015 and is currently building her own project, Studio Connectivity, which focuses on organization change and capability building consulting service. Currently in Taiwan, she is returning to New York this fall.

As she states in her abstract, her “article explores how design might be able to contribute to scaling and sustaining innovation in the public sector. It argues that nurturing capabilities of design in public administrators will be beneficial because they are change agents for social innovation, and they need higher contextual intelligence and communication skills to deliver efficient and effective policy outcomes. We analyze public organizational complexities and capabilities to identify different opportunities in managing large-scale organizational change. We examine existing case studies of collaboration between design communities and the public sector and identify that establishing lab-like space or pilot programs is insufficient for sustaining and scaling innovation in the public sector. We then propose that deep-level issues lie within public administrators’ mindsets and public organizational capabilities, to which redefining public personnel training and development programs would be a possible point of intervention. In the networked environment, the role of public administrators at every level is different from pure conformity; they should be cross-pollinators who have strong contextual intelligence and influence that enable all actors in the public policy network to collaborate. The vision of this research is not to turn public administrators into professional designers, but to provide different approaches for observing, making sense of, and communicating public policy narratives to address the challenges of responsiveness and adaptability in the public sector in the 21st century.”

To read the full piece, see:

AIGA Eye on Design honors Adam Ridgeway ‘17

Adam Ridgeway’s cover design for the online publication of the MA Design Studies journal Plot(s) Issue 3 was recently featured on AIGA Eye on Design. The cover for the journal features graphic elements that are echoed throughout the interior. The reductive visual nature of the book is an intentional stark contrast to the complexity of the content within. This was an attempt to make the content approachable by a wider demographic than those directly in the field.

Salma Shamel, Class of 2017

Salma Shamel is from Cairo, Egypt. She works with video, print and text and is currently based in New York City. She is now a doctoral student in the department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Salma did her BA in Media Design at the German University in Cairo, and her MA in Design Studies at Parsons The New School of Art and Design in New York. Her areas of interest include philosophical conceptions of archival technologies, history of science and technology, Arab media and art industries, and experimental video. She is a founding member of The Mosireen Media Collective.

Yijia Wang, Class of 2019

One part analyst, one part designer, one part always curious to learn how society works. Graduated from quantitative economics & studio arts background, I am currently a Brand & Media Analyst at a marketing firm. Besides telling stories from data with my day job, I’m also a part-time (self-taught) designer, telling stories from graphics. While the analytical part of me has trained for years of rigorous mathematics studies, I think it is time for my self-taught designer side to get professional prepared, not only for becoming a design practitioner/scholar, but to dive deeper into the inner-workings of designing for systematic changes, and exploring the possibilities to bring arts and science together.

I was born and raised in Hangzhou, China, graduated from Tufts University and moved to New York City ever since.

Polish Protest Poster Goes Viral

By Susan Yelavich

KONSTYTUCJA is constitution, TY is you, JA is me

This protest poster by designer Luka Rayski has become the identity of the Polish protest movement over plans to put the supreme court and the rest of the judicial system under the political control of the Polish Parliament.  I am proud to say that my colleague and friend Mateusz Halawa, Anthropology PhD candidate at New School for Social Research, has been the driving force behind getting the posters out – coordinating their printing and distribution over the long hours of the past two weeks.

Komal Sharma published on Design Observer

The editors of Design Observer have selected Komal Sharma’s contribution to the MA DS Journal Plot(s) Vol IV for publication. To read more about Komal’s inquiry into the relation of design to craft, see:

Her essay explores an experimental workshop at a design school in India, where she focused on the question, “What does traditional masonry have to do with computational design and architecture?” The Digital Corbelled Wall Project seeks to open communication lines between designers, craftsmen, and computer algorithms that could potentially enhance design education bringing together diverse skills and backgrounds.

We are proud to congratulate Komal on her achievement and look forward to reading more from our Design Studies aluma.

Sarah Mazet, Class of 2019

Marrakesh, the red city in Morocco – is where I grew up. The culture I was raised in.  An essential fact since it gave me the opportunity to compare my unique country to any city or country I later visited in Europe – where my parents are from. The warm Moroccan culture, people’s gestures, and their behaviors are what I call my roots. With these roots, I had a special encounter with the European culture and my architecture and design bachelor at ENSAV La Cambre in Brussels.

Eventually, I built myself with everything around me I saw as constructive, trying to melt all those pieces collected from different places and situations, creating a state of mind that is constantly evolving.

Moving around at this young age made me feel as if something was lacking. Wth time I’ve been introduced  to a new life, a new range of emotion and a new portal to creativity. That realization opened my mind to what beauty is, and I was reborn from disorientation to passion to use my background positively and constructively.

With this new, aware, perspective I became fascinated by the human body and its construction and motion, and tried to understand it as I felt it – fragmented. Human behaviors and gestures became a source of interest and fascination. This was channeled to my passion towards unusual, objects. Walking for miles was my way of learning movement more clearly.

The hypersensitivity that sprung in me from my encounters with different cultures, makes me sometimes think more than I act and takes me floating around my own mind instead of working practically towards my goals.

New York was perfect for continuing this research. The city became a source of inspiration with all the layers that designed it.

Everything is so unique and special in the big apple. “New York is a place for lazy travelers, you can go around and find something unknown everyday,” said Manny one of the most important persons I met here.

Nath Romasha, Class of 2019

Entering the world of formal design education, is a life force, élan vital, for me!  With over two decades of a successful corporate and entrepreneurial career, the progression heralds unlearning and rebirth, as much as it embodies my past, making the idea layered and meaningful.  I am drawn to the interdisciplinary breadth of the curriculum, as a non practitioner, design has been integral yet informal in my life.  The opportunity to learn from formal modes of inquiry, with cohorts and faculty, is humbling and exciting; the creative and critical intelligence offered by MA Design Studies, will enable me to be better informed for the next two decades of my career.

I am an Indian born Singaporean and a naturalized American.  I spent my formative career in the luxury, hospitality industry and have since held roles in public relations, executive search, creative direction and business development.  I have been a partner and consultant with blue chip firms; most recently, I ran my own firm at the intersection of management and creative professionals, based in Los Angeles, California.  I have traveled extensively in Europe, Asia Pacific and North America; a believer of climate change, I am now thrilled to be a pedestrian, in touch with the rest of humanity, using public transport in New York.

A certified executive coach from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, I apply my management experience towards enabling the success of younger executives.   With the growing influence of design processes in effecting social change, I am intrigued by the untapped potential this can present for organizational change.

I have a grown son, Jeet, who is a musician from Hollywood and a budding accountant.  I am open to criticism and enjoy people, the arts and diverse cultures.

Alumni Spotlight: Laura Belik


Laura Belik graduated from MA Design Studies in 2016 and has since been accepted to the Architecture PhD program at University of California Berkeley. We got the chance to catch up with Laura this summer and asked her to reflect on her time at Parsons.


Behin Forghanifar, Class of 2019

I was born in May 10, 1986, in Tehran, Iran. I graduated with my MSc. in architecture and received my bachelor’s degree in the same field. Since 2010, I have worked both in professional and academic careers. My precious experiences as an architect, interior designer, researcher and instructor in several consulting engineers firms and design studios led to broadening my horizon of design and its effects on so many dimensions of our existence.

As I have been brought up in a family with strong inclinations towards art and science, learning as passion has always been my initial goal. In my teenage years, I was fascinated by architecture as an artful science that subtly combines the art of designing and science of engineering to create places. By devoting years of intensive academic focus to my favorite field, I found design practice an endeavor to shape both our built environment and our understanding of the entire world concurrently.

This fact inspired me to re-think about design. While being a graduate student, by engaging in other form of arts like music and sciences like philosophy and literature, I found an intense interdisciplinary interest in seeking the interactions of design and other realms which result in more innovative, free and sensory design methods. I engrossed in the Design Studies MA program in leading Parsons School of Design since it would provide me with this cross- disciplinary design approach through encouraging both analytical and practical studies which leads to enhanced understanding of my design practice implications as an architect.

NORDES, Norway, Design (and not in that order)

By Susan Yelavich

Oslo side street. Photo: Susan Yelavich

Oslo looks to be a very different kind of city, even for a reasonably well-traveled New Yorker. It seems largely residential populated by six to eight-story buildings (many in a restrained, neoclassical style others in Scandinavian cottage form) in pinks, blues, yellows, reds, and white, framed with trees and parks of the deepest green.

Construction around the harbor in Oslo. Photos: Susan Yelavich

Yes, there is all the new construction on the harbor, which speaks to a more rapacious Norwegian prosperity. But otherwise filthy lucre is hardly in evidence. You don’t see it in people’s dress, which tends toward practical sport-driven garb. There is almost no aggressive advertising outdoors and little in the way of attention-getting shop displays. All in all, a feeling of self-effacement dominates, which makes for an odd kind of assertiveness.

Equally, the NORDES 2107 conference was marked by calls for modesty. They were evident in almost all of the keynote speeches. Yoko Akama spoke of “philosophies of absence [that] take non-being or nothingness as the necessary grounds for being” as relevant to truly conscientious design. Even Westfang took exception to ‘design exceptionalism.’ Thomas Binder embraced the idea of design’s ‘weakness.’ All this at a conference of designers dedicated to participatory design, co-design, and social change.  (Even in the workshop I co-led with Nik Baerton, Virginia Tassinari, and Elisa Bertolotti, participants cited their solitary acts of writing as the most satisfying part of the collective storytelling process.)

However, none of this amounted to calls to return to the Post Modern 1980s when architecture and design withdrew from the social sphere after modernism’s failure to ‘change to world.’ It was rather a recognition that the ambition to ‘change the world’ is ridiculously hubristic if seen as a project of design alone. Well-intentioned design efforts to care for refugees or house the homeless can be tacitly complicit with the political conditions that make them possible. Mahmoud Keshavarz and Jocelyn Bailey, respectively, made the case that designers are often put in the untenable position of perpetuating greater political systems of injustice in their efforts to help. For example, in providing shelters for those the state refuses to care for, designers risk confirming the state’s estimation that these are people unworthy of the resources we ourselves take for granted. In that view, refugee housing could be considered second-class shelters for second-class citizens.

Notably, though, there was a scarcity of propositions as to how to contend with design’s relative powerlessness in this difficult present when democracy and other forms of political agency are under threat. If retreat isn’t ethically tenable, then what is?  Here Evan Westfang (whose own work has to do with making public data both public and visceral) offered an interesting response.  He called for a return to ‘normative design’ – not design-for-design’s sake, the stuff of international design fairs and the like.  The ‘norm’ of design that he referred to is it’s inherent generosity.

Oslo Opera House, Snøhetta, Wikipedia.

That said, I’m not sure he or anyone else in Oslo would find that generosity where I did during my brief visit, given how skeptical we’ve become of design that is anointed ‘successful.’ I’m referring to my experience of Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House (2008), which yielded so many unexpected epiphanies—epiphanies, which I suspect are not mine alone.  Walking up, on, across, and down its sloping planes, you are never quite sure whether your feet are on the ground or in the air.

Oslo Opera House roof, Snøhetta, Photo: Susan Yelavich

Childhood and adult sensations were felt more than remembered. For me, at least, there was a palpable sensation of the risk that comes from playing in and on a space that seems illicit, namely, the roof.  There was the pleasurable disorientation of losing any sense of scale while walking on a glaring white landscape akin to a desert; and the mysterious possibilities of hide and seek around its volumes that Michelangelo Antonioni captured on the roof of Antonio Gaudi’s Casa Mila (1912) in his 1975 film “The Passenger.”

Jack Nicholson on the roof of Gaudi’s Casa Mila. Still image from the 1975 film “The Passenger.”

My conscience pricks me as I write this paean to the pleasures of feeling, to paraphrase Philip Johnson, my ‘molecules being rearranged’ by architecture.  Yet, is this so selfish?  The philosopher Jacques Rancière argues otherwise. He places value on “the possibility of being together and apart” because space for solitude has become “a dimension of social life which is precisely made impossible by the ordinary life… .”1 (Ordinary life, here, being the relentless bids for our money and our attention.)

Now Rancière is actually writing about the conditions in Paris’s poor suburbs where he sees a need for spaces and places that offer the dignity of solitude (not the despair of loneliness) for its residents, the very same people who designers are quick to gather into configurations of participatory design. But I would argue both situations – the collaborative and the solitary – are powerful frameworks for design and, that at its best, design creates conditions to be ‘together and apart.’ Even and especially on the roof of an Opera House, where seeing an opera isn’t required.

“Apart and Together on the Oslo Opera House roof.” Photo: Susan Yelavich

  1. Rancière, Jacques. “Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community: Scenes from the
    Aesthetic Regime of Art
    ” taken from an edited transcript of a plenary lecture delivered on 20 June 2006 to the symposium, Aesthetics and Politics: With and Around Jacques Rancière co-organised by Sophie Berrebi and Marie-Aude Baronian at the University of Amsterdam on 20-21 June 2006. Accessed 6/20/17.

Keiko Nakamura, Class of 2019

I was born and raised in Japan. With B.A. in foreign studies and LL.B., and after some transient jobs, I started my career in advertising and continued for 15 years. During those years, I engaged in a wide range of marketing communications practices in the producer’s capacity, producing advertising, promotions, media contents, events, etc. with multiple clients and professionals. Being in the realm of marcom, design thinking was always around, which I enjoyed very much.

However, as I grew more confident at what I did, I began to feel I must get out of the conventional ways of its business practices in order to really activate my true self, integrating all I have; my skills, experiences, sensitivities and passions. That’s when I decided to take a chance to redesign the next stage my life.

I wanted to throw myself into a cross-cultural environment, hoping to find my true identity and strengths/weaknesses as well as to learn different values and viewpoints at the same time. I got intrigued by Parsons Design Studies program pioneering the interdisciplinary field of design where such versatile faculty and students from different backgrounds meet.

Being a non-occupational designer, I conceive “design” in a broad sense. Design is not just about the tangible, but it is ubiquitous and behind all aspect of human acts and thoughts. By acquiring better understanding of issues, wants and needs of society, I hope to put new and interesting ideas and values into practice, with the talents I will come across out there.

Komal Sharma, Class of ’15 Launches a Design Special edition of “Lounge”

By Susan Yelavich

Komal Sharma

Design writing in India beats New York criticism and coverage of design hands down. That was literally my first thought when I opened the pages of the new design edition of “Lounge,” the weekend cultural section of Mint, one of India’s leading business newspaper. Edited by MA Design Studies alumna Komal Sharma, the May 13 issue (picture here) featured far more than the usual press release-driven pieces we have grown accustomed to in our newspapers. If design is covered at all here in the U.S., it tends to focus on style or technological one-upmanship. (Metropolis magazine is, of course, an exception but it is directed specifically at designers. And it isn’t a daily paper; nor are the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books or the Atlantic, my other go-to sources for (the very occasional) design essay.)

‘homo faber’

I can’t imagine any of our mass-market news outlets printing a headline like Komal’s inaugural essay, “An Ode to the Homo Faber.” I doubt that even the New York Times T Magazine would countenance using Latin, much less featuring stories with such a high degree of criticality.  Whereas “Lounge” has no qualms about expressing skepticism about certain aspects of the design industry.

For example, Manu Joseph’s piece on Tristan Harris, “former product philosopher and ‘design ethicist’ at Google” is quick to note that the Ted Talk star’s cautions about media addiction are embraced all too readily to ward off even stronger reactions.  Stories like “But What About Feeling at Home?” look askance at the future of ‘living smart.’ Its author Sidin Vadukut is concerned that the efficiencies afforded by artificially intelligent systems in houses increasingly controlled by our Alexa’s will only increase detachment from the physical material home, to the point where we change residences and digital appliances the way we change apps.

Unsurprisingly, “Lounge” balances its critiques with fairly normative coverage of products, furniture fairs, and food design trends. But it does so with an equilibrium that is all too rare. Yes, its writers tease us with purchasing possibilities and the ever up-and- coming.  But with no sacrifice to the broader implications for the future that are inevitably embedded in design and designing.

A personal note: Warm congratulations to you, Komal, and best wishes on your trajectory as a design writer who understands how to reach the public realm without pandering or condescension. We hope to welcome you back to Parsons next time you’re in town to tell us how you do it!

Design Special-homo faber

Sidin’s page on smart home

10% of MA Design Studies Grads in PhD Programs

by Susan Yelavich

On the fifth anniversary of the inauguration of the MA Design Studies program at Parsons, we are extremely proud to announce that10% of MA Design Studies graduates are matriculating in PhD programs across the U.S. Building on her Masters thesis, Salma Shamel Bakr of the Class of 2017 will pursue her research on archival technologies and historiography in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.

Two members of the Class of 2016 are now pursuing their PhDs:  Anke Gruendel in Politics at the New School for Social Research and Laura Belik in Architecture at UC Berkeley with a degree emphasis in History, Theory and Society.  As an MA Design Studies student, Anke queried the neo-liberal character of design methods deployed in governmental institutions, laying the ground work for her current research on changes in theoretical conceptions of democracy. Laura will continue to study the social lives of cities in the Americas, with special emphasis on the role of the street.

In keeping with the hybrid nature of Design Studies, Veronica Uribe del Aguila, Class of 2015, is in Communication and Science Studies at University of California San Diego – an interdisciplinary program that draws on Communication, Sociology, Philosophy and History. Her research will explore technology, innovation, neoliberalism, and National Discourses in South America and Latino diasporas in the United States.

Kudos to all!  We can’t wait to see you marching with in your velvet robes!

An Open Letter to the Graduating Class of 2017

Salma Shamel Bakr speaking at the 2017 New School Commencement ceremony.

by Susan Yelavich

I’d like to offer some reflections as you embark on new paths, having spent the last two years, preparing for this moment. And I’m sharing them here for those who will follow your footsteps and those friends and colleagues who will miss you greatly. Myself, chief among them. Above all, I want you to know that if you felt your time here slipped away far too quickly, that I felt it just as keenly. The Irish in me thinks “we hardly knew ye.”

But, what I do know is that you are a forceful lot. Your exhibition in the University Center’s Events Café confirmed that. You are a class fully committed to the possibilities of Design Studies. Put another way, you didn’t hesitate to question the norms of design. You weren’t just dissatisified with the conventional categories of design and the usual ways of designing, you also proposed alternatives and alternative futures.  And in doing so, you confirmed the value of Design Studies.  It’s the canary in the coalmine at a time when we need it most:  in this very moment, when the environment and civil society are under siege.  We may not be the New York Times or the Washington Post, but our questions are no less valuable for that. Design Studies looks beyond the immediate present, a present we all hope will pass soon. We need to ask the questions you ask – questions that make us look at design in unexpected ways and in unexpected contexts.

Who would have thought that a national archive could be designed to suppress information? Salma Shamel Bakr’s investigations threw a harsh light on how archival systems and buildings, on how paper and pixels, can be, and have been, designed to deny history.

Who would have thought the American desert was an object of design? Fattori Fraser showed us that this most barren of landscapes is especially vulnerable to human interventions — precisely because it’s an environment that thrives of a myth of isolation. But what happens in the desert – think, nuclear testing – doesn’t stay in the desert, no matter what they say.

Who would have thought that childbearing was a matter of design? Sandra Gichuhi showed us how the labor of women—and I mean that in every sense of the word—is now built into a complex transnational network of lives and bodies.

Who would have thought that we design the lives of animals—including we human animals—in the muck of our barnyards? Shea Mandolesi took the lay of that land and redesigned a farm to promote better health.

Who would have thought that a world-famous architect was not completely in control of her work? Qionglu Lei broke through the fiction of the lone maestro, to reveal the wider cast of characters that make up a building, including those who use it.

And lastly, speaking of control, who would have thought design was more about erasure than mark, more about reconfiguring than configuring? Leticia Oxley found the essence of designing in prototyping, not in the ever-elusive idea of resolution.  She, like all of our students, knows while every work of design addresses a question, it also poses countless others.

Keep questioning, stay curious, and stay in touch!

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Salem Tsegaye, MA Design Studies ’14

Salem Tsegaye is Assistant Director of the Arts Research Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. There, she supports faculty research development, fosters interdisciplinary collaboration, and facilitates public dialogue about the role of – and potential for – artists and designers in society. Salem previously worked for the New York Community Trust, a community foundation, managing two donor collaborative funds supporting arts and cultural advocacy, policy and equity, and immigrant rights advocacy, immigration legal services, and capacity building for immigrant-led nonprofits. She also has worked as a grant writer for the Queens Museum and has provided technical assistance to government agencies and small and mid-size nonprofits in Washington D.C. Salem holds an MA in Design Studies from Parsons The New School for Design and a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University. She also currently serves as an editorial team member for Createquity, a virtual think tank and online publication investigating important issues in the arts.


Would you mind sharing a little about your background leading up to your studies in the ADHT department at Parsons?

I graduated with a bachelor’s in Cultural Anthropology, supplemented by a certificate in Child and Family Policy and a minor in English. I had a general interest in culture – ideas of belongingness, how we come to understand ourselves and others, how we come to identify with certain groups – from both a social science and humanities perspective. Education is central to this, inclusive of but not limited to formal education. Equally important is the learning that takes place outside of schools, like at home with family, through cultural institutions and through media and entertainment. I spent most of my time in undergrad thinking about these intersections and using qualitative research to understand people’s experiences.

After college, I worked at a small nonprofit called Mosaica: The Center for Nonprofit Development and Pluralism, where we provided technical assistance and capacity-building support to community-based organizations serving marginalized populations in health, education, immigration and other areas. Our job was to help organizations operate effectively, so they are meeting the needs of these populations. This meant ridding ourselves of assumptions about people’s needs, listening (quite literally) to them express their needs and circumstances, and using that information to develop a plan for optimal service provision.

Over time, I realized I wanted to return to my passion of studying culture and had a growing interest in museums, mostly a desire to investigate how museums interpret community engagement, and how they put this philosophy into practice. For me, this was about content and context – that is, the material culture displayed, the means by which they are presented and how audiences come to interpret the value of objects. In some sense, I wanted to see if museums are really serving the people they intend to. I came across the Design Studies program and realized it would afford me the flexibility to study all of this without being tied to a specific discipline.


How did your undergrad studies in Cultural Anthropology inform your graduate studies in Design at Parsons ADHT?

The first big takeaway from my studies in Cultural Anthropology is the value of qualitative data. The social sciences really prize quantitative data – there are certain things that numbers afford, like the ability to generalize, that qualitative methods don’t (at least not to the same degree). On the other hand, methods like ethnography, which allow you to get really up close and personal about people’s beliefs and customs, capture complexities that numbers don’t. When it comes to studying the arts and design, the qualitative is critical. I came into the program knowing that my skillsets would not only be transferrable but welcomed.

My graduate thesis was a case study on the Queens Museum, namely how the museum’s philosophy of openness manifests socially and spatially. While I was at Parsons, I took a couple of courses in Milano, Erica Kohl-Arenas’ Participatory Community Engagement, which honed in on community-building practices and how to facilitate meaningful dialogue, and Shannon Mattern’s Urban Media Archaeology, which taught me how to gather information, map data and form arguments using a variety of media. I think my experience with qualitative research lent itself to experimenting with these other methodologies.


Do any of the lenses you’ve developed in your Cultural Anthropology studies strengthen your work in the Design fields?

Absolutely. The second big takeaway from my studies in Cultural Anthropology is the notion of cultural relativism, or the idea that you should only assess another culture from the perspective of that culture, letting go of any biases you might carry from your own. I think this also is important in the design world, and increasingly so, as indicated by the rise of “human-centered” design. It goes back to what I had mentioned earlier about listening to people’s needs and using that information to carry out your work in a more meaningful and effective manner.

Design Studies is a pretty expansive domain, so I didn’t necessarily go into the program with the intention of getting a job in design. Rather, it was important for me to apply my existing skills to learn more about a field that was new to me, about the perspectives of studio practitioners and about the possibilities for participatory and socially-engaged creative practice. I say creative practice, generally, because I think much of this also translates into the arts, which is where I ended up.

Part of what allowed me to learn so much was the fellowship I had in my second year of the program. I was fortunate enough to work at New York City’s largest community foundation with the program officer who oversaw the foundation’s arts grantmaking. The incomparable exposure I had to arts organizations, paired with my boss’s stellar mentorship, really allowed me to see how I might translate my academic work into something more pragmatic. After a short stint at the Queens Museum post-graduation, I returned to the foundation to manage a fund supporting arts advocacy and cultural policy and equity. Now, I work at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, where I support faculty research development and facilitate interdisciplinary partnerships and public dialogue about the creative fields.


What do you miss most about living in New York City? Attending The New School?

There’s a lot that I miss about New York City, from the 24-hour bodegas to not having to drive! But of course, the arts and cultural offerings would be at the top of my list. Richmond actually has a pretty big creative community, but it’s also about 2 percent of New York City’s population. I think one of the things that’s particularly awesome about Richmond is its affordability, which really allows the creative community to thrive. Like most cities, Richmond is experiencing growth and urban revitalization, but far less rapidly than the major cities across the country. A huge draw was the possibility to come here and find ways to advocate for equitable development, which became increasingly difficult to do in New York.

I have to say, The New School is a pretty special place because of its incredibly progressive student population. It’s pretty great (and pretty rare!) to be surrounded by so many peers who share your values. That was the best part for me, and probably what I miss the most. Second would be the magical urban campus. My undergrad campus was beautiful, but it had a pretty traditional college campus aesthetic. TNS was the perfect contrast.


Any advice for students beginning their MA Design studies at Parsons?

Yes, three things! Come into the program with a pretty clear idea of what you want to study, and if applicable, what other divisions of The New School besides Parsons you’d like to take classes in. The two years go by fast, so you want to come in as clear-headed and as organized as possible. Secondly, be proactive in seeking advice, resources and collaborators to facilitate interdisciplinary study. You exercise a lot of academic independence in the program (and grad school, generally), so don’t be afraid to seek guidance. Your general rule of thumb should be: It never hurts to ask! Lastly, find a job or fellowship that complements your studies. A huge benefit of going to school at Parsons is being in New York City. Take advantage of this huge opportunity for professional development!

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Komal Sharma, MA Design Studies ’15

Tell us about your career path from New Delhi to New York? Any advice for prospective Parsons ADHT students planning a move to the United States?

Before coming to Parsons, I was working in New Delhi as a journalist, writing for the weekend edition of a paper. I would write stories about people who were doing something new, making something interesting—maybe a beautiful chair, a bicycle of bamboo, setting up a whacky new office, a new clothing line of banana fiber and silk, and such. I never really called it design with a capital D. I had a cozy apartment and good friends. My family was in a city just a few hours away. I was settled and comfortable. There had been a breakup with a boyfriend, and that possibly had something to do with staying up late nights reading random blogs. That’s when I came across Susan Yelavich’s note on the MA Design Studies blog. I instantly knew I had to pursue it. I had to at least try.

However, I belong to that group of people who don’t believe that everything is pure coincidence. One thing leads to another, often over time and so subtly, and you connect the dots only much later. Anyway, I had been to New York a couple of years before I moved there for school. I had walked past The New School, down Fifth Avenue, and sat outside Bobst and watched the world go by. I had walked enough of the city as a tourist to know that if you walk slowly, you’re going to get grumpy looks. I didn’t mind it. I smiled back. And when I moved here, I walked faster myself. There was always somewhere to get to.


So I applied to Parsons—shot an arrow into the dark. After being accepted, I bought a one-way ticket from New Delhi to New York. I packed up my apartment, gave away most of my things, except those that could fit into two suitcases.

As much as my career path was about learning design, and about living in a new city—and exploring the world in general—it was ultimately about self discovery. To go from one city to another, from a job back to school, from a place of familiarity to the complete unknown—all of it is related to getting to know yourself better. To potential students of The New School, or any other school which is far from all that is known to them, I’d say, take a plunge. Do it. You’ll find out who you are.


Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker? If so, what are the terms? And did this identity form before or after graduating?

While I lived in New York I definitely felt a sense of belonging in the first few months. New York not only accepts you for who you are, it also embraces you and sucks you in and celebrates you for all your differences or unexpected similarities. No doubt it can be rough—and maybe I’ve been lucky—but I found friends who smiled a smile of knowing and understanding, who disarmed me with their honesty, who sat at the bar and talked of weird, dark politics of the world and made me feel right at home. Also, strangers. If it’s too much to say that most New Yorkers are friendly, it’s safe to say that they are straightforward and will do what they can to help you. When I was moving into an apartment, I found a bed to buy off of Craigslist. The owner—a slightly grouchy German gentleman—was shocked that I didn’t have any tools (to fix up the bed). “Not even a screwdriver?” he had asked, as if traumatized. I apologetically said I would buy one on my way home. While leaving, he gave me his pocket folding tool set. He said that it was old, that he had used it for a very long time—mostly on his bicycle. He said he wanted me to have it.


Hypothetically speaking, where does one in your field live and thrive outside of New York City?

While attending The New School, I learned a lot inside and outside the classroom. Needless  to say, the city and its people are a tremendous influence. The city becomes a classroom. Other students come from worlds of their own and bring perspectives you don’t ordinarily consider. To be honest, I tried desperately to stay in New York after graduating from the program, to work for a couple of years simply because there is so much happening and there’s so much scope. But visa issues didn’t make it easy.

Returning home had its share of excitement. India has its own set of possibilities. Design is a field that’s everywhere and beyond borders and across cultures. The Parsons Design Studies Program gives you a very open-ended socio-political perspective of design. So even if I took electives as specific as Dutch Design or History of Modern Architecture or Socially Engaged Art Practices, it all essentially gave me an anchor to grasp what is going on in the world. Some people might prefer to learn specifics, to focus, to specialize—and you can do that. But for me, as a journalist, I was seeking coordinates, milestones, directions to navigate the world with a little more knowledge and understanding. When taking up an issue to write about, I want to come from a sensitive place of understanding. Which is also why I don’t find it imperative to be in one particular place or market hotspot suited to my field of work. An IDEO at San Francisco or Museum of Art+Design in New York would be amazing, but a weaver’s studio in rural Nepal that is collaborating with designers to contemporize their weaving traditions is equally fantastic to me. The world is my oyster.



How has life been post MA DS? How do you think the courses have changed your course?

I am back in India now. My central area of study during the program (including my thesis) and after the program has been about the relationship of craft and design. In India, you grow up in a significantly handmade culture. And yet it’s equally industrialized. So the lived experience of craft is very alive and thriving, rather than just a theory that existed pre-industrial revolution. It’s not a complete surprise to me that my research and interest lie in craft and design. Since my return, I have been traveling across India—Pondicherry, Cochin, Kutch, Kashmir—to centers of traditional crafts, to craft+design collaborative studios, to artisan workshops, to design schools. I’ve been doing this with the aim of putting together a travelogue of the craft and design landscape of India.

While I am from India and have lived here all my life, I don’t think I’ve considered and traveled through its length and breadth before, as I’m doing now. And it is certainly my period of study at The New School that has brought this on.  Sometimes one has to detach and go away from the familiar, to look at it from a distance and return with a renewed perception and vigor. And it helps tremendously that while you’re away, you’re among a set of people who put you through painful projects of research and writing.

Next week I’ll be starting a new job: a writer at a newspaper, covering design and culture issues. I’ll be based in Mumbai, which is similar to New York—a fantastical, messy, churning pot. While I write short weekly stories, I hope I will be disciplined enough to continue working on my book and not lose the steam that MA DS and New York has built for me.


Do you think your writing, or your work in general, has changed after graduating from The New School? In terms of voice, insight, theory, and other writing skills, have you compared them with your journalism before Parsons ADHT?

Developing writing skills is a constant, persistent, unending process. And design knowledge evolves and expands as each day passes. While I admit and submit to that, I find that a graduate course really gives you an edge. It gives you the tools to hammer, chisel, crack open something with a little more sharpness and precision. It equips you with a way of thinking and approaching issues.

Having said that, I find that when I write an article and read it a few months down the line, more often than not I’ll be cringing at what I’ve done! But that’s just me and the ghosts I have to battle on my own. And it doesn’t stop me from writing at all. During school’s second semester, I interned at Metropolis Magazine, where I had the opportunity to write. The year after, I interned at Maharam, a textile design studio, doing writing work that was specific to the textile industry. Soon after school, I worked at Herman Miller’s editorial department, writing about their historical, as well as new, products. I think there’s something that has changed, though. I don’t find myself writing for the sake of filling newspaper space. I need to have an original idea, however small, and then build my language around it. I also think there’s more clarity in my narrative. I’ve realized that the more you know, the more there is to know. And that at some point you will miss out on something quite crucial. Yet an independent idea is invaluable. The authenticity of your voice will carry forth your argument despite its limitations. Which is why I want to reiterate that the most valuable thing about this MA program has been to help me develop a way of thinking. My teachers and peers are to thank for that.


To elaborate a little on your area of interest, how do you interact with a pre-modern idea of craft and a post digital state of design? What has survived from the old infrastructure that you find indispensable or, perhaps, unhelpful?

While in theory craft is pre-modern, to me the notion is timeless. It has existed throughout history, even at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, adapting to become part of the industrial model in one way or another. Whether as a division of labor or a specialization of skill, in small or big ways the notion of craft has existed. But yes, the industrial and digital modes of production change the definition and scope of craft quite significantly from its pre-modern conception. To my mind, it is an interesting moment for craft and its renewed relevance simply because the digital model allows for more freedom in conception and production. It gives the maker power over each individual piece, more than an assembly line industrial model has offered. I also see a u-turn in the values that we aspire to. For example, aesthetics like imperfections, unstandardized pieces, the qualities inherent in the handmade. However, there is a tendency to fetishize such qualities. I believe that craft has to be understood not as a category of handmade objects but as a way of thinking and making. Something that requires skill, work hours, material knowledge, and learning by doing. Craft has the capacity to intersect philosophy, social practices, technology, sustainability—in turn embedding a humanity into what we make. Most importantly, craft is about people. I was recently reading a book called Critical Craft, and the authors Clare Wilkinson-Weber and Alicia Ory DeNicola brought the discussion of craft down its expansive anthropological reach. “We believe that research on craft and artisanship has the potential to open up new and evocative questions about the ways that we construct some of anthropology’s most critical contemporary concerns: technology, access to markets, means of production, control over work practices, tradition and innovation, urban and rural spaces, human rights and the environment to name just a few,” they wrote. So yes, I think craft as a way of thinking-knowing-making is indispensable. But to look at it through a nostalgic lens of the beautifully handcrafted objects of yesterday—that’s unhelpful.


Read Komal Sharma’s work here.

ADHT Graduate Student Symposium at Parsons Festival 2017

Join Us for the 2017 ADHT Graduate Student Symposium

All are welcome to attend the annual ADHT Graduate Student Symposium, held May 11 and 12th, 2017 from 11am to 4pm.

Graduate students from MA Design Studies, MA Fashion Studies, and MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies will be presenting their work from the past academic year in the Bark Orientation Room at 2 W 13th Street.

For the full schedule of presentations, click here.

We hope to see you there!


A Postcard from The Palace of Culture

The Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw, Poland. Photo by Claudia Marina.

Over spring break, I, along with nine other students from Parsons School of Design and The New School for Social Research, had the opportunity to take part in an intensive course offered in Warsaw, which centered around the Palace of Culture and Science. If you’re reading this, you may have read Susan Yelavich’s post “Hacking Warsaw’s Palace of Culture,” which detailed the culminating group projects that resulted from the week’s hybrid seminar-studio class format. This intensive had particular emphasis on the intense if only because of the unique dynamic of the Palace of Culture. Infamously conceived as Stalin’s “gift” to Warsaw, we were told to consider the power at play when architecture is given as a gift without allowing its recipient to reciprocate similarly. In the weeks before flying out to Warsaw, we read several essays about, and examined numerous historic and contemporary images of, the Palace. (Especially important was Michał Murawski’s book The Palace Complex.)  They reminded us non-Varsovians of the Palace’s domineering presence, both physical and metaphorical. So it was a surprise to me when I actually got there on a gray afternoon and stood across the street from the Palace at the modern shopping mall, Złote Tarasy, and thought…that’s it?


Hacking Warsaw’s Palace of Culture


The Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw. Photo by Susan Yelavich.

by Susan Yelavich

To all outward appearances, Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science would seem to be impregnable.  This, despite the fact that is truly a people’s palace and has been since it was completed in 1955. A ‘gift’ from Stalin to the then newly-minted Communist state of Poland, the Palace was conceived as a ‘social condenser,’ a work of architecture that for all its height would flatten class differences. Its interiors housed – and continue to house – theaters, museums, cafes, restaurants, university classrooms, a pool, offices, auditoriums, and meeting spaces, which are variously open to citizens, tourists, and government employees. Generations of Warsavians have learned to swim here, taken courses, listened to jazz, proposed to each other, and had their wedding photos taken on the viewing deck on the 30th floor. Some even correspond with the Palace, actually writing letters to the building that are duly archived on the 15th floor.  The Palace of Culture has taken on the same sort of supra-natural power, not unlike that which has accrued around the legend of Stalin, himself.  (Urban legend has it that Stalin has been seen roaming the Moscow Metro, appearing to the faithful, weeping through the eyes of his statues – literally and figuratively haunting the Russian imagination.)

The Palace – a wound inflicted by Stalin, a benevolent ‘house of culture,’ the monumental centerpiece of contemporary Warsaw – was the focus of an intensive MA Design Studies course organized in conjunction with the School of Form in Poznan, Poland, from March 18th to March 25th. “The Palace of Culture:  An Exploration in Design, Humanities, and Social Sciences,” was the third in a troika of programs,1 which were dedicated to responding to sites of trauma, organized by Parsons and the New School for Social Research in Spring 2017.


Faculty Rally Together for International Women’s Day on March 8

Left to right in Washington Square Park: front row: Susan Yelavich, Design Studies; Francesca Granata, Fashion Studies; back row: Sarah Lichtman, History of Design/Curatorial Studies; Jilly Traganou, Design Studies; Rachel LIfter, ADHT; Charlene Lau, ADHT; Hazel Clark, Design/Fashion Studies; Heike Jenss, Fashion Studies

By the People: Designing a Better America Exhibition Review

By Claudia Marina

For the past ten years, Cooper Hewitt, National Smithsonian Design Museum has dedicated exhibition space to designed objects that defy the very idea of being displayed in a museum. This is partly a result of the work of Cynthia E. Smith, Curator of Socially Responsible Design, who has travelled across the United States visiting poverty-stricken areas in search for design that stems from everyday necessity. In 2007, this culminated in the exhibition titled Design for the Other 90% (later changed to Design and the Other 90%) followed by Design with the Other 90%: CITIES in 2011, and most recently By the People: Designing a Better America, which was on view from September 30, 2016 to February 26, 2017.


Making Home in Wounded Spaces featured on Archinect

Making Home in Wounded Spaces, an international symposium co-sponsored by the MA Design Studies program of ADHT, and its keynote speaker Lina Sergie Attar were recently featured on design and architecture blog Archinect!

As cities densify and the global population increases, much has been made of reclaiming physical spaces: but how does one reclaim a place that is bound up in tragedy, whether that tragedy was natural or man-made? 

To continue reading about the symposium on Archinect, please visit their page here.
For more information on Making Home in Wounded Spaces, please see the The New School event pages for days one and two of the symposium.

MA Design Studies 2017 Symposium: Making Home in Wounded Places

Reminder: CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS open until Dec. 10th for

Making Home in Wounded Places: Memory, Design, and the Spatial

March 3 – 4, 2017


An international symposium co-sponsored by the MA Design Studies program, Parsons School of Art & Design History & Theory, The Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, New School for Social Research, and the Global Studies program at The New School.

Keynote speaker: Lina Sergie Attar 

Link to The New School events information page


The Every Day Project Relaunches Post-Inauguration

Illustration by Anna Horowitz. Image courtesy of The Every Day Project.

President Trump’s first 100 days are not easily digestible for many MADS students and alumni. Before Inauguration Day, alumna Mae Wiskin (MA Design Studies, 2016) helped launch The Every Day Project, which aimed to bring achievable everyday acts of activism to subscriber’s inboxes. In light of the current events following January 20, 2017, The Every Day Project has relaunched and renewed its commitment to bringing awareness to the types of initiatives that are crucial to maintain engagement with.


Website live for Making Home in Wounded Places symposium!

Join us on March 3 & 4 for a symposium that looks at the conditions and possibilities for “Making Home in Wounded Spaces: Design, Memory, and the Spatial.” See our new website for details on the conversations and register soon, as space is limited!


Alumna Mae Wiskin helps start The Every Day Project in response to Trump Presidency

Illustration by Anna Horowitz. Image courtesy of Mae Wiskin.

MA Design Studies alumna Mae Wiskin writes to us from her new venture, The Every Day Project, which started a #45to45 social media campaign to make 45 acts of change before Inauguration Day. 

Earlier this year I completed my masters in Design Studies from Parsons The New School of Design. Once I left school, I quickly found a position working in digital media. I was content in my new role until the shock of the presidential election hit, and like everyone else, I found myself questioning everything. Chief among them was what do we do now? Coming from a university that challenges its students to fight against the belief that the way the world works is the way the world must be, I found myself wondering how we ought to redesign our systems in order to move forward.


Biohacking and the Future of Materials at Biofabricate 2016

BiotA Lab bioreceptive architectural material prototypes from the Biofabricate 2016 conference.

Over the weekend, I found myself in a small biohacker space in Brooklyn. Seemingly a far cry from my usual wanderings at museums or Parsons’ Making Center, it felt fitting to be taking a sample of my own DNA to learn the protocol for a space I hope to find myself in more often.


Jilly Traganou Awarded Fulbright Scholarship to Conduct Research on the Olympics and Design in Rio

Lecture at the Carioca Center of Design, Rio de Janeiro, August 2016

Jilly Traganou is an architect and Associate Professor in Spatial Design Studies. Her recent publications include a book titled Designing the Olympics: Representation, Participation, Contestation (Routledge, 2016). She is the author of The Tokaido Road: Traveling and Representation in Edo and Meiji Japan (RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), a co-editor with Miodrag Mitrasinovic of Travel, Space, Architecture (Ashgate, 2009) and a contributor to several books, most recently the Routledge Companion to Design Studies (2016). Professor Traganou has been Fellow of the Japan Foundation, the European Union Science and Technology postdoctoral program, Princeton Program in Hellenic Studies, and Bard Graduate Center, as well as a recipient of two Graham Foundation grants. She has most recently been the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and spent last summer in Rio de Janeiro conducting design research on the last Olympic Games.


Claudia Marina, MA Design Studies ’17, Published in The Avery Review

Interior of one of the classrooms in the Sugar Hill Museum Preschool. Photograph by Qionglu Lei.

Current MA Design Studies student Claudia Marina is published in Issue 20 of The Avery Review, a project of Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Her paper, “Checking in: David Adjaye’s Sugar Hill Project, Two Years Later,” is the result of a research project that began at the beginning of 2016 in Jilly Traganou’s “Research and Methods” course. The paper investigates the Sugar Hill Project, a collaboration between developer Broadway Housing Communities and architect David Adjaye, two years into the building’s architectural afterlife.


Making a Home For Graphic Design Education in the Liberal Arts

Photograph by Aaris Sherin. Collage/edits by Diana Duque.

As a BFA graduate of Parsons and a practicing graphic designer, I find myself currently exploring the political, philosophical and critical thinking related to design now more than ever as I return to my alma mater for my master’s in Design Studies. Hoping to gain insight into the current realities of design educators, I decided to make the most of my renewed AIGA student membership privileges to attend the “Graphic Arts in the Liberal Arts” panel discussion on November 12, 2016. The discussion was moderated by Liz Deluna, associate professor of design at St. John’s University, and Mark Zurolo, associate professor of design at the University of Connecticut.  I was particularly intrigued to hear how far they would take their guests on the topic of teaching graphic arts in the liberal arts. The following is a condensed and edited summary of what I observed. For the full take, see AIGA’s blog post.


Plot(s) Journal of Design Studies Call for Submissions


The call for submissions for Plot(s) Volume IV is now open. Plot(s) Journal of Design Studies is an annual peer-reviewed publication produced and edited by the MA Design Studies program at Parsons School of Design in New York. As a multidisciplinary journal, Plot(s) attempts to articulate the ways in which design practices shape and transform the human experience.

Submissions are open to graduate students, recent graduates, design practitioners, and academics. Plot(s) accepts a wide range of formats including, but not limited to, academic essays, visual essays, design research, interviews, book/exhibition/film reviews, and design/architectural projects. In addition to this, our website allows for the submission of other multimedia formats such as video and audio projects. Attached below, you will find a detailed guideline for submissions.  The deadline to submit forPlot(s) Volume IV is December 19, 2016.

Please send all submissions to


The Plot(s) Editorial Team

Alumni Spotlight: Quizayra Gonzalez


Quizayra Gonzalez graduated from the MA Design studies program in the spring of 2016, after completing her thesis “Bodegas: Praxis, Imagery, Concept,” which explores the material culture and networks that shape bodegas and, in turn, positions bodegas as critical forces in shaping neighborhoods. This fall, she joined Parsons Advising staff as a Graduate Student Advisor. Read about Quizayra’s new position, and where life has taken her in the short time since graduating, here:


The Deep “Why” of the 2016 Election Tragedy

Mate Yelavich, handy man, c. 1950.

Mate Yelavich, handy man, c. 1950.

by Susan Yelavich

By sheer coincidence, my students and I read Clive Dilnot’s 2012 essay “Chris Killip: The Last Photographer of the Working Class”1 on our blackest Tuesday: Election Day, November 8th.  (We were originally meant to discuss it a week earlier.)  Either way, back in August when I was refining the syllabus, it didn’t cross my mind how acutely relevant his discussion of Killip’s photographs would prove.


Plot(s) Website is Live


This month, the MA Design Studies program proudly launches the online companion to our print journal, Plot(s). Volumes I, II, and III of the journal are now available to read and download on the website.


On Aesthetic Activism: Musings from Yale’s J. Irwin Miller Symposium

Yale Aesthetic Activism

I figured the words “Yale”, “Aesthetic”, “Activism” and “Free” would add up to a worthwhile and day trip to New Haven. It did not disappoint.

“Aesthetic Activism” was the title of this year’s J. Irwin Miller Symposium hosted by the Yale School of Architecture. The word aesthetic, here, is central as it has been highly contested as to whether or not this quality can exist in its purest form within social, ecological and political engagement. Beyond relationships with objects, the event’s flyer drew me in by attributing aesthetics as key factor in our relationships “with each other and with the political structures which we are all enmeshed.”


MA Design Studies Alumni Contribute to Metropolis Magazine


MA Design Studies alumni Dora Vanette (’13), Estefania Acosta de La Peña (’16) and Misha Volf (’16) published articles in the latest issue of major architecture and design magazine, Metropolis. (more…)

MA Design Studies Students connect with and through Things



At the beginning of this semester, the MA Design Studies Classes of 2017 and 2018 met each other for the first time under the guise of a workshop. The workshop, “Design and Storytelling: Weaving Fragments,” was led by Program Director Susan Yelavich and its premise was simple: bring five to eight fragments from your personal life that represent your journey—both professionally and personally—in Design Studies. (more…)

Call For Applications: MA Design Studies



The deadline to apply to the graduate MA Design Studies program is January 1, 2017. Click here to apply. Click through for more information on the program. (more…)

Jilly Traganou Wins Design Incubation Award

Red Tent Housing protest, LiveCity Downtown, Vancouver, February 10, 2010. Photograph by Stephen Hui.

Red Tent Housing protest, LiveCity Downtown, Vancouver, February 10, 2010. Photo by Stephen Hui.

Associate Professor of Spatial Design Studies Jilly Traganou won the Design Incubation Communication Design Educators Award in the category of Scholarship for her research in the graphic design histories of the Olympics. The material awarded came from her recent book Designing the Olympics: Representation, Participation, Contestation (Routledge, 2016)—specifically the chapters on graphic design, which deal with issues such as how the design program for the 1964 Tokyo Games helped shape Japan’s post-war identity, London 2012’s foray into making the public a part of the design process, and ways political groups appropriate official Olympic images as a form of dissent.


Eating What Your Food Eats: Misha Volf, Design Studies ’16, Connects The Production and Consumption of Meat


On a recent evening, a cadre of foodies crowded into a residential loft in Bushwick, Brooklyn for a four-course farm-to-table feast. Having just gotten off the Myrtle Avenue M stop, though they probably didn’t expect to be this close to the farm. Instead of a table, the diners gathered around a communal feeding trough complete with a mini “pasture” and dined on salt licks, colostrum, hay, and grass.

MADS Alumni Quizayra Gonzalez and co-curator Cass Gardiner awarded Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design’s 2017 Curatorial Fellowship


Title: 16 Artist: Arjan Zazueta Materials: Hand-stitched cotton thread on paper towels Size: 44 x 44 inches

MADS Alumni Quizayra Gonzalez and co-curator Cass Gardiner have been awarded the Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design’s 2017 Curatorial Fellowship.  Together they will design a show for Fall 2017.   We extend our congratulations to Quizayra and Cass!  Here is more detail about the show:


Claudia Marina, Class of 2017


My name is Claudia Marina. I moved to New York after completing my undergraduate degree at the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. After working professionally in editorial and online media, I decided to pursue a master’s degree and specialize my writing, which is what brought me to Parsons’ MA Design Studies program. I’m interested in the material culture, spatial studies, the afterlife of things as well as new and better ways to tell stories.

Adam Ridgeway, Class of 2017


I am an Australian born, New York based graphic designer. I graduated with Honors from Urban Planning at Curtin University and transitioned to a Masters of Applied Design and Art (MADA) at the same institution. I left the MADA Program in 2015 to attend a graduate program offered at Parsons School of Design in 2016. (more…)

Irem Yildiz, Class of 2018


I am Irem from Istanbul, Turkey. I have started to the Architectural Design Master Program right after graduating from Architecture at Istanbul Technical University in 2014. Following my change in major from Urban and Regional Planning to Architecture, my interest of urban texture and cultural networks has been shaped. During my undergrad years, I have worked on diverse scales and concepts both on design studios and internships. Besides school, I got the opportunity to join various workshops, exhibitions and events.


Mariann Asayan, Class of 2018

I will be joining the MADS family fresh out of my bachelor program at Syracuse University where I pursued a double major in Fashion Design and Psychology. Knowledge for knowledge sake has never rang true to me. Knowledge can never be meaningless as it allows you to open your eyes to the invisible network that connects everything. It was at Syracuse where I experimented within this invisible network and learned how intrinsic the relationships between design, technology, and psychology truly were.


Addy Fadina, Class of 2018


My name is Adebola Fadina. I am Originally from the Bronx, NY but recently moved update New York. Since I was young, I’ve always held interest in all aspects of art and design. I always used drawing as an outlet to express myself at times where words couldn’t. In middle school I attended a school that specialized in theater arts.


Kayla O’Daniel, Class of 2018



My name is Kayla O’Daniel and I was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. As an undergrad I studied at North Carolina State University where I completed a BS in Business Administration & Marketing and a BA in Design Studies. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the realm of Design Studies early in my undergrad education. In an attempt to broaden the reach of design influences among the university, the College of Design developed the Design Studies program to connect to the other colleges including the College of Management, which was where I was studying.


Diana Duque, Class of 2018



I see myself as an Observer, Communicator, Problem­solver, Editor, Translator, Curator, Creative Thinker and, quite dutifully, a Cultural Diplomat. Growing up in both the US and Colombia, SA, I was given the opportunity to master two languages (sí, dos idiomas!), understand two cultures (dos culturas MUY diferentes), and recognize the many beautiful tones of gray that exist in a world that others so often choose to view in black and white (o al revés, blanco y negro).


Jilly Traganou to Speak in São Paulo and Rio

Jilly's talk

Jilly Traganou, Associate Professor of Spatial Design Studies, is giving a talk tomorrow, August 23rd, titled “O design olímpico e o meio (Olympic Design and the Social Environment)” at Curso de Design da FAU USP e LabVisual – Laboratório de Pesquisa em Design Visual da FAU USP in São Paulo.

Professor Traganou is also giving a talk in Rio on Wednesday, August 24th at the Centro Carioca de Design, titled “The Olympic Design Milieu and what would its Legacy be for Rio? // O Ambiente do Design Olímpico e seu Possível Legado para o Rio.”

These presentations are only some of a myriad of activities Professor Traganou has been involved with as a part of her Fulbright fellowship, which she has undertaken in these past few historic weeks in Brazil as the Summer 2016 Olympics were taking place.

Alumni Spotlight: Veronica Uribe del Aguila


Veronica Uribe del Aguila, MA Design Studies ‘15, will begin work on her PhD in Cultural Studies at Stony Brook University this fall. We met with Veronica over the summer as she prepared for the next chapter in her academic career. Read our interview with her below for her thoughts on academia, her memories of the Design Studies program, and to see what she has been up to since graduation!  (more…)

Alumna Mae Wiskin on the Rise of “Digital Addiction” Rehab


Image by Mosuno via Stocksy

MA Design Studies alumna Mae Wiskin contributed the piece, Can’t Quit the Clicks: The Rise of Social Media Rehab to Broadly, an offshoot of Vice that is “devoted to representing the multiplicity of women’s experiences.” It reads: (more…)

Ten Proposals for Tenuous Times

Susan Yelavich at HighGround, July 2016; Photo by Janet Abrams

Susan Yelavich at HighGround, July 2016; Photo by Janet Abrams

Director and Associate Professor Susan Yelavich participates in the 20th annual HighGround colloquium. Read about her proposals for design and her reflections here:

This year at the 20th annual HighGround colloquium organized by designers Katherine and Michael McCoy at their studio/home in Colorado, I proposed a series of design moves (some strategic, some tactical) to shift social perceptions of people who have been alienated, mistreated, or ignored because of race, gender, immigration, or mental health issues—or any combination of the above that leads to ‘othering.’ (more…)

Kashish Mittal, Class of 2018


Originally from India, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design, specializing in Typography & Editorial Design from Northumbria University in UK. While I was there, I developed a passion for typography and print design.  (more…)

Student Publication – Provocative Products: Provotypes and Provoprops

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Alongside the exhibition by the same same, Otto von Busch and a of group students in the MA Design Studies program published a text companion to “Provocative Products,” which exhibited during Parsons Festival taking place within NYCxDesign 2016. (more…)

Clive Dilnot on Remembering John Heskett


Professor Clive Dilnot of MA Design Studies blogs about his friend, the design historian John Heskett, and assesses Heskett’s contribution to the field of design history. Read the full post here on the Bloomsbury Visual Arts blog.

Rami Saab, Class of 2018


I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the American University of Beirut in 2014. Beirut, my city, is an urban manifestation of contradictions and wildly divergent thinking. (more…)

Student Publication – Dark Designs: Critical Cases in Design in Dark Times


The Spring 2016 semester at Parsons School of Design welcomed the production of self-published books by MA Design Studies students. Following Acts of Olympic Dissent by students in Jilly Traganou’s Spatial Studies course, students in Otto von Busch’s graduate-level elective “Design in Dark Times” also published their culminated research into Dark Designs: Critical Cases in Design in Dark Times (available on Amazon). (more…)

William Perkins, Alum Behind Pharrell’s Fan-Driven Website

will perkins

May 2016 saw the launch of, created by MA Design Studies alum William Perkins and the team at boutique workshop Five Hundred, at which Perkins is co-creative director. The fan-driven website showcases Williams’ illustrative, multi-decade career in a number of fields and mediums. (more…)

Design Studies Alum Laura Belik’s Summer with Smithsonian’s Latino Museum Studies Program

Photo credit Michelle Joan Wilkinson

Photo credit Michelle Joan Wilkinson

Laura Belik, MA Design Studies ‘16, spent her summer in Washington, D.C. as a fellow for the Smithsonian Institute’s Latino Museum Studies Program (LMSP). (more…)

Student Publication – Acts of Olympic Dissent

Acts of Olympic Dissent

The Olympics have had a long history of contestation from their host cities, marginalized groups threatened by gentrification, and even the athletes who perform on the world’s greatest stage. In the wake of the Rio 2016 Games, students in Jilly Traganou’s Spatial Studies course, which focused on Olympic cities, self-published a collection of papers under the title Acts of Olympic Dissent, exploring the topic at hand. (more…)

Career Paths of Students Since Graduation: Ten Stories


Since the program’s inception, a new group of design thinkers coming from all backgrounds have gone out into the world. The two-year, 42-credit program will graduate its third class in Spring 2016. Some of the students from the class of 2014, 2015 and 2016 have already begun to establish themselves in various areas of work. Oddly inspiring and a testament to Parsons’ belief in creativity and ingenuity, these 10 stories aim to demonstrate how design studies applies to various professional and academic fields—proving that design in the 21st century is a dynamic and engaging field of study and practice. (more…)

A John Heskett Reader edited by Clive Dilnot

by David Brody


In July, my Parsons colleague, Clive Dilnot, will publish his edited volume A John Heskett Reader. Heskett, who died in 2014, was a remarkable thinker who brought design to life for diverse audiences through his engaging prose. Indeed, Heskett helped bring the field of design history and design criticism to life through his numerous books that covered topics from industrial design to German design to corporate design. He was, as many of us have grown to appreciate, unwilling to simply embrace design as a formal practice. Heskett was committed to social and historical context and the essays  in Dilnot’s text speak to Heskett’s larger oeuvre.

Jilly Traganou’s Designing the Olympics: Book release and lecture in Rio, Brazil


Jilly Traganou, ADHT Associate Professor of Spatial Design Studies, is releasing her new book Designing the Olympics: Representation, Participation, Contestation. (more…)

Do Drones Have DNA?

by Jilly Traganou

Drone flying in "Research and Methods" class presentation by Mehdi Salehi. Photograph by Mathew Mathews

Drone flying in “Research and Methods” class presentation by Mehdi Salehi. Photograph by Mathew Mathews.

Of course, all the students want to see the big drone flying. A loud, unpleasant noise fills the room immediately. The black and white aircraft floats stably in the air and creates a strong draft in the room, which is apt to produce goosebumps. I am impressed by how insecure I felt. Of course, this drone was not equipped with weapons or other harmful objects. However, the propeller and its speed give me a queasy feeling. No one in the room wants to get too close to it or even feel the propeller near his or her skin. The drone moves around the room like a foreign body, almost like a dangerous animal whose intentions are uncertain and difficult to read, but always ready to attack.” (Lisa Merk, MA Design Studies student )


Susan Yelavich on the ‘Why’ Behind Design, the New Academic Year, & her Latest Book


Susan Yelavich, Associate Professor and Director of the MA Design Studies program, returns this fall after a year-long sabbatical. We catch up with Professor Yelavich as she pauses in writing her new book, Reading Design, and looks toward some exciting developments for the new academic year.


Misha Volf’s Speech at Graduation Ceremony of MA DS 2016 class

Talk by Misha Volf as the student speaker given at the graduation of MA Design Studies, May 19th 2016:


Thank you, Faculty, Administration, Friends, Family, Graduates,

Two years ago, when I was considering Design Studies, I came in to interview with Susan [Yelavich, Director of the Program]. Among the ways she framed the program, one of them was as a NEXUS of THEORY and PRACTICE. After the interview, as I travelled back home, I was abuzz. “This is perfect,” I thought. This wasn’t going to just be some heady, theorizing about commodities, or semiotics, or the anthropocene; nor was this simply going to be about the production of stuff, putting design to work, so to speak, or something my father with increased longing would call “marketable skills.” No, no. This was going to be something else. This was going to be, … THE NEXUS!


Clive Dilnot’s Speech at Graduation Ceremony of MA Design Studies 2016 class

Clive Dilnot: Introductory talk given at the graduation of MA Design Studies, May 19th 2016:


It is an honor today to introduce to you the 3rd cohort of graduates of MA Design Studies, a very special and indeed brave, group of students.

They are special because the MA in Design Studies is one of the most exclusive degrees in the world. The program is unique in North America and I think is unique in the world. These are, in the best sense of the word a rare group of students. We have to hope they are not also an endangered species.


Professor Susan Yelavich Interviewed by Andrea Cuevas, Mexican Design Curator

Susan Yelavich


Design Studies Professor Susan Yelavich visited Mexico for the first time in 2015. Since then, when she lectured at Centro, she has been fortunate enough to have made many good friends.  In part this led to the request for the interview featured here which explores questions about design’s role in social responsibilities and in shaping the future.

MA Design Studies Students Exhibit ‘Provocative Products’ at Parsons Festival


“Melt” designed by Lisa Merk (MA Design Studies) and Ari Elefterin (MFA Industrial Design)

By Claudia Marina

Within the design milieu, critical and interrogative design speaks loudly in modern times. It has to, for new ethical and environmental problems arise out of production, consumerism, and globalization on the daily. It is this notion that prompted designers like Krzysztof Wodiczko to claim that “instead of deconstructing itself, design should deconstruct life,” in his book Critical Vehicles. And with this framework in mind, designers have a responsibility to challenge and shed light on experiences and problems—even if the results are uncomfortable to deal with.


Lisa Stenhaug of Design Studies on Andrea Zittel’s Wagon Station Encampment & Challenging “what is”

Lisa Stenhaug feature

Lisa Stenhaug at the Wagon Station Encampment. Photo by Emre Balık.

As research for her capstone, Lisa Stenhaug, MA Design Studies ‘16, stayed at artist Andrea Zittel’s Wagon Station Encampment in Joshua Tree, California for one week in April. Read about her experience at the encampment and her capstone project below!


Lisa Merk of Design Studies reflects on her award-winning project REMIND ME & more

Lisa Merk portrait

Lisa Merk, MA Design Studies ‘17, was recently the recipient of the New Talent Award from A&W Magazine, a German architecture and lifestyle magazine, for her project REMIND ME. REMIND ME is a sideboard and storage area with a motion-sensor light bulb that glows whenever a user gets close to it, ensuring that he or she will never leave the house without their necessary belongings. As a product designer, Lisa’s work focuses on furniture, packaging, and tabletop design as a way to promote a “high quality of living.”


MA Design Studies Students Want You to #SeeRikers


By Claudia Marina


How often do you see Riker’s? For most in New York City, unless you or your loved have worked or lived on the island, the answer is not often. Daily life for inmates and correctional officers is defined by the island, wedged between The Bronx and Queens on the East River, but the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority has a tricky history with labeling the island, which is home to a notorious prison complex, on its subway maps. In most underground stations, it is labeled but without means of getting there, and Riker’s is altogether forgotten inside subway car versions of the map. The Q100 bus line, which takes New Yorkers from Long Island City to Riker’s Island, exists almost as a myth.


New Work & Work-in-Progress by Core Faculty: Clive Dilnot, Jilly Traganou and Susan Yelavich



EVENT: MANIFESTO: From Brazil’s Recent Events to a Manifesto on Latin American Democracy

From Brazil’s Recent Events to a Manifesto on Latin American Democracy
May 10th 2016, 16:15 to 18:00 hrs.
The New School – Wolff Conference Room
6 East 16th Street, Room D1103
In the need to discuss the current political  debates on Brazil and Latin America, from the impending impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, to the rise of other conservative leaders in neighboring countries, Laura Belik, MADS second year student from São Paulo, is organizing together with a group of students from the Latin American Student Organization Somos OLA the event “From Brazil’s Recent Events to a Manifesto on Latin American Democracy“.  This event is organized in a pecha Kucha style, where 12 guest-speakers were invited to discuss the Manifesto Somos OLA students created as well as to give their overview on the current situation of their country’s scenario. 


PLOT(S) Journal of Design Studies, Issue 2



Special Issue of The Design Journal: “Visual Communication Design in the Balkans” Co-edited by Associate Professor Jilly Traganou

Design in the Balkans


Jilly Traganou, Associate Professor in Spatial Design, recently co-edited a special issue of The Design Journal: An International Journal for All Aspects of Design entitled “Visual Communication Design in the Balkans.” The edition, which was released on April 6th, explores the role of visual communication in numerous aspects of life in the Balkans, from economic conditions to countercultural music scenes to historical textbooks.


Latin America Documentary Series: Discussions of Space

Latin America Documentary ImageOver the month of April, MA Design Studies student Laura Belik, in conjunction with the Design Studies Forum, organized the “Latin America Documentary Screenings: Discussions Of Space,” a series of film screenings and talks focusing on the spatiality and urban environments of the region. Each event highlighted different aspects of the topic of space, with discussion topics ranging from cities, urban democracy, and social justice to public spaces, the commons, and displacement.


MADS Student Salma Shamel Curates Film Festival

Film Horizontal-01edit
This weekly film screening event is to introduce The MENA Working Group, an informal network of graduate students and faculty members working at The New School (NSSR, Parsons, Milano) and concentrating their research on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), broadly construed. Launched in October 2015, the Working Group organizes a graduate student conference on April 22nd and hopes to serve the needs and interests of graduate students at TNS. With this series of films, the MENA Working Group offers a space of discussion open to all New School students, Lang and graduate researchers. The screenings are free and will generally be held Thursdays, 8-10p, followed by a peer-led discussion.


Matters of Debate: Mapping Research on the Middle East – New School Student Conference


In the World of Medical Apps, Bridging the Divide Between Designers and Clinicians


Melissa Wiskin, Design Studies ’16, completed a stint in the Peace Corps in Zambia, where she learned about the power of mobile technology to dispense health care.


Visualizing The Middle East and North Africa Film Screenings





The MENA Working Group is an informal network of graduate students and faculty members working at The New School (NSSR, Parsons, Milano) and concentrating their research on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), broadly construed. Launched in October 2015, the Working Group organizes a graduate student conference on April 22nd and hopes to serve the needs and interests of graduate students at TNS. With this series of films, the MENA Working Group offers a space of discussion open to all New School students, Lang and graduate researchers. The screenings are free and will generally be held Thursdays, 8-10p, followed by a peer-led discussion.  Organizer: Salma Shamel Bakr  Faculty contact point: Benoit Challand


Jilly Traganou to give two talks on counter-Olympic Dissent


Associate Professor of Spatial Design Studies, Jilly Traganou, has a productive February ahead of her.


Speaking about Design in Mexico City

by Susan Yelavich, Associate Professor of Design Studies

Last fall, from October 28th to November 1st, I had the good fortune to be a guest of Centro, Mexico City’s premiere design school. During my stay, I gave a lecture to 200 members of the school and its design community in which I explored the ways design can hinder or enhance leisure, depending on the degree of control and serendipity it offers. I also conducted a more intimate workshop where graduate students proposed schemes for sites of ad hoc leisure within the highly-composed and elegant architecture of their recently built campus, designed by Enrique Norten e Ten Arquitectos.


yelavich mexico2

The Centro building designed in 2015 by Enrique Norten e Ten Arquitectos (courtesy of Centro).

During my time (my first time) in Mexico City, Centro’s director of academic affairs Gabriela Traverso made generous arrangements for me to visit their city’s major cultural sites, from Casa Luis Barragán to the Frida Kahlo Museum to the world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology. I’ve rarely been so warmly welcomed as I was at Centro, and I’m forever grateful to Centro’s director Kerstin Scheuch and her dedicated faculty. Among all the events and trips they planned, they also arranged for me to speak with Janine Porras of the design magazine Glocal.  What follows is the interview Janine conducted in which I discuss design as an agent of dignity.

Read Susan’s full interview here.  (Note: This interview is published in Spanish)

yelavich mexico

Susan leads her graduate student workshop: Configuring Spaces of Leisure (courtesy of Centro).


PLOT(S) Call for Submissions


1) noun, A measured plan, map, scheme, diagram or other graphic representation
2) verb, To mark the course of something; to devise the sequence of events

Now in its third edition,  Plot(s): The Journal of Design Studies 2016 inquires into how design practice and design research is configured, and how it shapes individuals, societies and relations to our environment.  Plot(s) is an annual, interdisciplinary publication edited by the graduate students of the Design Studies program,  housed at Parsons The School for Design, in New York City.

As the field of Design Studies is at a formative stage, it attains its definition by praxis and evaluation.  The third edition of Plot(s) will explore both descriptive and prescriptive modes of design.  We endeavor for the journal to display a multiplicity of definitions of Design, in order to reflect the diversity of the discipline itself.

To reflect this instructive and formative nature, the theme for this year’s journal is:

Manifesto / Instruction / Dossier

Guidelines for submissions:

We ask that submissions are guided by a process that involves design thinking / reasoning.  We also strongly encourage the use of supporting visuals.  Contributors are welcome from all fields.

As a multidisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal, we accept a wide range of formats including, but not limited to, academic essays, visual essays, design research, book / exhibition reviews and design / architectural projects.  In addition to this, our website (to be launched in the Spring) will open up other multimedia formats for us to consider, such as video and audio projects!

Submissions must be properly cited with endnotes and formatted in the Chicago style upon submission.  Images must be at least 300 dpi, captioned, and copyright permissions must be obtained.  Submissions which do not fit this criteria cannot be accepted.

Please send submissions by January 3rd, 2016 via email to
Plots(s) Issue #3 will be published in Spring 2016 in print and online.

Two Conferences on Future Creation – A Comparative Reflection

written by Anke Gründel

Interest in design is on the rise in the public sector, an apparent need the various design communities are working hard to fill.  That is the main convergent message emerging from two recent design conferences, the Global Service Design Conference in New York City and the Politics for Tomorrow Conference in Berlin, Germany.  Other than this apparent main point there was very little that remained similar.  To make sense of the levels of discourse in these two recent events, perhaps it would make sense to first look at the disparate settings in which these two conferences took place.  

The first of the two took place in early October 2015 in New York City. The Global Service Design conference was organized through the Global Service Design Network, an organization that aims at connecting the diverse strands and currents of the still somewhat novel field of service design. The private organization this year partnered with Parsons, The New School for Design in Manhattan, which lent its spaces and expertise to pull together and tend to the many professionals from across the world who streamed to New York and cure their jet-lags over coffee in the large Tishman auditorium of The New School’s University Center.

The first thing I noticed while shooting glances up and down the isles was that the service design population gathered there seemed to suffer from relative monochromatism that allowed a primarily Euro-American worldview to predominate, while engaging the occasional Scandinavian perspective. Certainly, among the speakers were also designers from Singapore and Russia whose perspective aligned all too well with the business-minded rationality communicated in success-and-solution-lingo.  The relationship of the speakers to the crowd was dominated by mutual understanding and the profound belief that what connected everybody there was a desire to change the world with almost unilaterally agreed upon methods shared in an atmosphere of reciprocal back-patting.  At some point a speaker asked the audience who amongst them considered themselves optimists or realists.  Unsurprisingly, a forest of raised hands signaled the majority of the optimist camp, a visual marker for the rosy-future visions dominating this event.  Few words of caution were uttered against this future-oriented designer optimism, understanding current pervasive social issues as problems to be solved by, through, and as design.  If not critique then at least skepticism came from one of the very few non-designers at the conference.  

Cameron Tonkinwise, a philosopher by training, problematized the temporal claims in many of the projects presented at the conference in that he pointed out the apparent piecemeal nature of service design as a project-based practice. While discourse around transformations predominated, there was no consensus that would have allowed for social accountability structures beyond the overall common built-in auditing practices of many design approaches.  Once the (funding) clock has run out on most service design projects, there is little thought about who takes responsibility for the aftermath.  In the absence of an overarching institution which could hold actors accountable and bundle aims for a future into a coherent whole, the market is dominated by a preponderance of small, middle and large design labs and lab-like organizations practicing social entrepreneurialism. One might wonder why a global conference of such scale, attended by hundreds of people in one of the world’s leading design universities – ironically part of the formerly Marxist New School – drew such an ideologically, professionally, and socially homogeneous crowd.  Any mystery is soon resolved however, if one takes a look at the conference prices demanded by the Global Service Design Network.  With rates of almost $1000 for non-member (the price of around $900 for members is only marginally more affordable) and around $300 for students for a two day conference it comes at no surprise that diverging opinions were neither desired nor encouraged.  Surely, as a professional conference, the rationale was to create a context for practitioners to share, support each other, and create new connections, however given the general emphasis on public participation and the expressed desire to enlist a multiplicity of different stakeholders in co-creative processes the virtual absence of diverging opinions about the kind of future designers want to create was jarring. Needless to say, I left feeling rather disenchanted but at least with a realistic overview of service design and its constituency.

Two weeks later, a different continent, a different language and a different experience.  Over the course of the two day conference, during which it rained non-stop under a sky so gray that it created the illusion of all-day dusk, around 90 guests attended the small and well-organized Politics for Tomorrow conference.  While embedding design processes in policy-making and governance processes is gaining acceptance in the US as the altogether 29 government innovation labs would attest to, in Germany design’s legitimacy as public action tool is all but established. Indeed, in contrast to its neighbours Denmark, France, and Austria as well as fellow EU member states Spain, Portugal, the UK, and the Netherlands, Germany seems rather behind (presupposing the goal is governmental innovation) when it comes to identifying innovative methods for connecting citizens and the government.  

To address this stated (and highly debateable) need for innovation, the organizers from Next Learning, an association focusing on creative transformation services, brought presenters from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and approaches together to share their work.  The only thing everybody had in common was their investment in political transformations.  While most had an explicitly design-oriented focus front-lined by the usual suspects in these types of discourses, Nesta (UK) and MindLab (Denmark), there were also other organizations present whose formation by far predates the explicit articulation of design as a protocolistic action framework (in the form of design thinking or human centered design).  Among them were Forum Alpbach (Austria) and The Young Foundation (UK) neither of which felt it necessary to explicitly use the label of design.  

In contrast to the Global Service Design Conference what was surprising was that the guests were not only designers.  Interspersed were also a handful of civil servants, academics, and those from the public sector tangentially engaged in creative practices.  To be sure, there also were a select few civil servants present in New York, however their curated and innovation-focused opinions were not markedly different from the mass of cheerleading designers. In contrast, among the mere 90 people at the Politics for Tomorrow conference the vocally distinct non-designers shifted the discourse perceivably towards substantial critique and caution.  Among the typical question as to how designers may help the government to recognize problematic relations between citizens and policymakers that perhaps remain irreconcilable with traditional methods, there also was a relatively strong critical attitude toward the practices designers employ to render such problems visible.  Thus one of the most interesting tenets emerging from interactions between the audience and the presenters was the problem of methods as ends in themselves. Indeed, the dominant challenge to designer from those who had not yet bought into the “inherent value” of creative innovation techniques, pressured designers in the public sector to explicitly state their goals rather than merely discuss the value-adding aspect of their methodological toolkits. Interestingly, the critique of methodological overdetermination operated on different discursive levels and was sometimes vigorously debated.  In one of the workshop sessions that typically followed the presentations, this problem of design methods emerged in all clarity.

I was participating in a workshop in which design as a primarily market-based practice was explicitly called into question. Yet despite this critical attitude, typical methods were nonetheless central to the session.  Tasked with creating a network of characteristics for a healthy and supportive community, we were struggling to fill our stereotypical post-its with meaningful content that could be contained by the small sheet of colored paper.  Unsurprisingly to me, this did not lead to much and we all got frustrated over the methodological format.  Post-its can be useful for getting thoughts out quickly, yet they are no replacement for vigorous discussion, as we all realized.  As most design methods aim at reducing conflict and thus obfuscating power dynamics inherent to any social group, one has to ask whether design can ever unproblematically become part of the public sector.  While no doubt practical, as a civil servant from the Düsseldorf municipality remarked, practicality of design methods alone is not reason enough to discard a whole system especially given the inability to accountably foretell contingent outcomes.  In that private services are not at all like public services in scope, necessity for accountability systems, and heterogeneity of service recipients, the public sector has other requirements than the market-oriented dynamism inherent in private services.  Service customers are construed as entirely different entities in the private versus the public sphere. Whereas private services encounter consumers, their public counterparts face citizens, a crucial definitional distinction in which whole hosts of assumptions are embedded.  

In short, this conference was rife with diverse sometimes optimistic sometimes critical positions and contra to the predominantly enthusiastic Global Service Design Conference, in Berlin there was a broad spectrum of critique and a variety of discursive levels in the gamut of problematizations ranging from future research in climate matters, biodiversity, immigration, to business mentality and entrepreneurship which was at times fiercely challenged as excessively neoliberal.  Design was introduced not only as a set of methods but as an alternative to technocratic expert panels especially when it comes to the problem of funding and directing scientific inquiry.  Discussed were also power dynamics of organizational change in that questions were raised over who wins or loses if design gets integrated into established institutional structures.  It was refreshing to hear such a reflective position as we tend to ignore consequences of organizational change we support.  Certainly, some will benefit, but others will lose their jobs or their representation.  As much as the design debate wants to align itself with discussions around the changing nature of democracy, any potentially undemocratic power dynamics inherent to the political design movements are rarely problematized.

Admittedly, the critical tenor of this event may have been impacted by the general cultural environment – as a German living in the US, I cannot deny that I felt positively liberated from the burden to filter my own critical attitude when it comes to interacting in the design field.  But I cannot help but feel that design could only benefit from harsh-but-productive critique.  All concerns for legitimacy aside, if design is to become a practice that does not merely reproduce hegemonic neoliberal problems but that offers a real alternative to New Public Management as it was presented in this event then it cannot shy away from involving those who remain skeptics about why design delivered by designers should reconfigure government.

Anke Gründel researches the entanglement of conception of the state, citizenship, and design practices inherent to the current proliferation of design-led innovation approaches in governance practices. She interrogates design expertise vis-à-vis the history of technocracy within liberal democratic systems. She received the Parsons Student Travel grant to document the Politics for Tomorrow Conference.

Prospective Students Webinar Discussion: November 24th from 12-1pm

Please join Design Studies Program Director, Jilly Traganou, on November 24th from 12-1pm in a webinar to discuss the program!  This webinar will provide you with detailed information about this diverse and innovative graduate degree program. You will also have the opportunity to ask whatever questions you may have. The webinar will also include information about the application and financial aid/scholarship process. We hope you will be able to join us!
To register for this event, please go here and enter your information.


Breathing Design: A Reflection on the Beginning of the Semester

by Jilly Traganou, Director of MA Design Studies

Design is what we breath here at Parsons; design, that is as much in the process of “cleaning and reorganizing a desk drawer” (Victor Papanek), as it is in the makings of synthetic biology and 3D food printing.  Now that the academic year is upon us, I’d like to reflect on everything that we’ve so far accomplished.

This year, students with backgrounds as variable as their places of origin (India, Germany, Egypt, Canada, US, China, Great Britain) have joined Design Studies in continuing the tradition of diversity that has characterized the program since its inception three years ago. Our new students bring experiences and knowledge from the fields of philosophy, art history, media, marketing and, of course, design practice. They are here to engage critically with design, as both intellectuals and practitioners, to bridge theory with practice, to develop their own distinct pathways through elective course choices across The New School and to undertake their capstone work in the second year of study.  Our incoming students’ orientation took place in the third week of August. As an initiation to the discourses in which students will be enmeshed in the next two years, we visited two different sites of design, the Navy Yards and the Cooper Hewitt museum: the first, a site of design production, where future designed worlds are being conceived and manufactured; the second a site of display, education and curation.


Visit to Capsys, Navy Yards, Brooklyn. Incoming students orientation, August 2015

In the first, we were guided by architects Christian Huber and Vivian Kuan, both associated with the studio Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology). Christian and Vivian took us on a tour at the modular homes construction company Capsys, a realization of the metabolists’ and other utopian architects’ dream, where homes are constructed in a factory setting indoors to be transported and plugged in or assembled on location.  We also visited the Terreform ONE’s own studio where biology meets urbanism in fascinating experimental work such as the Urban Farm Pod, that integrates ideas of urban agriculture with the growing of architecture as food.

The second stop during orientation was the Cooper Hewitt, a site of display, education and curation.  Here, we were guided by History of Design and Curatorial Studies student Sakura Nomiyama, who discussed with us selected exhibits of the “How Posters Work” exhibition, while pointing out innovations in the early 20th century mansion of the Carnegie family that houses the museum (its elevator, air-condition, and heating system), which is easy to take for granted a century later. This house was as much a masterpiece of engineering innovation back then, as the Urban Farm Pod is of urban agricultural innovation today.


“Japanese Design Today,” Q & A session, Kashiwagi Hiroshi, Nakamura Yoshifumi, Jilly Traganou (right to left). Co-organized by The Japan Foundation, New York; MA in Design Studies; MFA in Industrial Design, Parsons New School of Design, at The New School, September 2015.

On September 8, in collaboration with the Japan Foundation, New York and the new Parsons MFA program in Industrial Design we hosted the event Japanese Design Today: Unique, Evolving, Borderless.  The event included two lectures, the first by Kashiwagi Hiroshi, a prominent design historian of Japanese design and professor at Musashino Art University, and the second by architect and furniture designer Nakamura Yoshifumi, a professor at Nihon University. In his lecture Professor Kashiwagi examined the characteristics of contemporary Japanese design (craft, minimal, thoughtful, compact, cute), while Professor Nakamura’s lecture focused on his architecture of hut dwellings, residences of energy efficiency and minimum size that function as retreats for everyday life. After the lectures I was moderator of a conversation on the state of Japanese design today, which opened up questions on nationalism and otherness in today’s Japan, as well as of the role of materialism in everyday life. Having been a Japan Foundation fellow in the past, and admittedly a Japanophile, I hope that the event has inspired our students to look into future research and funding opportunities offered by the Japan Foundation and other sources, which would allow them to research the role of design and material culture in Japan. We also hope that we will continue our collaboration with the Japan Foundation, who has already co-organized and supported several events with Parsons, such as for instance the Kon Wajiro exhibition on design ethnography in March 2014.

Continuing a guest-Professor sequel that began with Peter Hall earlier this year, in September 14-25, we hosted Albena Yaneva as Visiting Professor at Parsons. Albena Yaneva, a Latourian anthropologist, is Professor in Architectural Theory at the University of Manchester. Albena taught an intensive elective class titled “Ecologies of Practice: An Anthropological Approach to Design” that attracted students from across the New School. She also met individually with PhD students in anthropology, and gave two lectures, one in the anthropology lecture series and one in my Advanced Thesis Preparation class for the MA program Theories of Urban Practice program. Her lectures focused on the concept of cosmopolitical design—the subject of her forthcoming book with Ashgate, an approach to design that takes into account both the material and the living world, and entities with differing ontologies: viruses, natural disasters, climate, carbon dioxide, floods, rivers, and so on. Comsopolitical design can be seen as much in the work of contemporary architects grappling with the problem of the sun glaring in the glass facades of their buildings, as in the work of environmentalists who take care of natural ecosystems trying to balance people’s engagements with nature with acts that regulate ecology and allow nature to “recover.” Albena was a valuable resource for our students who had the opportunity to develop in-depth case study research and writing in her class, utilizing ethnography and developing a pragmatist approach to the understanding design and what it does in the world.

On September 25-27, a group of 14 students and myself attended “A Better World by Design,” a conference organized by students of Brown University and RISDI in Providence, Rhode Island.  Besides giving us the opportunity for critical conversations on design and its impact in the world, we enjoyed several of the lectures, such as the one by Alexis Lloyd, Creative Director of the R&D Lab of The New York Times, and a Parsons alumni, on the role of computational systems and the way they can become tools for conversation, an issue which resonates with several of our students’ capstone research.


“Spatial Representation: Verticality,” visualization of MA Design Studies student Juan Pablo Pemberty’s thesis titled: “The Spatial Conjunction: Design Redress and the Social Urbanism of Medellin,” submitted May 2015.

On September 30, ADHT participated in the Parsons Career Expo. We were happy to have work of two of our MA Design Studies alumni, Niberca LluberesRinicon and Juan Pablo Pemberty, presented at the ADHT table, as well as the last issue of Design Studies magazine Plot(s).  

After the divergence and excitement of the first two months we are now converging our energies into the end of the semester.  Many things are up in the ether but I hope it will not be a spoiler if I tell you that our students are Plotting again, and a call for proposals is in the works.  We look forward to a productive year!

Class of 2016’s Mae Wiskin featured on VICE News segment

Mae Wiskin, class of 2016 MA Design Studies second year candidate, was recently featured on VICE News On The Line. The segment was on India’s mental health crisis and women’s rights. Mae spoke to VICE News journalist Neha Shastry about the ways in which digital technologies can be used to help battle the stigma and shame associated with mental illness. Mae researches the intersections between “smart” technologies, text-based behavioral therapies and psychopathology. Her work on “designing” the new frontier of mental health treatments and interventions advocates for the incorporation of tele-health technologies in order to gain access to those most vulnerable both in India and globally.


Mae’s VICE News feature begins at 19:19.

ADHT Welcomes 64 New Graduate Students

Design Studies incoming students touring The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum with docent, Sakura Nomiyama

On Monday, August 24th, 64 incoming graduate students gathered in the Kellen Auditorium to make up the School of Art and Design History and Theory’s incoming class of 2017.  ADHT is the home to 29 new students in Fashion Studies (FS), 10 in Design Studies (DS) and 26 in The History of Design and Curatorial Studies (HDCS).  These programs’ incoming students will join 70 of their classmates in their final year— and joining them in the rigor of this year’s curriculum and undertakings.

Director of Design Studies, Jilly Traganou, agrees in saying that the incoming graduate students have a deep well of resources to draw from, especially in regards to “cross-divisional and cross school collaborations.”  And a key aspect of these resources that Traganou points out to not only her graduate students in DS, but to those across ADHT’s programs is the faculty they have the occasion to work with.  As a graduate student in ADHT, one has the unique opportunity “to be a part of the research that faculty of our school is involved with,” and utilizing that relationship in one’s own study, “from the conception of ideas to the final production of a publication.”

Bolstering the substantial work from within these programs, is ADHT’s exceptional lineup of events this semester.  For one such upcoming event on September 8th, DS and The Japan Foundation will host Japanese Design Today: Unique, Evolving, Borderless with professor, Hiroshi Kashiwagi and architect / designer, Yoshifumi Nakamura, to discuss the evolution of contemporary Japanese design.  ADHT will also be hosting two events partnered with the American Academy in Rome, among others.

“This start of this school year is a specially meaningful one,” begins the “Welcome Statement from the Dean,” Sarah Lawrence, “At its inception, the studio training of a Parsons student is undertaken now within a culture of historical reflection, critical thinking, and eloquent expression.  These are essential activities of ADHT.”  As though in agreement with this idea, pictured above are incoming students during orientation, taking in The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum where they will be spending the next two years of their graduate studies.  “And so, with great anticipation, I welcome you to the start of the new year.”


What Does That Even Mean? Ten Things About “Service Design.”

By Mae Wiskin

Admittedly, I didn’t know what “service design” was a couple months ago (although arguably it has been around my entire life). Until recently service design lacked an agreed upon name or consensus. Service design, most simply, is a hybrid human activity composed of a blending of diverse industries and fields. Given this, there is no simple and clean definition of the term. If you were to ask forty different people what they think service design is and what the future of it might be, you will get forty different responses, albeit with some degree of overlap. As you can probably guess, the main place of overlap is the belief that design ought to be “human-centric.” I would argue, however, that design (in all its forms) has the capacity to be profoundly harmful unless its definition also always incorporates a sense of criticality.

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At the recent Global Service Design Conference, held at Parsons The New School for Design, my team and I asked numerous participants what they believed was the future of service design. At the end, we compiled these insightful and often playful perspectives into a simple 6-minute podcast.

What follows is a short list of ten things I learned during the conference.

  1. Service design is an evolving field that includes professionals from numerous industries and backgrounds, from design ethnographers to CBOs to educators.
  2. There is no one definition or common language to explain this nascent field. However, the practice of “design thinking” is inextricably linked to the practice.
  3. Similar to the field of Design Studies, emerging service design is a malleable discourse.
  4. Service design, at its core, is about both the user and their experience with a designed service; this can be anything from a healthcare service to a cafe blueprint.
  5. It is an integrative and trans-disciplinary field.
  6. Service design has given rise to new business models, many of which take the notion of empathy and social design into consideration.
  7. Service design works to ensure that services are intuitive, desirable, user-friendly, and effective.
  8. The future of service design is unknown, however, many who have incorporated the practice and its methodologies into their work believe that one day it will dissolve entirely and simply become an assumed part of how people conduct business and also, approach design.
  9. Service design is an iterative process more than an outcome.
  10. The primary point of service design is that human behavior, as well as desire, be the precondition for designing any service


Professor Yelavich addresses FAIR Design Conference at Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts

On leave this academic year, Professor Susan Yelavich took time away from her sabbatical project on fiction and design to deliver a lecture on design and leisure this September at the invitation of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts as part of a conference on design as activity. A summary of her lecture “Product(ive) Leisure” can be found here:


Professor Yelavich at the FAIR Design Conference in Warsaw, Poland.

Professor Yelavich at the FAIR Design Conference in Warsaw, Poland.

Leisure would seem to be exempt from design’s interventions. The word implies unstructured pleasure from activities chosen and pursued at will; whereas design aims to reconfigure experiences and mediate them through systems, places, and things. Even design that positions itself as a catalyst—like a hiking trail that is more means than end—exerts a measure of control and configuration. Admittedly, there are leisure activities like meditation that are not dependent on things, but even they require space, whether found or purpose-built. So, counterintuitive as it may seem, leisure is not exempt from, but rather open to, design.

The challenge to design, in an age of leisure marketing, leisure destinations, even higher education degrees in leisure, is how to enhance leisure without being overly deterministic. Just as Adorno cautioned that the art of giving gifts is all but lost, we are now in danger of ceding leisure to the industries that produce (and design) environments that script the escape of pressure and the pursuit of pleasure.

Furthermore, with digital technologies that support both work (paid) and leisure (unpaid) within the same devices, we must ask if design should do more to preserve the frisson of contrast between the obligatory and the optional. Alternatively, we might also consider whether life would be richer if the distinction between leisure and work disappeared by virtue of being interwoven by design. In both cases, we must ask who works and who pays for our leisure and whether that work and the economies it supports are exploitive or nourishing.

Understanding the relationship between the scripted and the unscripted, between time as a unit of measure and time as experience, and whose time and labor are entailed in shaping those experiences are prerequisites for designers addressing leisure today. For whether it is pursued socially—community gardening, playing sports—or in individual activities—reading, daydreaming—leisure is incomplete unless it allows for genuine agency and the possibilities of meandering and serendipity. Otherwise, leisure runs the risk of eliciting its nemesis: anxiety.


Design Studies graduate Dora Vanette featured in re:D


Regarding Design (re:D), the magazine for Parsons alumni and the wider Parsons community (published by The New School Alumni Association), features exceptional alumni work.  The latest issue includes Dora Vanette (a 2014 graduate from ADHT’s MA in Design Studies) for her thesis, “Consuming Socialism: Mid-Century Modernist Interiors in the Former Yugoslavia,” which examines the role of design in the construction of national identity.  According to re:D, her research “[analyzes] coordinated efforts to establish Yugoslavian national tastes through promotion of modern domestic design and representations of family life.  Although many of the interiors shown were beyond the public’s reach, they nonetheless were effective propaganda for a government eager to promote what [Vanette] calls ‘an alternative to the Soviet model of socialism.'”  Vanette goes on to acknowledge the important role and “invaluable assistance” that the Director of Design Studies, Jilly Traganou, played in shaping her work.


From the Director

Caroline Dionne

If you’re reading this, I imagine you’re curious about Parsons’ Masters in Design Studies. Below are a series of posts written in anticipation of your questions:

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