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 artificial, spatial studies, Object-Oriented Ontology, 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

FullSizeRender (1)

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 PharrellWilliams.com, 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.  On Saturday, February 6th, she will travel to Washington DC, to be part of the CAA 104th annual conference.  There, she will present her paper, “Material Practices for Insurgent and Radical Habitus: Two Cases of Counter-Olympic Dissent.”  Her presentation will take place during the session: “Art of the Street: Tyrannized Urban Spaces as Sites for Radical Politics.”


Then, on February 16th, she’ll head to The University of Edinburgh to present as Part of the Prokalò Postgraduate ESALA seminar series.  Traganou’s talk, titled, “Insurgent and Radical Forms of Dissent: Resisting the Olympic City“ will present on separate forms of “urban resistance” in response to “development” that take place under the banner of the Olympic “host city.”  Traganou elucidates in her abstract:

The Olympic Games are known as mega events that celebrate universal humanism, fair play and peaceful internationalism. Their realization in the urban environment of a host city involves processes of spatial transformation, militarization of public space, evictions of vulnerable populations, and introduction of new models of citizenship. This process of spatial enforcement is often accompanied by questioning, disagreement, and resistance. Within this broad spectrum of Olympic contestation, I will distinguish two different, but often complementary, forms of urban resistance, that involve creative engagement with material practices: those of insurgent and radical habitus.

PROKALO_Jilly Traganou_WEB
Please see the separate links for each of these talks for their details and logistics.  




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@newschool.edu.
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.

unnamed unnamed-1

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.


Transformative urbanism: Cairo’s women-only metro carriages

By Mae Wiskin
Published August 18, 2015

Seven years after the introduction of Women-Only Metro carriages in Cairo, former resident Mae Wiskin explores what this intervention means for the city, public space and gender politics within Cairo and Egypt as a whole.

Inside a women's only train carriage after rush hour. Photo: Nejla

Inside a women’s only train carriage after rush hour. Photo: Nejla

To many, Egypt’s capital city of Cairo is a maddening metropolis marked by its traffic gridlock, complex religious discourse, and contested gender politics. The metro system is frequently referred to as the only functional and dependable system in the city. It is available for only a single Egyptian pound, and runs fairly frequently. In its current configuration there are two women-only carriages attached to the middle of each train. The cars, which were formally introduced in 2007, enable women to travel more or less unmolested and fluidly around the sprawling metropolis. This makes Cairo one of several cities throughout the world, from Tokyo to Tehran to Mexico City, which have recently implemented similar women-only carriage policies for the purposes of public transit.

What has been the effect of such policies? As a Jewish-American woman of colour and a former resident of Cairo, I became interested in analysing whether gender segregation in the Cairo Metro is simply a matter of protecting women from sexual harassment, or whether it has come to play a role in the larger religious and cultural debate about the role of women in Egyptian society. While I was living in Cairo, I often engaged in lively conversations with Egyptians about these ideas. Later during graduate school, I conducted interviews with Cariene women to give a real voice to this often overlooked quotidian aspect of Egyptian life. Women-only carriages were never going to enter Egyptian society unnoticed and without criticism. Through these conversations and interviews, I realised that the consequences of urbanism (of which the metro is one example) on women’s rights in Cairo extend far beyond its transportation system. The existence of women-only carriages is just one feature of the national conversation about women and their place in public spaces — a paradigm that is still evolving.

The metro was built out of a powerful drive to create a globally-inviting Cairo. Its intentions were to lessen traffic congestion, increase more fluid public access through the city, and facilitate women’s safe passage. The metro is the circuit board of Cairo. It carries around three million people per day and is unarguably the fastest, cheapest and safest means of public transportation in the entire country. It is also one of few metro systems in Africa. Three lines and sixty-one stations connect over forty-eight miles of Cairo.  It is a vibrant and veritable system.

View of downtown Cairo. Photo: Simon Mulvey

View of downtown Cairo. Photo: Simon Mulvey

Until the women’s-only passenger cars were introduced, however, Cairene women were regularly subjected to gender-based violence, harassment, and unwanted touching on the mixed-gender trains. It is well documented that sexual harassment is a profound problem in Cairo. According to a 2013 UN report, a staggering 99% of women and girls reported having had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Still, Cairo is certainly not unique in its harassment issues. In Japan, for example, it has been reported that over 64% of women in their 20’s and 30’s reported being groped on the train or in transit stations. Indeed, the problem is so well recognised in Japan that there’s even a special name for subway sexual harassment: chikan.

Due to this, in 2000, women-only train carriages first appeared, aimed at protecting women from assault. In Egypt, women-only train carriages were only introduced when the government finally acknowledged its “epidemic” of sexual harassment. The role and make-up of government is a critical sticking point; according to the Global Report of the International Women’s Media Foundation, Egypt has a very low global ranking: 128th in terms of women’s representation in national office. This may in part explain some of the reasons why change in both the transit system and within the country as a whole has been so incremental. After the economic summit in Egypt on March 5th, 2015, the Egyptian Ambassador to the UN, Mervat Tallawy announced a national strategy to combat violence and harassment against women. The government purports that it is also drafting constitutional legislation that will specifically address violence against women in all its forms in the public sphere; the most common of which occurs on public transit. This is a revolutionary step towards helping to address gender-based violence against women in Egyptian society.

The debate over the role of women in Egypt is complex. According to Mona Makram-Ebeid, a former senior member of the Wafd party, “the islamic movement makes the accusation that women are invading public space and should be at home with their children”. She ultimately argues the conservative perspective that the women’s place is not in public life. Women are not to be seen, but should simply exist as quiet spectators. Moreover, many Egyptian males claim that women in the workplace is a primary source of congestion on the public transportation system, while also exacerbating the problem of male unemployment. This is simply one perspective and there are myriad arguments, which counter these assertions.

The Egyptian Gazette, presents both sides of the debate by stating the following: “since women have called for equality with men in all spheres of life, it is natural that she should fight like him for an empty seat”. In theory this proposition is fair; however, in reality, the picture of gender equality is far more complicated than the “fight” over a metro seat.  One interviewee, Laila Abdel Hamid, poignantly and frankly frames the debate in this way:

“The presence of women-only carriages opens up an interesting platform for urban discourse about equality in ownership of public space. It’s a double-edged sword in my opinion. On the one hand, it offers women a space to feel comfortable and possibly safer from harassment, but on the other hand, it contributes to the ongoing gender segregation process and acts as a constant reminder that women are different from men.”

These interviews demonstrated how gender segregated public transportation has become a proxy that highlights contested gender dynamics in cosmopolitan Cairo.

There are yet other voices that argue against the women-only carriage policy. The Egyptian Gazette, in speaking about segregation in subway cars wrote, “it pulls us back to the dark ages of segregation and even humiliates our women, treating them as weak and subordinate”. Adding yet another dimension to the debate, journalist Jessica Valenti of The Guardian brings up the critical point of calling on men to take responsibility:

“There’s no doubt the harassment women face in public spaces needs to be addressed…. We’ve been subjected to regular catcalls and groping for far too long. But while the idea of a safe space is compelling, this international trend – which often comes couched in paternalistic rhetoric about “protecting”women – raises questions of just how equal the sexes are if women’s safety relies on us being separated. After all, shouldn’t we be targeting the gropers and harassers? The onus should be on the men to stop harassing women, not on women to escape them.”

These conflicting assertions illustrate the complexity behind the ongoing debate surrounding women-only carriages. Beyond the contentious discourse, the question of who has an actual right to public spaces in Cairo is fundamental to understanding how women-only carriages might serve as a site for transformative urbanism. It is important to note that all public spaces in Cairo are highly gendered. Men maintain a sense of entitlement over the public sphere, which makes it difficult for women to meaningfully break through those barriers in order to access those spaces freely. Given that Egypt is a male-dominated society, women are forced to constantly negotiate with patriarchal systems. In the public realm, women establish respectability and a sense of personal safety via their conservative dress and physical separation from men. Egyptian women are now actively trying to renegotiate the landscape of public space.

Separate from the ongoing discourse, the quotes below from two Egyptian women help illustrate how women actually experience the public sphere, highlighting the significance of the women-only carriages. In the words of resident Laila Abdel Hamid:

“Women in Cairo are exposed to different types of sexual harassment on a daily basis, especially while taking public transportation but also by simply walking around the city. While you’re walking in or out of the metro station, harassment happens too. But if you make it to the women only carriages, you’re relatively ok, because women surround you and if a male intruder is spotted, women riders will group together to expel him.”

When asked about women-only carriages by a BBC correspondent, one middle-class Cairene woman answered by saying, “we should have one or two more carriages. It is not asking too much to breathe, is it?”

There is a growing worldwide trend towards gender segregated public transportation, but it is interesting to note that while women do not have to use women-only carriages, in transit systems such as Cairo’s and Osaka’s in Japan, no legal sanction can be taken against men who enter women-only carriages. In addition, it is important to mention that women-only train carriages are usually located at the very end of the train. This forces women to walk the length of the train in order to access them. What’s even more problematic is that women-only train carriages are not available on all trains and/or at all times of the day. They are usually only provided during rush hours. This raises questions about the efficacy behind integrating such design features if they are not backed with legal force or with an adequate semblance of consistency.

I contend that the design of the Cairo metro not only transfigured the city, but also significantly transformed gender politics within the country. From the interviews I conducted, I got the sense that though women-only trains are appreciated, women still worry that they may only enhance divisions between the sexes and even worse, prevent necessary action to government policies aimed at designing more welcoming, safer and more inclusive public spaces. I would argue that Egyptians are only just beginning to acknowledge their city’s positive transformative urbanism and as such, are still contending and grappling with what its consequences may mean for their society. Debates over gender discrimination and sexual assault are no longer taboo issues in the country. This, in and of itself, illustrates the transformative power of the women-only carriages and how this design feature can be perceived as both a measure of moral progress and a move towards more inclusive urban development in Cairo. Now that women-only carriages have been used to encourage public engagement, other aspects of the city can be analysed in order to continue redesigning and positively transforming both societal and institutional relationships within Cairo.

Originally published on The Global Urbanist

Design and Storytelling at Cumulus Conference on Design Culture in Milan

Pearl Diver_Poster_WEB_4

This June, at the Milan Cumulus conference, I had the pleasure of speaking with colleagues from around the world about how literature—stories in which objects and places act as protagonists—can offer fresh perspectives on design. Mine was just one contribution to a larger discussion organized around the role of narrative in design for social innovation—a conversation organized by Elisa Bertolotti, Heather Dam, Francesca Piredda and Virginia Tassinari. All of them have become treasured colleagues and partners in future collaborations.

Elisa Bertolotti, Heather Dam, Francesca Pileddi, Virginia Tassinari

This summer, Elisa, Heather, Francesca, and Virginia will release their first collection of essays on design and storytelling entitled The Pearl Diver, published by DESIS Philosophy. (For a preview of my article in that collection, see: http://www.cd-cf.org/articles/the-literature-of-political-things-and-places/)

Ezio Manzini, Scientific Chair

Our session on Storytelling and Design was just one facet of the conference theme conceived by conference chair Ezio Manzini. Ezio asked us to examine the dynamic between culture and design in light of the changes in practice today. Questions were raised by Manzini about issues of rupture and continuity with the past. He suggested that in rethinking the culture of design today, we might learn both from the individual genius of Leonardo da Vinci, and from the work of groups such as Collecting Cultures, whose impressive director Anna Detheridge was among the opening night speakers as well. (See: http://www.annalindhfoundation.org/members/connecting-cultures)

Self-portrait and Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1490

The introduction of the 15/16th-century Italian polymath into the conversation about the future and culture of design was startling (even in an Italian context). For surely, Manzini is not a traditionalist or remotely nostalgic. My own reaction (which may not or may not reflect the tenor of the conference) was that as design pursues its righteous and necessary ambition to address pressing social and environmental problems, the activity of private reflection has come to be tainted with elitism. Our urge to be social may be at risk of endangering the nurturing possibilities of retreat.

Detail of poster wall at Storytelling and Design

Taking a break while being part of the conversation

Clearly, the pendulum of design culture needs to oscillate between the two states. Moreover, some of us have greater affect working alone for long periods of time before joining the wonderfully messy fray of democratic exchange that is design for social justice. At least this is my defense as I begin my sabbatical this July and embark on the hermetic project of writing the book that the Storytelling and Design session took me one step closer to formulating—A Literature of Places and Things: Reading and Writing Design.

Susan Yelavich

Veronica Uribe Del Aguila’s Valedictory Address to the Class of 2015


So, Design Studies… You are probably asking yourselves what is Design studies. Well…I don’t have an easy, straightforward answer to this question. However, this is what I can tell you after two years of studying design.

Think about the fork you used to eat yesterday’s lunch. Yes, the fork. Just …go with it.

Think about how its shape and size fit perfectly in your mouth and hand—so perfectly that you almost did not pay attention to it until I asked you to think about it.

Now think about how this shape and size determines the amount of food you eat in every bite, hence how you eat and how meals occur.

That…. is design studies.


Now think about the materials and the process in which this fork was produced. Was it part of an assembly line that involved a system of mass production and distribution, and in that sense, considers labor and environmental issues?

Or is it the outcome of a relation that evolved over time between an individual or a community with a material and a craft?

All of these processes and the status they have in the market are also design studies.

Think about chopsticks and how both forks and chopsticks are elements of cultural practices that keep changing and redefining themselves.

Think about how these items can easily be linked to national narratives and to collective identities as symbols. And how they can help sediment or challenge given power relations.

That…. is… also design studies.


Think also of the designer who, via the fork, expressed her ideas regarding who we are and how we should eat.

Also think about the person that purchases this fork (and probably the spoon and knife, I mean the whole set). Think, too, how this act of consumption allowed her to define her identity: to express some sense of uniqueness.

And think about the trucks, the stores, the freezers and the vegetable stands that feed the fork, and the people who use it.

Guess what… that is also design studies.


Finally…forget the fork and think about streets, buildings and cities. Think about services and infrastructures; think about technologies and games.

All that I brought up about the fork applies to any design, any thing, That a thing is more than a thing. Think of design as systems or assemblages that change over time.

That these systems and the nodes that make up the systems never act alone; that they are always part of bigger networks that include other objects and humans.

Think now about all the possible assemblages that have not yet been designed; think about what design could be.

That is also design studies.


On behalf of my classmates I want to thank Jilly, Susan, Clive and Barbara for helping us carry forward this two-year conversation about design.

To all our teachers: thank you for joining this conversation. To our fellow students in our program and other programs: thank you for helping us to keep the conversation going beyond classes.

I personally want to thank Jilly, Susan and Clive for the long conversations and the many times I left their offices even more confused that when I got there; because confusion is an obligatory step in the way to understanding.

I want to thank Michelle and Ethan for the opportunity they gave me to teach. It was challenging, terrifying and ultimately incredibly rewarding. I also want to thank my family and friends for supporting me in so many different ways.

And last but not the least, I want to thank my classmates and now friends because you made it possible and you made it fun.

Thank you and Congratulation to you all!

Announcing the publication of PLOT(S) Journal of Design Studies, Issue 2


The Design Studies Classes of 2015 and 2016 are pleased to announce the publication of the second issue of Plot(s), a peer reviewed, student-edited and produced journal exploring the plurality of design studies.

Access PDF here: PLOT(S)

“What’s Funny About This? Design and Process”

Estefania Acosta, Laura Sanchez, and Misha Volf, Class of 2016

Designerly WIT discoure-fantastic

Fry on you Funny about This

Pong-ticate What's Funny About This_

The Body What's Funny_

Student Profiles



Daisy Lei, Class of 2017

My name is Lei Qionglu (“Daisy” for friends). I was born in Changsha, a city located in Southern China famous for its spicy cuisine. I attended university in Shanghai and gained a Bachelor’s degree on Fashion Design and Engineering. After graduation, I worked as a PR manager for both women luxury and commercial brands. At a certain point, my job started to involve more complicated tasks and thus required more sophisticated project management skills. Therefore, three years after I joined the workforce, I acquired a PMP certificate to improve my professional efficiency. During the past two years, I worked on creative projects with designers with various expertise and backgrounds and also dealt with clients ranging from national financial organizations to independent local companies. I decided to pursue graduate studies because my working experiences made me realize that a much deeper understanding of design, not only as craftsmanship but also as a cultural and social phenomenon, would provide many more opportunities for my future career.

So here I am. I have chosen Parsons because of its stellar reputation in the design industry, of its attractive location in the heart of New York City and, more importantly, of the brilliant cohort whom I will be working with and learning from. My personal interests lie primarily in the fusion of local cultural elements with the global aesthetics in the fashion industry and also in interior design. I plan to focus on the Asian market, with the hope of applying my research to practical cases in my home country.

Stephen Dahmer

Stephen Dahmer, Class of 2017

Identifying primarily as a songwriting, I have been fortunate to spend much of thelast eight years involved with projects that have broadened my understanding of the use of different media to create spaces for cultural critique and engagement. These endeavors include: the use of various art forms to raise awareness of and initiate focused engagement with environmental issues; music as a catalyst for the formation of meaningful social spaces that foster fraternal bonds, most prominently in the use of a household for a concert or community sing-a-long; and the use of site-specific theater to creatively promote a yearning for dialogue and civic engagement within a community. Each of these experiences has given me greater insight into the power of art to create spaces where folks can come together to dream and imagine new forms of community engagement and cultural identity.

My educational experience thus far includes: a liberal arts degree with emphases in philosophy/religion, sociology, and social work; a semester spent in the Middle East studying politics, religion, and culture; classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in figure drawing, painting, and portraiture; workshops with Philadelphia Theater of the Oppressed; and an apprenticeship with Fennec Design Studio in Harrisburg, PA. I have spent time working as an assistant pre-school teacher in West Philly, in restaurants and coffee shops, and on a small organic farm in Central Oregon. I am currently working on a short film, reading, recording new music, and dreaming about spending the next two years studying in New York. See you all soon!


Apoorva Gairola, Class of 2017

My name is Apoorva Gairola. I currently live in New Delhi, India and have been working here as a stylist and writer for a while. I graduated in journalism and mass communication but working for fashion magazines and in advertising, most of my work is in visual media. I am a fan of still and moving images, I love fashion and arts and everything old school captivates me.

I love stories. I did write a few short ones as a kid and the process of stories coming alive is truly intriguing. It starts with a thought, is then penned down in words and then the words take form and we have a visual. The better the design process, the better the end product. I have immense faith in the impact of visual communication on the society. Creative direction/ visual storytelling is what I aim to venture into but the the more I read about design thinking, the more excited I get about the new avenues that Parsons will open up for me.

I am living a dream here… studying at Parsons, living in New York! I am excited and look forward to meeting everyone.




Lisa Merk, Class of 2017

I was born in northern Germany. After I graduated from school, I went to the Dominican Republic for a year. 2005 I started an apprenticeship as an Event Manager in Hamburg and started to work as a project manager in planning and implementation of various event types. Soon I was promoted to the Unitleader for major events. After 3.5 years of working, I decided to apply for a program in Design. Since 2011 I study Design at the University of Applied Sciences Muenster. My main focus lies within product design. In 2013 I studied in Lisbon/Portugal for eight month.

Alongside my studies I work as a tutor in the in the International Office and for one of the most famous German publishing companies for children’s books, games, and toys.

During my studies I took part in competitions, which I was able to pass successfully. My latest successful competition was the IKEA Design Award. Besides my studies I like to travel to places where I can go surfing. These journeys often create part of the base of my designs.

This July I will end my Bachelor Studies in Product Design. I love this field but I believe, that we can create even better designs if we understand the background. That’s why I choose the Design Studies MA.

Fattori Fraser, Class of 2017

Originally from Manchester, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution and the inspiration for Marx and Engels, I am attuned to seeing the way that modes of production affect people, and how Design plays a seminal role in these relationships.

Fresh out of my Bachelors degree in the History of Art at Oxford University, I am ready and rearing to transition from the study of art to the world of design. I am interested in psychological spaces, both the interior and exterior, and how they relate to wider socioeconomics. I am also interested in how this relates to issues of gender and class.

In the past my research has focused on the indigenous designs of the Balearics and their influ- ence on both Catalan and global Modernism. My paper on this subject is set to become my first published work.

I am also interested in Scandinavian design, for its unity of aesthetic and social progressivist prin- ciples. In the future, I endeavour for my work to highlight the social potential of design in the 21st century, building on such principles.

Most importantly, my Masters at Parsons will provide me with a spring-board by which to enact real social change. I hope my work will one day have an impact on the public sphere. Finally, I am very excited about future collaborative opportunities with other students.



Shea Mandolesi, Class of 2017

Originally from Toronto, Ontario, I’ve been living in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the past four years. Just this past spring, I’ve graduated from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. I received a Bachelor of Design with a focus in Interdisciplinary Design. My skills lie within graphic, product, and system design. NSCAD University has given me a great understanding of design thinking, and how proper execution shapes everything around us. When deep thought and high value are introduced in work, the world takes notice.

My intention of continuing studies at Parsons is to explore the possibilities of challenging our attitude towards animals, with design methodology. Heavily involved in animal rights activism and research for some time, I’ve only grown more of a desire to dedicate my practice to benefit all kind. Through my own personal experience of being a grass-roots activist, I’ve taken notice of trends in negativity not only towards the vegetarian community, but animals as well. The connections between animals, the environment, and us are undeniable; a regular theme I bring in to my work. I don’t believe design can only be limited to humans and society. Now is the time to really consider our relationship with all nature in our design. This way, the hopes of restoring balance, and creating a better future is reachable.

Traveling is very important to me. The entirety of all populations carries an infinite amount of knowledge and opportunity to learn. The most valuable trips are those in which I find compassion. I’ve had great volunteer- ing experiences in Cambodia and Tanzania. In Cambodia, I worked at an orphanage building infrastructure, working in rice fields, teaching english classes and of course playing with the children. In Tanzania, I worked at a school, building classrooms, farm in villages and enjoying time with students. Two very different countries, where I learned an incredible amount about each of their histories, and the warmness of the locals. A part from my volunteering overseas, my leisurly travels have always opened my eyes to history, art, and the kindness of strangers.

I look forward to arrive in New York this fall, my favourite city in the world. I’m equally excited to connect with my peers. Sharing ideas and collaboration really leads to incredible things.

Leticia Bio Picture-min

Leticia Cartier Oxley, Class of 2017

My name is Leticia Cartier Oxley and I am a city walker, architectural photographer, and creative thinker. I approach big ideas using my philosophic training and background to create images and essays that show how human experience is expressed and experienced through the creation and interaction with our environment. I focus on minuscule details, such as color and texture, to show the character of the place.

My education has been a long lineage of city-walkers, from Socrates to Virginia Woolf, who have shown me how the city holds the quicksilver of human consciousness and the many virtues that city life gives to the individual. I believe our participation in city life reflects the happiness and wisdom of our soul.  My Jesuit education has helped me understand various world views and broadened my perspective to consider what is good and how I may be a service to others, which is what brings me to study design. I find that the philosophic nature of design is often overlooked. My goal is to delve into this design community to expand and clarify my own understanding of design, our need for it, how it can give people agency, and bring some of that back to my community.

Student Spotlight: James Laslavic of Design Studies Spends Semester at NASA Ames Research Center

By Jennifer Soong

James Laslavic is a second-year student in the MA Design Studies program. He is currently working on his thesis, Conditions of Design: Outer Space and Future Technologies, at the NASA Human Systems Integration Division, where he will be for the next four months thanks to funding from the San Jose State University Research Foundation. Laslavic began his collegiate career as a Web Design major at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco before transferring to Carnegie Mellon and earning a B.A. in Communication Design with a minor in Ethics. He has been working as a freelance communication designer since 2007, and has worked on projects such as a campaign for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and an At-Home Pesticide Check. Laslavic was a User Experience Design Intern at Fuzzy Math, a Chicago interaction design consultancy, last summer, where he did research and designed for clients such as the Chicago Architecture Foundation and Datamyx.

Recently, Laslavic corresponded with Insights and offered to share a series of photographs documenting his first month and a half at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. He has given us permission to reproduce the following images.

NASA Ames has all kinds of impressive architecture, especially past the high security gate. The buildings purport to be “pure engineering” but in reality exhibit stylistic choices that express the construction era’s influence and the values of the NASA Ames community. Seen here is one of several enormous wind tunnels used for aerodynamics tests.

NASA Wind Tunnel

NASA Wind Tunnel

Laslavic notes that this even larger wind tunnel continues for approximately an entire regular North American street block in both directions.

Laslavic points out the wind tunnel’s enormity relative to the depicted vehicles.

Laslavic points out the wind tunnel’s enormity relative to the depicted vehicles.

On site at NASA, Laslavic visits one of the institution’s housed precision cranes.

Precision Crane

Precision Crane

NASA Ames is located at Moffett Field in Mountain View, which was and still is an airbase also used by the Navy and, to a lesser extent, the Air Force. Pictured here is a T-38 Talon on display at the Moffett Airfield Museum located on base. It was one of the jets used as a regular part of the training for all NASA astronauts. The structure behind it was once a hangar for Air Force zeppelins.

Laslavic spoke with Commander Reid Wiseman, an active duty NASA astronaut recently returned from the International Space Station (ISS), after Wiseman’s presentation on his experience and observations during his last mission. Commander Wiseman may well be using James’ design during his next mission.

Laslavic and Wiseman

Laslavic and Wiseman

Susan Yelavich speaks at RISD/Brown symposium on Critical Design


On April 24th, Susan Yelavich joined colleagues at RISD and Brown University at a symposium organized by Damian White (History, Philosophy + The Social Sciences, RISD) and Ian Gonsher (Engineering, Brown Universitiy) on “Critical Design/Critical Futures.” Through a series of panels and workshops, as well as an online publication, the event explored critical design, design activism, and design-led social innovation. Yelavich presented her research on literature as an untapped mode of design research and study.

Jilly Traganou Awarded Prestigious Grant from Design History Society


The School of ADHT is proud to announce that this past March, Jilly Traganou received a Design History Society grant in support of her book publication Designing the Olympics.  Designing the Olympics looks at the “Olympic Design Milieu” to ask questions on the relations of design with national identity and citizenship. The book is based on an understanding of Olympic design from 1896 to our days, and focuses on the period from post-WWII to the present. It looks at Olympic design in different geographical and political contexts: the graphic design program for Tokyo 1964, spatial planning for Athens 2004, brand design for London 2012, and a broader analysis of material practice of Olympic dissent in the context of the Mexico 1968, Vancouver 2010, and London 2012 Olympics.

For Traganou, the Olympics is an important nexus where material culture becomes a vehicle for the development of new national values and forms of citizenship. Using primary research material collected in archives (Olympic Museums of Lausanne, Tokyo and Sarajevo, online databases of newspapers and other institutions), and through interviews with designers and other Olympic constituents, she hopes to use the grant for the compilation of the book’s index.

Original post from Insights.

Design Studies Students Intern at Metropolis


The New York-based architecture and design magazine, Metropolis (metropolismag.com), covers the full spectrum of design with a critical perspective and a long standing tradition of highlighting the potential of design with the arenas of politics, culture, social justice, and sustainability.

Parsons MA Design Studies program has been fortunate to place several interns over the past everal years: Dora Sapunar, Class of ’14; Komal Sharma, Class of 15′; and Estefania Acostica, Class of 16′. EAch of them share their experiences below. Internships are important opportunities encouraged by the Design Studies program for the ways in which they enable students to transfer the knowledge gained within an academic setting to a workplace environment. Metropolis offers an ideal complement to the Design Studies program’s critical interdisciplinary approach to the consequences and possibilities of design.

dora-cropped IMG_7050

Dora Sapunar, Class of 2014

I interned at Metropolis in the summer of 2013. The internship included doing research for magazine features, attending events and exhibitions—from the Le Corbusier exhibition at the MoMA to the FitCity Conference at the AIA Center for Architecture—as well as writing blog posts on any and all topics that I was interested in. My favorite projects included helping with research on gender inequality in architecture for the infographics supporting Alexandra Lange’s article Architecture’s Lean In Moment (http://www.metropolismag.com/July-August-2013/Architectures-Lean-In-Moment/) and writing about James Turrell’s sublime exhibition at the Guggenheim (http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/July-2013/The-Temple-of-Spirit/). Working with Metropolis editors was a great learning experience (not to mention very fun!) and I’m still always excited to contribute to the magazine.

komalmetropolis cake

Komal Sharma, Class of 2015

The few months I spent at Metropolis magazine was a great learning experience. It offered a terrific opportunity to learn how to write clearly and quickly. The experience helped me to be connected with what’s happening in the city, and there’s always a lot happening. I was able to go to exhibitions, write about them, interview designers. The Contemporary International Furniture Fair (ICFF) and New York Design week happened during my time at the magazine, and I was able to attend those events, meet people, and write. At Metropolis, it’s really about how much can you do, how much do you want to do. The team–Paul Makovsky, Avinash Rajagopal, Shannon Sharpe, and Samuel Medina–are fantastic and always happy to guide you. Even after my internship ended, I have continued to ask them for freelance work, and they’ve always responded with opportunities. The day I was leaving, I was moved by their friendship. They surprised me with a cake!


Estefania Acosta, Class of 2016

The office of Metropolis magazine houses a surprisingly small team. The office environment consists of shelves full of magazines and books and mountains of papers. I’ve been an intern in the editorial department for about a month, now. Thankfully, the majority of the work is researching and writing. When that’s not the case, it’s usually because there’s an interview that needs to be transcribed. It takes a lot of time, but I enjoy it—the last one I did was with an association that promotes unknown female architects. Before that, I listened to a very passionate conversation with the head of a company that designs toilets. The opportunities to learn, needless to say, are plentiful. The magazine itself is a great source of information for designers and architects. Being able to contribute to the content is a great experience in making thing concise and learning to let your writing go. Editing is important, but I’ve only recently learned when to stop—the deadline.

Matter(ing) by Design Symposium


Register for Matter(ing) by Design at:

New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America

by Mae Wiskin


Last week, a few fellow first year MA Design Studies students and I went to The Museum of Arts and Design to see their latest exhibit: New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America. We are all taking the same participatory curatorial design course with Professor Nitin Sawhney titled, “Co-Lab: Curatorial Design and Media Practices: Guatemala Después,” which is a weekly studio that explores the culture of curatorial practice with a particular focus on the subversive contemporary art scene in Guatemala. The focal point of the Co-Lab revolves around theGuatemala Despues project which critically reflects upon the political, economic and cultural influences between the U.S. and Guatemala through the multi-disciplinary lens of creative practitioners from both locations. 
New Territories is a deftly designed exhibit that examines how the state of creating in today’s globalized society has inspired a convergence of art, design and craft, within several distinctive cities throughout Latin America, where some of the most influential directions in design are developing. It is a dynamic and thought-provoking exhibition and all of the pieces speak to various issues that are manifesting themselves in compelling ways within most parts of the region, from commodification and production, to urbanization, collective memory and sustainability. It’s an incredibly thoughtfully laid out display that also artfully blends craft, tradition, and new technological innovations. The exhibit’s strength lies in its subtle ability to transcend regionalism and national identity. New Territories will be at MAD until April 5th and is well worth a visit; its an ideal space to feel good lost. 
Additional information about Guatemala Despues and its joint exhbitions and public programming can be found at the following link: 
(New York City (Sheila Johnson Design Center) from April 9-29, 2015 & Ciudad de la Imaginación in Quetzaltenango in June 2015)


Are we just reflections of ourselves?

by Kate Moyer

I was in Paris in January and was especially moved by Olafur Elliason’s exhibition Contact for the way in which it dissolves our individual relation to time and space.  Elliason’s piece orchestrates a journey through unique rooms that aim to distort and question what is real or a reflection. The above image is taken from a walled room of mirrors, which projects and enlarges the shape of body.


Special lecture: How Does Mapping Make Up the World?


Join us for a special lecture:

“How Does Mapping Make Up the World?”

Visiting Professor Peter Hall
Design Department Head, Griffith University Queensland College of Art, Brisbane, Australia

Tuesday, February 10th @ 5:00PM
Hirshon Suite: Room 205 in Arnold Hall (55 W. 13th Street)

Please RSVP by contacting Jenn Soong (soongj@newschool.edu)

Save the date: Matter(ing) by Design


Deadline extended: Plot(s) Call for Submission

The submission deadline has been extended from January 20th to January 26th!

Please send submissions by January 26th, 2015 via e-mail to plotsparsons@gmail.com

Notice of acceptance/request for revisions: February

For any questions, please contact plotsparsons@gmail.com

Plot(s) Call for Submission Deadline: January 20th, 2015


Plot(s) Journal of Design Studies                                           Deadline: January 20th, 2015

Heroes, Heretics and Hoarders

In a designed world defined by paradox, duplicity and ultimate possibility, where do you stand?

In the quest to “solve” the world’s most pressing challenges, are designers problem seekers, solvers, or makers? There’s been a global paradigm shift. In today’s dynamic social climate designers feel a sense of ethical responsibility. However, all actions bear unintended consequences. Considering this, how does design produce heroes, heretics, and hoarders? This edition aims to explore these issues whilst also answering the questions raised by design studies.

  • Do things and technologies shape humans, or do we shape them?
  • How can the agency of things contribute to human pain?
  • Why do we design and for whom?
  • How do things mediate our interactions with the world?
  • How are we socially conditioned by designed things?
  • How do we delegate our morality to things?

Plot(s) Journal of Design Studies is an annual publication edited and produced by members of the Design Studies department. It is a student-run journal at Parsons the New School for Design, which aims to articulate the ways in which myriad forms of design practice shape and transform the human experience. We are seeking academic writing, fiction, non-fiction and visual narratives, artwork, and projects to be published in the second edition coming out Spring 2015. Submissions are open to students, recent graduates and practitioners affiliated (or not) with any institution.


Submission Guidelines:

Submissions should be between 500-1,200 words, with the inclusion of up to four images.

Photo essays or visual narratives can include up to 8 images.


Required :

All references must be properly cited as endnotes and formatted in Chicago style, upon submission.

Images must be at least 300 dpi, must have copyright permissions, and include captions.

Authors are encouraged to include a one-line bio with their submission(s).

Up to 3 pieces may be submitted for consideration.


Please send submissions by January 20th, 2015 via e-mail to plotsparsons@gmail.com

Notice of acceptance/request for revisions: February

For any questions, please contact plotsparsons@gmail.com

MA Design Studies and “Matter(ing)” at Carnegie Mellon University and Fallingwater

By Mae Wiskin

The first thing I thought upon landing in Pittsburg was how much I wished I had packed gloves. I was freezing, but also completely enlivened by the fact that November had already come and it was finally time to participate in a symposium I had been looking forward to since the start of fall semester. From November 7 – 9, Parsons The New School for Design – Design Studies masters students collaborated with the doctoral candidates of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design on a workshop concerning ‘Mattering.’ More specifically, students from both Universities discussed and delved into the notion of “(How design makes) What matters (Matter for us).”


Parsons Design Studies MA students Mae Wiskin and Rachel Smith enacting a scenario of delegated morality by design at the Matter(ing) workshop at Carnegie Mellon University.


The one-day symposium explored the dynamic interactions between human behavior and information technologies, as well as the multidimensional relationship designed objects share with the concept of morality. Prior to arriving at CMU, each of us was asked to come up images of twenty things that “delegated morality,” things such as seatbelts, security devices, and automatic timers that regulate energy consumption. Once I was able to wrap my head around how we delegate our moral agency to things, I could not maneuver through New York City without constantly noting such objects. It became a sort of game and encouraged me to question what it means to be human in an increasingly monitored, digital world. The issues we explored over the course of the symposium paved the way for a larger scale design thinking conference that will be held at Parsons in March 2015.

Once the workshop ended, everyone slowly parted ways and disappeared into the cold Pennsylvania air to enjoy the pleasures of Pittsburgh on a Saturday night. The discourse presented at the symposium was intellectually rigorous; I left Carnegie Mellon feeling invigorated and excited to explore the notion of ‘mattering’ further.

Parsons MA DS Students at Fallingwater. Back row, l to right: Laura Sanchez, Mae Wiskin, Susan Yelavich, Misha Volf, Olly Bolton, Estefania Acosta, Laura Wing; middle row: Micki Unterberg, Rachel Smith, Sonja Holopainen, Quizayra Gonzales; front row: James Laslavic, Gene Duval, Maggie Lin, Juan Pablo Pemberty, Veronica Uribe.

Parsons MA DS Students at Fallingwater. Back row, l to right: Laura Sanchez, Mae Wiskin, Susan Yelavich, Misha Volf, Olly Bolton, Estefania Acosta, Laura Wing; middle row: Micki Unterberg, Rachel Smith, Sonja Holopainen, Quizayra Gonzales; front row: James Laslavic, Gene Duval, Maggie Lin, Juan Pablo Pemberty, Veronica Uribe.

The following morning, before returning to New York, our energetic director, Susan Yelavich, treated us all to a trip to visit Fallingwater (1934-39), a very rare home built over a waterfall by America’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a beautiful crisp autumn day and the modernist icon was absolutely awe-inspiring. We all left rejuvenated and ready to return to the city with a fresh sense of perspective and energy. The trip was really special and reminded me not only how lucky I am to be a member of a program that encourages disruptive and innovative thought, but also, that it was time to buy winter gloves.

Upcoming Design Forum Events

11.6 meeting flier
THURSDAY, Nov 6th // 7 PM
University Center, Room 201
Get a behind-the-scenes look at “How Things Don’t Work,” the Victor Papanek exhibit currently on view in the Kellen Gallery on campus.
Students from MFA Transdisciplinary Design who participated in the development of the exhibition will share their experience collaborating with the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, creating their contributions, and what they hope the format and content of the exhibition will provoke.
11.13 meeting flier
THURSDAY, Nov 13 // 7 PM
University Center, Room 201
This week, Design Forum invites you to join in the discussion of the food industry, food design, and culinary businesses. MS Strategic Design & Management students Romy Raad and Natalie Neumann will present on their blogging venture and MA Design Studies student Yoko Wang will discuss her research.
Rad&Neu will lead a brainstorming session on how food can be used as a catalyst for productivity, creativity,and community.


MA Design Studies Student Speaks on Policy and Design in London

By MA Design Studies Candidate, Jhen-Yi Lin

Jhen-Yi Lin blogpost photo2

Photo courtesy of Lin

How might design provide a new approach to inform public policy planning and implementation? And what brings designers and public policy makers to sit at the same table and discuss social issues?

On September 4, 2014, I presented an academic paper “Design Capabilities in the Public Sector” at 19th Design Management Conference, which was held in London by Design Management Institute. With its definition expanded by the knowledge of design history, political science, sociology, anthropology and management, it appears that the meaning of design is changing and widening from creating an artifact to using artifacts in a broader context to drive behavioral change. In the first year of Design Studies program, I was challenged to rethink everything in my everyday life, from a chair, a potato-peeler, an iPhone, to a subway map diagram and the natural and artificial world that we all live within. I was challenged to depart from tangible and familiar forms of objects and dive into intangible and unfamiliar internal structures and intentions that were embedded in objects.

In trying to understand the essence of design, my research has led me to think about the relationship between design and public policy. Not just public policy for the design industry, but more importantly, the design of public policy, public organizations, city-level systems and management, that, on one hand are so intangible, yet on the other, so close to our everyday life. The paper I presented in London—based on thinking design at a systems level, human- centered value and design capabilities—tries to explore a common ground, to bring design communities and public policy makers to work together to improve social causes and address long-term public policy effectiveness.

Approaching public policy as design artifact provides a new avenue to rethink capabilities of design. I used the Transport for London as one of case studies and illustrate four attributes that design artifacts and public policy share. Both public policy and design artifacts exist within constraints and boundaries, form their task structures hierarchically, rely heavily on negotiation between process and incommensurability, and synthesize their outcomes from components and resources. In this case, the transport system made a good example to illustrate how public service has been designed to meet everyday needs. Everything from the tube map, street signs on the road, different mechanisms to guide pedestrians and vehicles—just to name a few— jointly provide a synthesis to carry millions of passengers across the city every day.

Design Forum: Fall 2014 Sharing Sessions

Animation by Cindy Suen and Skip Dolphin Hursh

Network. Collaborate. Learn.

1 Presentation + 1 Workshop +  1 Moderator

Design Forum Fall Sharing Sessions will provide a platform to present and workshop current student research. Graduate students from programs across all divisions of The New School are welcome and encouraged to participate and provide feedback. Join us at our first session to hear more about how to sign up to run a workshop, present your research, or moderate the discussion. While the task of the presenters will be to engage the group in a lively discussion on the subject matter, the forum will serve as a resource of interdisciplinary critique and debate of issues raised and topics addressed. Students are encouraged to share misunderstandings, confusions, and difficulties as well as working techniques and insights.

Join us for our first meeting!
Thursday, September 25th, 7:30pm
80 Fifth Ave., Room 802

Refreshments will be served. 

About Design Forum

The purpose of the Design Forum is to convene graduate students across all divisions of The New School interested in furthering design discourses as they relate to design practice and the field’s social, political, and economic contexts. The Design Forum shall serve as a primary vehicle for actively facilitating interdisciplinary dialogue about design-related issues.

Design Practices & Paradigms

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 8.30.09 PMAssociate Professor Susan Yelavich, Director of the MA Design Studies program, taught a new course entitled Design Practices & Paradigms in the Spring 2013 semester. The inaugural MA Design Studies cohort put together a booklet featuring three case studies as a prototype for an extended publication of research on the changing nature of design practice.

Members of the inaugural MA Design Studies explored the following questions:

What does the scope, structure and content of practice reveal about the state of design and the ambitions of design today? What does it mean to run an architecture practice that is inspired by the ways people build their homes and cities during times of extreme political crisis? How does a media designer transform his studio into a research-led enterprise that focuses on the needs of diverse communities around the world? What does it mean to make people fashion-able vs. fashionable?

In this course, students studied a particular designer’s approach to production, collaboration, and authorship as well as the social and intellectual context that shaped the designer’s projects and values. Students were provided with readings about various modes and philosophies of design today. They did independent research, conducted interviews, and produced concept maps of their designer’s process and practice. The semester culminated in the production of a research paper that offered a critical perspective on the contributions, values, and questions raised by the modes of practice they studied.

Click here for full text.

Student Spotlight: James Laslavic


MA Design Studies Candidate James Laslavic

Second-year MA Design Studies student James Laslavic recently finished an invaluable summer internship at Fuzzy Math, a respected interaction design consultancy in Chicago. Before he left, they interviewed him about how he applies what he’s learned so far in Design Studies to his practice of interaction design, and what he hopes to bring back to Parsons from his time at Fuzzy Math. The full interview can be read on the Fuzzy Math blog.


Photo Courtesy of Fuzzy Math


Photo Courtesy of Fuzzy Math

Fuzzy Math: I know you’re currently in grad school – What is the degree you’re seeking?

James Laslavic: I’m halfway into earning my Master of Arts in Design Studies at Parsons The New School for Design in New York. To give a brutally short summary, the term “design studies” embodies a discipline that researches and critically examines the methods, theories, history, and potential futures of design. It also looks at how design affects and is affected by other fields and the world at large.

FM: How will your internship at Fuzzy Math apply to your studies?

JL: The field of design studies is currently composed mostly of non-designers, so I think that taking things from design practice (Fuzzy Math) back to designs studies is especially important. My own practice is interaction design, so that’s the particular branch that I focus on in design studies. I want to connect high-level design theory and ground-level design decisions for the benefit of academics and practitioners alike.

FM: Now the reverse: How will you apply what you’re studying to what you’re working on at Fuzzy Math?

JL: For a long time, I mistakenly thought that “human-centered design” just meant advocating for the wants and needs of users, and that “goal-directed design” just meant making sure design decisions were based on how well they’d meet objectives. I used techniques like wireframes, personas, and design principle lists to explore and explain solutions. About a year ago, I realized that the big thing I was missing was how these methods could (and should!) be used to methodically determine and filter the goals themselves. Human-centered design and goal-directed design are as much about setting aside the wrong goals as they are about pursuing the right ones. While at Fuzzy Math this summer, I’ve had a chance to see how my interaction design chops benefit from what I’ve been exposed to during the first half of my masters program. What I’ve found so far is that design studies is providing me with an especially rigorous approach to identifying the factors that actually matter when determining goals, making design decisions based on the resulting goals, and assessing how well my methods serve those decisions.


MA Design Studies Orientation Events

The MA Design Studies program welcomed its third cohort with a series of Orientation events designed to introduce everyone to Parsons, the New School, and New York City; and, most of all, to get to know each other a bit before diving into classes. The week began on Monday, August 18th, with official welcomes, followed by informal introductions, toasts, and a wide-ranging conversation with professors Clive Dilnot and Jilly Traganou at Director Susan Yelavich’s loft in Soho.

Appropriately for a program that explores values and ideologies embodied by design, on Tuesday we visited the Guggenheim Museum for a guided tour of Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe.

Left to right: Micki Unterberg, Anke Gruendel, Soohee Cho, Gene Duval, Sonja Holopainen, Laura Sancez, Estefania Acosta, Quizayra Gonzales, Laura Belik.

Left to right: Micki Unterberg, Anke Gruendel, Soohee Cho, Gene Duval, Sonja Holopainen, Laura Sancez, Estefania Acosta, Quizayra Gonzales, Laura Belik.

On Wednesday, Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine at the Rubin Museum of Art offered a contemplative respite in the middle of a week of concentrated informational meetings with librarians, archivists and student services administrators.

The day after exploring bodily health at the Rubin, we shifted gears on Thursday and looked at how design can contribute to the health of the city and its residents.  We were hosted at the loft of Marpillero Pollak Architects in Tribeca, by MAP partner Linda Pollak, who shared insights into how she and her partner Sandro Marpillero approach the design of urban open spaces in conjunction with residential architecture, museums, and cultural institutions.  After a conversation that ranged from the efficacy of New York City’s project to plant a million trees to designing for differently abled bodies, we were treated to a tour of MAP’s live-work loft with its own unique network of open spaces.

Thoroughly saturated, but with a better sense of each other and the program they’ve embarked on, the Class of 2016 closed out a week by celebrating with all of  the other new MA and MFA students at a reception on Thursday evening at Parsons—a reception that marked not just the end of Orientation but the beginning of a host of  exciting new academic trajectories.

Left to right: Estfania Acosta, Quizayra Gonzales, Laura Belik in Marpillero Pollak Architects studio.

Left to right: Estfania Acosta, Quizayra Gonzales, Laura Belik in Marpillero Pollak Architects studio.

 Left to right: Architect Linda Pollak, Misha Volf, Quizayra Gonzales

Left to right: Architect Linda Pollak, Misha Volf, Quizayra Gonzales

Student Profiles

Estefania Acosta

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 5.58.29 PM

I’m here because my education as an industrial designer has led me to believe that while math is usually referred to as a universal language, design is the universal “action”. I advocate for design in all walks of life, all-inclusive and across the board. As such, I hope to be part of a community that questions its motivations and systemic repercussions. I’m interested in a type of design that changes the behaviors around us for the better, and the ethics behind the process. I also want to explore the possibility of a design theory applicable to social work. I’m concerned by the irrational realities of the world. This is what led me to Design Studies. I’m also here because I want to unify myself, the practical and philosophical drives in me, and I’m glad to be starting this journey in August.

I’m from Mexico, where I’ve spent most of my life. I worked in Aeronautics ever since I graduated, until recently. I love words (reading, writing, looking at them, making them up) and arguing against myself. I like working with my hands, and I wish I was better at it. I’m glad to be meeting all of you soon.

Misha Volf

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 3.19.47 PM

I’m Misha.

Here’s a brief biographical narrative:

I used to make music. Though we perceive it to be immaterial, at its root, sound is a body-scale phenomenon which propagates through physical space. Later, I became interested in the spaces constructed for music and sound, and how those spaces affect our experience. I studied acoustics and applied that knowledge to architecture. I told architects how to make rooms sound better. Sometimes they listened.

Then, I made furniture. At first, because I needed things which I couldn’t buy. Then, because friends wanted things they didn’t want to buy. Then, because making became more rewarding than the thing itself.
My favorite things ask questions. Usually something about me, or about them, or about the room they are in. Sometimes they provide answers.

Now, I hope to spend time thinking about how perception, architecture, and objects affect our environments, bodies, and experiences.

Lisa-Mari Stenhaug

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 3.46.33 PM

I was born and grew up in Norway. Up until now I have lived in Oslo, where I have been working as a graphic designer. For the past year or so, New York has been my second home. I am very excited about moving here and continuing my studies at Parsons. This will be the second time I will be moving overseas -and for the same purpose. I spent three years in Australia pursuing a degree in visual communication. I loved working with typography, colors, compositions and layouts, and could spend hours doing so. Despite my passion for graphic design, I still wanted to study art and fashion, therefore after Australia, I continued my studies at the University of Oslo. It was during these years I got introduced to environmental and social sustainable design processes.

I believe a design process should not only encompass aesthetics and technical specifications, but it should also embrace environmental and social sustainability. I would like to work with design processes that are analytical and critical, in order to create innovative and sustainable designs.

Ivana Garcia

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 3.51.27 PM

My name is Ivana, I’m from Argentina and I’m 29 years old. I am currently living in Córdoba, the place where I grew up. In regards to my studies, I have a BA in Business and I completed my graduate studies in Finance and Balance scorecard but I have always loved art and interior design and dreamed about studying in a university like Parsons.

After I graduated from college, I started working in Deloitte & Touche as a consultant assistant and I ́m currently working in finance and quality control in a Logistics company. My most significant work experience on a personal level was owning a multi-purpose space called “The Endless House” which mixed a little bit of gastronomy, art, design and music. There you could find pieces by some of the most promising Argentine contemporary artists, unique clothes and objects for sale at the store, and listen to performances by independent musicians. While working at The Endless house, I had the opportunity to meet designers, artists and musicians who taught me a different perspective of the world and it helped me realize in what field I wanted to work which is design, more specifically sustainable design.

Regarding my personal interests, through the years I have had the opportunity to travel around the world and I realized how much I enjoy doing it. After I graduated, I went backpacking through Latin America, Europe and Africa and met people from all over the world. So that is why studying in the States gives me the opportunity of meeting new fellows and being in a completely new culture which I’m sure I will enjoy.Even though all my formal education is in Business, I have always been interested in art and design. That is why I strongly believe that an MA in Design Studies will provide me with the knowledge I need to embark in new projects related to sustainable design.

Soohee Cho

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 3.38.53 PM

My name is Soohee Cho. I was born in Seoul, Korea in 1991, moved to southern California in 1997, then to Honolulu, Hawaii in 2004. I graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa as an Art History major/English minor, specializing in Japanese art history.

I am particularly interested in communication design, and how design plays an integral role in the relationship between humans and the world. I have a graphic design and event décor background, and a newfound interest in interior design. I’ve had a million internships, from design and lifestyle magazines to fashion houses to art galleries, and if there is one thing I’ve learned from my varied work experience is that no matter how much you think you know, there’s always much, much more to learn. That’s why I’m here – to learn from the best, with the best of the best.

Looking forward to meeting all of you this fall in our journeys to shape the world.

Laura Sanchez

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 10.45.16 AM

My name is Laura Sanchez. Originally from Oakland, California I’ve spent most of the last six years working in urban development, philanthropy, and digital media. Until recently, I had never fully realized how long design has been a part of my life and core belief system.

As an undergraduate I studied History and World Arts and Cultural Studies at UCLA. Always fascinated by why people behave the way they do, or why societies function as they do– I enjoy interpreting the present through the lens of the past. Through many different experiences, I’ve come to believe that culture and identity are not static concepts, but instead fluid representations of our personal and shared histories.

This appreciation for the past is a large part of what drew me to the Design Studies program. The ability to enter any situation and understand the broader context or underlying forces shaping the present moment is critical for designers. So is the ability to imagine what could be. A bit of a retro-futurist, I’m deeply curious about how our present actions will be judged in 10 years, 100 years, or even longer!

Over the next two years, I look forward to applying my graduate studies to create new products, services, or experiences that draw on the past to imagine a better, more just future.

Quizayra Gonzalez

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 10.43.49 AM

Hello, fellow first years!

One day in 1986, Ramon Gonzalez decided that if he was going to have a daughter he was going to name her Quizayra. My mother agreed and a year later I was born. I am the product of two cultures colliding and everything I do supports that collision.

After a childhood half spent in the Dominican Republic, I attended The University of the Arts and became obsessed with design. I’m still obsessed with design and ecstatic to fuel this obsession in Design Studies. I’m particularly interested in how design manifests itself in a first-generation culture. My Dominican-American world is always in a push and pull scenario and I want to know how design creates/breaks that dynamic. I’m also interested in the culture that products and the ideas behind them create. This interest stems from spending time in the Dominican Republic and seeing how success is equal to the ability to buy American products. I’m excited to dive into Design Studies and explore the thinking behind the making.

I’m trained as a multimedia designer and spent a couple of years working as a graphic designer. Like many artists, I not keen on the corporate world of design but I completely believe in its power to redirect society. I decided to take a break from designing for businesses and started creating my own work. This period of experimentation was more fulfilling than any of my other design jobs and it led me to graduate school. Working for myself brought up questions about art and design that I am excited to work on for the next two years. I truly look forward to meeting all of you because I know each of you will help me answer questions and bring up new ones.

See you in August!

Anke Gründel

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 5.47.54 PM

My name is Anke Gründel. Originally from (East) Berlin, Germany, I have been living in New York for over four years working both as a design practitioner and educator. I have degrees in both fashion design and liberal arts with a focus on philosophy and anthropology (plus four years studying biology). While fashion often understands itself as somewhat removed from other design disciplines, it nonetheless is an important social practice that contributes to shaping individual and group identities. Thus, the artifacts created in fashion, just like in other forms of design, can in a way be understood as physical manifestations of cultural norms. As such, they are snapshots of society at a specific time. They reify certain values of an historical period and preserve them for posterity (here the crinoline, corset, and the Victorian gaze, or even the Italian blackshirt come to mind). As this is true for many fields of design, producing both physical and nonphysical objects, there can be no doubt that design, although it is evidently an umbrella term for a vast array of practices, is of crucial importance in society. Not only is it integral for historical investigations but it also creates artifacts necessary for contemporary social criticism, which may even assist in making potential predictions about future developments to help prevent problems.

While I presently teach fashion design (with a focus on sustainability) at Parsons, I plan to deemphasize my focus on fashion. Perhaps at times touching on fashion’s communicative elements, I want to investigate the relational aspect of different artifacts and different layers of society, the connection such objects have to us, and our coexistence with and dependence on them. Taking inspiration from Heidegger, Butler, Latour, Verbeek, and others, I want to inquire into the increasingly important role of design in our age. How do designers actively and inadvertently contribute to shaping us as individuals and as a society? What role do the artifacts themselves play? What ethical implications does this have for design practitioners, the objects, and their users? How does the role of design for meaning making vary in different cultures?

Ethnocentrism, I believe, is one of the worst features a designer, or anyone for that matter, can have. As practitioners, analysts, researchers, and users of design we need to understand or at least try to become aware of the intricate global connections artifacts have today. In a global economy, in which our choices and actions have consequences for people in many different cultures it is of vital importance to understand differences and similarities so that at worst we do no harm and at best we can help to address disparities.
The possibility of scratching the surface of these matters excites me, and I very much look forward to starting this program.

Mae Wiskin

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 9.57.34 AM

It’s pretty late and I’ve put this on the back shelf of my closet for far too long. Like most folks, I disdain writing about myself, so I’ve decided to use this profile as an opportunity to write a “flash fiction” piece. The only difference between this one and the others I regularly write is that this one happens to be non-fiction. I have thirteen minutes left. My name is Mae Wiskin and I am the product of a tiny but ferociously strong Thai woman and an overly garrulous Russian Jew from Brooklyn. I was born in Bangkok; however, I’ve moved so many times that countries often blur into one another. I have a non-rolly suitcase and sometimes write letters on my Underwood Typewriter because I adore the sound of clicks against ink and paper. I’m a creative writer, but received an honors degree in human rights law from The University of Washington in Seattle. During college I spent a year in Cairo and traveled throughout the Middle East, collecting stories, images and colorful experience. After college, I moved to Mexico to focus on my art whilst also working for a micro-finance organization in Oaxaca. I wish I could write that I’m fluent in Spanish but I’m not. I can speak a lot of languages to a shallow degree including Bemba, which is the tribal language I learned during my time serving as a global health Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, a puzzle-shaped country in southern Africa.

I am moved by all things social justice and art, and I am profoundly excited to pursue a Masters of Design at Parsons because I believe you should never stop learning and following that which makes you truly come alive. As it stands now, I would like to unravel the notion of home, identity and community. I am somewhat obsessed with “cognitive maps,” migration, relocation, interiors and urban planning. Although I am not sure how this passion will manifest itself, I enjoy musing about unexpected homes made of unconventional materials in atypical locations, both nationally and internationally. I believe that every individual is trying to find “their place in the world,” and I would like to use “Design” in order to reimage urban spaces and help people foster community. It is my dream to work for an organization that fuses social justice with art that people use. Time’s up. I look forward to learning from all of you this fall.

Sonja Holopainen


Hello! My name is Sonja Holopainen and I was born and raised in Helsinki, Finland but have lived most of my life in the Bay Area. I just graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz in June with a B.A. in Philosophy as well as a B.A. in Art. In my art major I focused on photography and have done an extensive amount of studio work. In studying philosophy I found myself most attracted to 19th century existential philosophy as well as phenomenology and I am greatly inspired by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Sartre.

My interest in Design Studies stems from that it is a space in which I can combine my two areas of study— philosophy and art. I’m eager to look at art and design from a philosophical perspective and use philosophy to analyze the capabilities of art and design. Even though I have an interest in aesthetics, I wish to move beyond just simple theory and explore the tangible, real consequences of design. I’m especially interested in design that has to do with the daily lives and identities of people, and for example how that is reflected through social media such as Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. I also hope to explore the overlaps between design and fashion design.

I am very excited to start this journey in August and to finally be able to scratch an itch for what I’ve always wanted to explore!

Laura Belik

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 1.57.08 PM


My name is Laura Belik, I’m from São Paulo, Brazil and I’ve recently graduated as an architect and urban planner. I’m passionate about the contemporary cities and its intriguing and complex dialogues. Cities represent an open field of possibilities, and its constant changes are truly a reflex of its society. That’s what challenges me the most.I’ve worked in several different fields besides architecture per se, such as arts, museums and exhibitions, research, teaching, writing, producing cultural events and so on. For my undergraduation final thesis I decided on a research about Urbanism in Detroit, MI and the collapse of modernism. This research
turned into a paper and later on an exhibition that was part of the 10Th of Architecture of São Paulo. For the past 18 months I’ve been working in a multi-media museum called Museu da Imagem e do Som (Image and Sound Museum) in a cinema and audiovisual cultural program. I’ve also focused on a few personal projects such as the “Centro e Sola”, an architectonical guided walk through São Paulo’s city center.
I guess been an architect for me represents the curiosity regarding the cities and its uses. I believe that is a discussion that goes beyond any specific field of research and concern us all. I’m looking forward to the MA in Design Studies to continue in this multi-disciplinary search, creating different perspectives.

Gene Duval

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 5.44.19 PM

My name is Gene, and I am originally from Montreal, QC. My journey as a practitioner started with photography and evolved to all spheres of design. I graduated from Concordia University with a degree in Design in 2013 and since I tried to stay away from the practical aspect of my field. My constant challenging and questioning of my own notions of design could not allow me to be a designer in the traditional sense. As a designer, I could only touch the rim of what it meant to be designing, as an active participant in Design Studies I can take part of the change and affect my surroundings. In this sense, I learn from the places, the people, the differences, and the experiences of all “things” I come across. For myself, design is a primary aspect of the world we live in. It is not to be mistaken for cultural elements, but is rather an agent of culture and language.Since graduation, I have been working in a merchandising company for musical acts trying to take part in an aspect of culture that is constantly changing with the people. I am constantly looking at the bigger picture where design is a small part of the solution or the problem. I am interested in the influence of history and culture in art and design related language and I am interested in the little things that define us culturally. In this sense, I am seeking at enriching my knowledge of the world I live in which at the moment is limited to an understanding of one place and practice. I am thrilled to join this program and take the leap between practice and writing in the hope of finding some answers.

Oliver Bolton

unnamed (1)

Hi everyone! My name is Oliver Bolton and I am an industrial design graduate from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. I am 21 years old and enjoy everything about design. My main motivation for deciding to study at Parsons was the opportunity to live in New York City, a place where design is embedded into the cultural atmosphere. My interests include sound and music, and a lot of my design work thus far has examined the potential for a deeper connection between sound and design. I am also a musician and have been playing guitar and writing music for about 7 years. I have a deep interest in Japanese culture, and have been practicing jiu-jitsu for about a year, which I plan to continue in New York.My background in industrial design has led me to take a relatively product orientated view of design, although I am extremely interested in the nature of design itself and the potential for its future use, which is why I believe that Design Studies is the right course for me. I enjoy constantly learning and believe that research has a large role to play in design. I’ve attached a link to a video about Dieter Rams, the Director of Design of Braun from 1961 – 1995, whom I admire and whose designs I have studied with great interest. His list of ‘ten principles for good design’ are an interesting examination and study of design, and speak volumes about the inherently ethical nature of design. I am really looking forward to moving to New York and meeting everyone in August!


Micki Unterberg

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 1.56.56 PM

Hi! My name is Micki. I was born in America but lived the majority of my life in Israel. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design, with an emphasis on user diversity, I started working for a studio that integrates brand identities with three dimensional commercial presentations (such as trade fairs, corporate events and sponsor’s pavilions). The interaction with the “real world”, i.e. designer vs. marketer/consumer, engendered thoughts regarding the importance and value given towards the designer and his work process. In a world overflowing with conspicuous consumption plus the need for constant changes or upgrades I believe too much is taken for granted. It’s necessary to take the moment to explore, comprehend and properly translate the more theoretical aspects of creating. It takes two to tango in the design world which is why I am interested in new modes of communication, interaction and behavior. I am adept at physically putting two shapes together. It’s the question of “why” which brings me to the MA Design Studies at Parsons, to properly examine and combine theory, methodology and empirical discussions in order to further my future of design practice. I look forward to the next two years and meeting you all!

MA Design Studies Graduates Its First Class!

from left to right, front row: Dora Sapunar, Lindsay Reichart, Chen-Yu Lo, Sarah Lillenberg, Gigi Polo, Tia Remington-Bell; second row: Weiwen Cai, Salem Tsegaye, Kamala Murali, Divia Padayachee.

from left to right, front row: Dora Sapunar, Lindsay Reichart, Chen-Yu Lo, Sarah Lillenberg, Gigi Polo, Tia Remington-Bell; second row: Weiwen Cai, Salem Tsegaye, Kamala Murali, Divia Padayachee.

Congratulations to the first class of Design Studies students to receive their Master of Arts Degree from Parsons. The Class of 2014 produced a rich and diverse range of Capstones, which are listed next to their names below. We, your faculty, wish each and everyone of them all the very best and we look forward to hearing of your future accomplishments.

Susan Yelavich, Associate Professor, Director, MA Design Studies
Clive Dilnot, Professor of Design Studies
Jilly Traganou, Associate Professor, Spatial Stuies

Weiwen Cai
A Vinyl Wall of Dreams: A Critical Appraisal of the Phenomenon and Collection of Adult Toys

Sarah Lillenberg
Navigating Participatory Design through the Cultural Identity of idBrooklyn

Chen-Yu Lo, Cross-School Scholar Award
Service Design for Public Services

Kamala Muralli,
Redrawing the Boundaries of Craft in India

Divia Padayachee
Let’s Talk ‘Unconventional’: The Perception of Design in Mass Media, Post World War II to Present

Lindsay Reichart
The Dispossession of Capital: The Role of Design as Agency

Tia Remington-Bell
Mapping the Gaps From Design Methodology to Design Thinking

Nibera Lluberes Rincon
Osmotic Bubble: Creative Insight by Dint of Synchronized Atmospheres

Dora Sapunar, Departmental Honors
Consuming Socialism: Fairs, Interiors and Identity Formation in Socialist Yugoslavia

Salem Tsegaye, Departmental Honors
Temple to Forum by Design: The Evolution of the Queens Museum’s Social and Spatial Dimensions

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 10.27.29 AM


Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 8.34.32 AM
We are pleased to announce the inaugural issue of Plot(s), a peer reviewed, student edited and produced journal exploring the plurality of design studies.

In an attempt to map the network of discourses within design studies, each work in Plot(s) lends a critical eye to a facet of design practice — understanding design as both a catalyst for change and as culpable for the state of our present world. As students at The New School, we do not attempt to provide an exhaustive understanding of design studies, but a glimpse into the burgeoning field.

From the Editors:
The contents of the first issue presents a selection of works demonstrating the diversity of our approaches to design. As evident from the breadth of subjects considered on the following pages, design is increasingly a term of nebulous definition. As practitioners of design studies, we are thus required to invoke flexible modes of inquiry and a willingness to step over the boundaries between disciplines. Our task as the first class in Parsons’ MA Design Studies program has been to sketch and navigate a map of this transdisciplinary landscape. In doing so, we have had no choice but to push past the traditional methods, expectations, and borders of academic work. The results continue to be an array of creative scholarship that cannot be fit neatly into any one box. So, in lieu of a box, we offer you Plot(s).

The first issue of Plot(s) is available to view in its entirety online.

We thank our fellow students, Dora Sapunar, Chen Yu Lo, Finn Ferris, Sarah Lillenberg, Divia Padayachee, Tia Remington-Bell, Vivian Cai, William Perkins, James Laslavic, Ruo Ma, Katherine Mayer, and Veronica Uribe whose collective input gave shape and color to our mission.

Lindsay Reichart, editorial director
Rachel Meade Smith, managing editor
Jhen Yi (Maggie) Lin, production manager
Gigi Polo, designer
Juan Pablo Pemberty, designer
Yoko Wand, photo editor
Natalie Nielson, copy editor
Hayley Aresenault, copy editor
Kamala Murali, peer reviewer
Komal Sharma, peer reviewer
Laura Wing, peer reviewer & PR manager
Salem Tsegaye, contributor

“Thirst” at Proteus Gowanus

Opening on Saturday, March 22nd, “Thirst” is the second exhibition sponsored by the Proteus Gowanus gallery on the annual theme of “Water.” Curated by Lydia Matthews with a transdisciplinary group of New School graduate and undergraduate students as well as numerous collaborators, “Thirst” explores the uses and abuses of water in the local and global context. Though often taken for granted, water is a precious but disappearing resource, a biological necessity, an environmental concern and a metaphor for spirituality, purification and healing. This new exhibition asks us to consider our complex relationships with and need for water in provocative ways. “Thirst” continues Proteus’ laboratory-like, community engaged exhibition style including installation, practical workshops, roundtable discussions and tours around Gowanus. The model of engaging a curatorial theme through different exhibitions and various partners over the course of a year allows a long term and multi-faceted exploration.

It was a perfect fit for Professor Matthews and her “Curating as Social Practice” students who have been studying and developing experimental curatorial platforms. They will transform Proteus Gowanus into ThirstLab, a living laboratory with an evolving open archive, and will host a series of cross-disciplinary, hands-on workshops on topics as diverse as water-based crafts, the politics of fresh water access, hydroponic farming and liquor distillation, and therapeutic water sports. Juan Pablo Pemberty, an MA Design Studies student and member of the contributing curatorial Current Collective, explained, “Its not an easy thing to do; it’s not something you do in a month. It needs planning and investigation to fit the issues you want to show in an exhibition format. But I’m more than happy with the result of “Thirst”, it will be a show where our relationship with water is explored from very different realms, a mixture of ideas and conceptions.”

“Thirst” will be on view from March 22nd at Proteus Gowanus at 543 Union Street, New York, NY 11215. See the Proteus website for further description of events and activities: http://proteusgowanus.org/water/

Narratives and Design Studies on Video

If you missed the Narratives and Design Studies symposium, here are a few of the presentations for your viewing pleasure. 

Welcome Remarks – Susan Yelavich

Narratives of History: Peter Hall and Phillip Lopate (Keynote)

Olympic Design

Narratives of Artifice and Technology

Narratives of Social Engagement

Design and Gender

Continuing the Task of Translation: Narratives and Design Studies

What follows are responses from those who attended the March 7/8 symposium Narratives and Design Studies at Parsons, sponsored by the MA in Design Studies programs. The conversation continues!

Design Can’t Do It All
Salem Tsegaye

The theme of narratives at this year’s symposium was quite fitting for a field tasked with interpreting, defining, and delineating design. The last—the task of delineation—is often the most difficult. While advocating for the crossing of disciplinary boundaries, we face the challenge of drawing parameters for a continually evolving, expanding domain. Many will argue the field of Design Studies is less about drawing parameters and more about exploring possibilities, but I would counter that the former holds equal significance. You see, if we don’t actually begin to say, “No, that isn’t design,” design scholarship becomes a futile project, and design, as title, will only be repeatedly co-opted for commercial interests.

The Mexico Biogas Program with Alex Eaton

In complete solidarity with panelist Alexander Eaton, I draw the line at social design. Think about it. If this is supposed to mean design that has some sort of positive social impact, then we should all be worried, because it implies that this do-good mentality is absent in modes of creative intervention that don’t share this name. This mentality, as ethical code, should be infused into existing design practices, not created into a new, separate one. Social design also attempts to make novel this idea of social change, which has existed for decades through the tireless work of humanitarians, community organizers, educators, etc. While professional designers undoubtedly bring technical expertise and a fresh perspective to the table, they too are operating within a broken system. In the absence of funding, scaling projects becomes an impossible task, calling into question (in this context) design’s innovative quality.

I use this response as an opportunity to say we do ourselves a disservice by validating the renaming of design into “__________ design” simply because it incorporates some new element from some other practice, discipline, or field. Certainly that isn’t the intention in our advocacy of interdisciplinary work, but we should err on the side of caution with this naming; otherwise, design will slowly lose credibility and meaning. The reality is design can do a lot, but it can’t do it all. It is our duty as scholars to be clear about design’s finite capabilities in these broader narratives.

Rethinking Terms
Laura Wing

In his talk on Narratives of History at the Design Studies Symposium Peter Hall proposed: “how it works is more interesting than what it signifies.” We can think of this in matters of the configuration of things. An example from our weekend, how woven and knit buildings and garments work differently in relation to environments and the body than, say, steel. And this generative capability of the ‘thing’, with its affordances and limitations (its agency), may be more interesting than what it signifies (gender, subversion, strength). Thinking further, even around the acts of ‘making-up’ and ‘making-real’—how these acts of design ‘work’ may be more useful to consider rather than what they signify. This is a way of rupturing and rethinking history, as Hall discussed. But I wonder what ‘opportunities to be otherwise’ might occur if we were to extend this consideration to language. I am specifically thinking about instances throughout the conference when certain terms—what they signify—took the conversation in a direction. An example might be the term social, that what it does in scripting and limiting conversations is more interesting than what it has come to be defined as. What might happen in purposely reconfiguring or inverting the term, what other conversations might be had?

Consider the terms used to frame distinctions of agency as either ‘staging an opportunity’ (Sean Donahue) or ‘joining a discussion’ (DESIS lab). More specifically, how the language works to frame the (design) opportunities in relation to artifice vs. opportunities in relations to persons.

How could the image of the rhizome or of the taoist diagram of the body translate into the use of language—moving away from fixed meaning and seeing possibilities for fluidity and motion?

In her opening remarks, Susan asked us to consider: “Where is the site of agency? Where is the gesture?” I want to talk about communication and language as one possibility.

Questioning Agency, Identifying Constraints
Rachel Smith

Unsurprisingly, the notion of societal structural constraints was raised by the sociologist at the table. I understood this notion to be the walls (ideologies) within which our living decisions must be made, but also the constraints within which design must work. The question is whether designers have the capability to work outside or push beyond these underlying structures in order to provide agency otherwise denied by existing structures. So the question is: what makes design the rare tool capable of expanding the ideologies or logistical restrictions that control how policy is formed, how people see the world, and what opportunity there is to rethink supposed “givens”? Lara spoke about the limitations of working within the semester schedules and the difficulty in maintaining relationships with communities after grant funding runs out. These, as Elzbieta pointed out, are structural limitations directly impeding design’s agency. Focusing on these particular examples, how can we move beyond the tedious but very real constraints of the academic and non-profit sectors in order to push the work undertaken as and with students into the realm of the real and permanent? And more generally, how often do designers truly provide agency for exceeding the obscured bounds of societal structure, and how much of design is produced to tacitly reinforce them?

Here are more thoughts on agency from Chris Bull, Professor of Engineering at Brown University:

An action supporting agency is creating an “enabling environment,” which ties to Sean Donahue’s mention of “activation of latent agency”.

One would hope that the elemental forces of society and technology might align and push/pull towards a common goal. Alex Eaton’s assertion that businesses are planning 20 years out in a very real sense; the rest of us are not. They are on to the how and we are still discussing the what.

From designer Marina Melani, an attendee:

I do have a comment regarding specifically one of the presentations, but that can be applied to most of them. I was particularly interested in Sean’s presentation, when he talked about the design of the Doritos’ bag, which exemplifies how design can encourage/discourage consumers to do something, to take actions. So obviously, as designers, we have a huge responsibility. (This was also later discussed with other presenters.)

The previous weekend I had a disappointing experience at the Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago). I enjoyed an amazing exhibit called “you, the experience” which talked about how our body works, and also about health. It explained how portions have become bigger in the last decade, and it really succeeded in making you aware of eating healthier and exercising more. I spent about an hour on this exhibition, and it had a great impact on me. The impact was diminished when I walked out of the exhibit, and three steps from it, I found a huge range of vending machines, offering nothing but unhealthy snacks. I know vending machines are “a big issue” in this country, but it just didn’t feel right, I felt deceived somehow. So I wonder, what’s the point of all the theory when afterwards we don’t act accordingly? If I had been one of the curators, I would have definitely been more careful about that “detail”, that at least for me, meant losing credibility of the exhibition.

All in all, my point is that the importance lies in more than making the right design decisions to encourage positive results, but also in keeping the right attitude as a professional and as a person, otherwise we lose our credibility.

Design, Agency and Autonomy
Verónica Uribe

Defined by the dictionary as the capacity to act otherwise, the term agency and its concept suffers important variations among disciplines. In social and political science as Elzbieta Matynia pointed during the symposium, agency is understood as the capacity to generates radical change in one´s own life. Hence although agency is related, it is also different from the notion of well-being and the notion of choice or option.

In design, agency is mostly understood as options, more contemporary theories in design have approach this notion from the capability approach. Sometimes, however, important features of this approach are left aside. Many social design projects for example tend to oversee in its goals settlement that agency does not necessarily means well-being. These projects tend to focus in the well being of a community leaving aside the agency aspect of the individual. That may leave important moral aspects out of consideration in the problem definition. As Amartya Sen[1] states: “the conception of person in moral analysis cannot be so reduce as to attach no intrinsic importance to this agency role, seeing them ultimately only in terms of their well-being” (p. 186)

One particular sphere where agency is important is in the person’s own life. Although well-being is deeply related to agency and choices about a person´s own life, as Sen points:

This does not however, imply that the well being information it self could capture the important features of agency, or acts as its informational surrogates. (…) Even when the impact is positive, the importance of the agency aspect has to be distinguished from the importance of the impact of agency on the well being. (p.186)

As a said before, others social design project reduce the agency to mere choices in the sense of physical possibility or access to the public sphere for example. The danger in these cases is to take agency for grounded when not physical restriction is around. However some agent may have less freedom in the choices between A or B even when neither is physically blocked form taking an option—it might due to cultural, gender or linguistic restrains among others, as Phillip Pettit sustains in his article Agency Freedom and Option Freedom (p. 390)

Summarizing, I think the notion of agency that comes from social and political science is relevant to design because it, in a way, challenges the usual notion of social design and the role designers have in public policy making. It also deals with problem definition´s issues in design. Some broader questions that this matter raises are: Can design address the moral aspect of autonomy? How? Furthermore, taking Alex Eaton statement during the event, if design is inherently social, shouldn’t it necessarily aim to this kind of agency?


Pettit, Phillip. “Agency Freedom and Option Freedom .”Journal of Theoretical Politics. 15.4 (2003): 387-403. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

Sen, Amartya. “Well-Being, Agency and Freedom: The Dewey Lectures 1984.” Journal of Philosophy . 82.4 (1985): 162-221. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

[1]Amartya Sen is one of the main thinkers of this new economical and philosophical approach called the capabilities approach.

A Problem with Participatory Design
James Laslavic 

The symposium touched on hidden problems with the well-intentioned drive in Western design to make things universally accessible. Namely, there was discussion about how that pursuit often leads to taking things out of the community-owned sphere and making them commodities.

However, I couldn’t help but notice how it all still failed to really involve the affected communities in the act of defining their problems, and seemed to play a mostly decorative role when brought into the design of solutions. In the discussion of “participatory design” and the “participatory spaces” that it works in, it still all felt like the communities were not quite viewed as being a genuinely insightful source of solutions. I have issues with the idea of participatory spaces because of how they can be said to effectively quarantine the participation they intend to generate. It is as if designers have begun to realize that involving communities is desirable, but still can’t help but view things in prescriptive terms.

To end, I’ll quote Keely McCaskie, a friend with whom I was discussing this because I don’t think it can be articulated better: “I’d say that designers (and ‘development specialists’ and whoever) are the ones who should consider themselves ‘participants.'”

Photo highlights of Design Studies Symposium

Media designer and design educator Sean Donahue discussed the subversive capabilities of design that can be used to incite action; here he shows a student project in which Doritos were detached from their consumerist brand identity and displayed as individual ingredients.



A Literary Treat at the Design Studies Symposium

Peter Hall and Clive Dilnot at the Design Studies Symposium

At the Design Studies Symposium at Parsons The New School for Design the two speakers invited on the first day were: Peter Hall, design writer and professor at Griffith University, Queensland, who flew down from warm and sunny Brisbane into freezing New York, while the keynote speaker was essayist, critic and professor at Columbia University, Phillip Lopate, best known for his writings on New York.

After Susan Yelavich, director of the MA Design Studies program, introduced the themes that would be addressed in the course of the two days—design and narratives of gender, agency, social engagement, artifice among others—Hall took the stage and addressed his topic, Narratives of History.

A gripping argument about an alternative approach to writing design history followed. With the risk of sounding simplistic, in a nutshell, Hall questioned the  inclination of history-writing to be too canonical. “You can’t learn about the mountain range by studying the peaks, and who decides which peaks to study?” asked Hall.


Design Studies Symposium begins with a workshop on storytelling

Hello and welcome to the Design Studies Symposium at Parsons the New School for Design. This post is to give you a glimpse of what goes on in these two days, as guests speakers come in and we address various threads that run through this vast fabric that has come to mean design, and we’ll find out how they are being reinterpreted.

The symposium began today afternoon. As a build up to it, the students of the MA Design Studies and Transdisciplinary Design program had an intimate workshop with about 20 students to talk about “Storytelling for Social Change.” It was led by Lee-Sean Huang of Foossa, a company of designers, storytellers and problem solvers, as they call themselves. Foossa essentially partners with individuals and organizations to create campaigns that have a significant participative character.

In the three-hour session, Lee-Sean took us through the thought process that goes into the making of a social campaign. The presentation, dotted with case studies—some interesting, some banal, some endearing— was fast-paced, packed with content and interspersed with workshop time. We worked in groups as well as individually, sometimes graphically mapping ideas elaborately and other times haiku-condensing them.

Consider the three-fold model of narrative strategy that Lee-Sean identified for as:

Identity — who am I?

Protocols — what do we believe in?

Artifacts — the objects, interfaces, gestures.

The task at hand was to visualize and map these three elements in a way that portrays how narratives flow within and around them. While Lee-Sean visualized the three elements as three bubbles set in a linear fashion, the students’ visualizations took on many complex shapes and outlines.

There was a pyramid-shaped model that might have seemed hierarchical but for the ocean-current resembling arrows that ran across them, showing the interdependence and a fluid nature of a narrative strategy. Another group did a tree-shaped model, and another did a color-coded radial model resembling the structure of an atom at microscopic level. Another group broke away from this method of conceptual mapping and articulated their thoughts via a real world situation and application.

The exercise was certainly fun, proactive and reflective of how we process the information around us and consequently approach design.

We moved on to addressing a problematic area of social campaigns, that they can sometimes be absolutely tone-deaf.

A dated but perfect example was the Sally Struther’s campaign for Christian Children’s Fund, advocating for impoverished children in Africa. However well intentioned, a lot of socially inclined communication turns out cringe-worthy.

In contrast to that, we watched the hilarious and provocative Raid-aid campaign, where the “tables are turned” and Africa is singing in a very “We Are the World” style to help the people of Norway to get through their subzero temperatures.

Towards the end, we saw the must-watch Save The Children campaign on how war affects children. It starkly illustrated the change in impact the change in tone of communication can cause.

In the midst of fleshing out the idea of storytelling as a way to approach design, another problematic area emerged. It seems that in some cases, design boils down to research, to knowledge of the context, to the story that’s being told.

Yet stories as a method of collecting information can be limiting. “Any story is only a partial glimpse of a bigger whole,” as one of the students put it, “and the ability of a story to create a perception can sometimes be helpful and other times tie us down.”  The solution to this limiting-nature of a storytelling approach did not come immediately, but emerged in the course of time and conversation: “It does not have to be absolute knowledge, but a story that makes sense to the people who are involved,” said Lee-Sean rather unselfconsciously. There was a sense of agreement to this among students, as that would lend some semblance of credibility to a social campaign, or any design for that matter. Also, we may never get the whole view, but a human view would be a good place to start.


Parsons Narratives and Design Studies conference

The Language of Design

For the past three months, the Museum of Modern Art has been running an online exhibition titled Design and Violence that has now culminated in an interesting, layered, often controversial discussion about, well, design and violence.

Adding to the on-going thread is the latest post by Parsons professor Clive Dilnot.

Dilnot writes about Green Bullets, a design developed by the US Army that replaces the lead core of the bullet with copper. While he addresses the dark humor behind an object that is designed to infiltrate and destroy a living body, even if without contaminating the environment, his article raises controversial questions about the very language used to talk about design.

While the title of MOMA’s exhibition goes as ‘Design and Violence,’ Dilnot challenges the separation that the conjunction ‘and’ suggests. “..design as violence, violence by and through design. There is no “and,” he writes.

Read the full post here.


As part of her thesis Sarah Lillenberg will tackle the implications of participatory design by looking at idBrooklyn, a cultural identity project. Here is her article that takes a look into idBrooklyn.

Why We’re Inviting Everyone to Help Visualize Brooklyn’s Identity

Part of what we love about Brooklyn is its “humpty-dumpty” history of cultural pioneers and makers. From Spike Lee to Woody Allen, Jay-Z to Talib Kweli, pizza slices to ramen burgers, brownstones to water towers, Jean-Michel Basquiat to Mickalene Thomas, artists in Brooklyn represent a dynamic nature that is at times too elastic for verbal explanation.

While Brooklyn’s diversity through thought, talent, and ideas are celebrated, its differences also cause a question of identity. Many people hold tightly to their Brooklyn roots and heritage. But how does Brooklyn manifest itself as a unified area with such grand diversity? Eyewitness News originally posed the question in regards to Brooklyn branding as such: “If too many people call themselves “Brooklyn,” what does “Brooklyn” mean?”


Ring in 2014 with Małe Instrumenty: The Politics of Tiny Instruments in Poland.

This New Year, as we emerge from the season of sales and the scourge of shopping, Małe Instrumenty offers a different kind of gift: music played on toy pianos. Yes, Virginia, toy pianos. Toy pianos, children’s music boxes, and found-object instruments, played by Pawel Romańczuk, Marcin Ożóg, Tomasz Orszulak, Jędrzej Kuziela and Maciej Bączyk, the members of Małe Instrumenty who hail from Wrocław, Poland, where I taught last summer.

I’ve told the story of how I came to know about Małe Instrumenty to anyone who will listen and wrote about the band briefly on NSSR’s blog Public Seminar.But it was only over this holiday break that it dawned on me that their project was, in fact, quite political. Where late 20th-century Polish theater and performance was a refusal of the institutionalized repression of freedom by a corrupt Warsaw Pact government, Małe Instrumenty offer a modest yet powerful rebuttal to another kind of institutionalized control—the neoliberal rule of acquisition, accumulation, and social atomization.
During the 1970s and 80s in communist Poland, actors leveraged the power the everyday in the face of the seemingly intractable power. In Performative Democracy, my colleague and friend Elzbieta Matynia offers an instructive history of what she dubs the Young Theater movement. Among them were the Eighth Day Theater, which produced a performance in a blood donation facility in Łódź that spoke to the routinization of social violence (1) and the Warsaw-based Academy of Theater, which used apartment buildings as stages, enlisting their residents as performers (2). Groups such as these that made it possible for ordinary citizens to speak about their lives and played a critical role in defeating the forces of censorship.

Today, I see Małe Instrumenty as offering another kind of resistance. (Though I must admit that their music had so overwhelmed my senses that it took a while for me to recognize it.) First, there is the very fact of their decision to make music with discarded toys. This is a larger idea than simply salvaging the casual products of capitalism like Barbie pianos and other plastic instruments intentionally made to be short-lived. Małe Instrumenty recuperates the joy of childhood and our lost knowledge of how to make do. Which brings me to my second point: the sheer inventiveness they bring to the notion of an instrument. When I watched Pawel draw a bow over a series of emptied tin cans nailed to a stick and produce the vibrato of a violin, I was once again struck by the possibilities we can find in things, derive from things—things in wise hands.

Some I know would not call hand-made instruments “design” and would characterize the members of Małe Instrumenty as artists. But perhaps this is design after all, just done in reverse. When Małe Instrumenty take the detritus of mass production (toys, tin cans, bicycle bells), give it new life, and distribute it on a mass scale through media like YouTube they seem to render such distinctions moot. Małe Instrumenty are sound designers, object designers, and if our mutual friend Agata Gniebna has her way, social designers. Agata told me she wants to raise funds to build a giant-sized toy piano in one of Wrocław’s public spaces, so children can play it and play on it. It may be that the real gift of Małe Instrumenty is their recognition of the power of scale—always an element of design.

-Susan Yelavich

1. Elzbieta Matynia, Performative Democracy, (Boulder, Colorado: Paradigm, 2009), p. 21.
2. Ibid, p. 26.

Students Respond to MoMA’s Design and Violence Site

Violence and Virtue: Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes”
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Inspired by the Museum of Modern Art’s experimental web exhibition Design and Violence, students in Susan Yelavich’s “Design Fictions” course spent the last weeks of the fall semester discussing and responding to the fictions and facts of violence. Among other things, they debated whether design is by nature violent and the efficacy of addressing violence through critical design in the context of a museum’s blog.

For the site, co-curators Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Design and Jamer Hunt, director of Parsons’ MFA Transdisciplinary Design program, selected artifacts variously designed to “hack/infect, constrain, stun, penetrate, manipulate/control, intimidate, and explode.” Among the pieces chosen are the infamous 3-D printed “Liberator” gun, a generic box-cutter, stiletto heels, and a fragrance designed from cage fighters’ sweat. Experts the likes of Mabel Wilson, Camille Paglia, John Hockenberry, and Rob Walker offer their ruminations on one specific object. (Full disclosure, Yelavich herself is one of the commentators; see here) Now those expert observations are stimulating a lively public conversation, which the following Parsons graduate students are part of:


The Mythology of a Fraught Architecture

Some ways down an unnamed offshoot of Highway 413 in the small surf village of Rincón, Puerto Rico is a surprising structure, the decommissioned Boiling Nuclear Superheater Reactor—colloquially known by its friendly acronym, BONUS. I first encountered the building—a hulking, futuristic dome with a tarnished mid-century-aqua façade—while vacationing a few years ago on the recommendations of some surfer friends. They gave the town high marks, if not for the waves than for the accessibility of Rincón’s other tropical offerings—cheap bungalows, roadside burrito stands, a lack of paved roads—that make the town seem far more exotic than the two-hour plane hour plane ride suggests. The landscape did not disappoint; all the visible signifiers of casual, unencumbered beach town were there: shanty motel compounds, oceanfront villas-for-rent, barefoot, sunburned surfers milling on the corners. Until I took off along the beach away from town, not an aesthetic detail had contradicted my preconceived notions of the place, and certainly none pointed to a nuclear history.


A Roadmap for the Study of Urban Architecture

Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies documents Reyner Banham’s encounter with the city of Los Angeles. The text sets the groundwork for a new understanding of urban architecture. Beyond the consideration of the geographical, social and historical contexts that distinguish Los Angeles, his accounts of the sprawling metropolis include the actively changing and evolving aspects that define the architecture of the human structure of the city, from freeways to hamburger stands. The book serves as one writers attempt to digest the whole unique fabric that comprises L.A. Published in 1971, Banham’s Los Angeles: Architecture of the Four Ecologies provides readers with a road map for understanding the context of the new urban metropolis. In its categorical breakdown of the urban region, Reyner Banham’s account of Los Angeles establishes a new milieu for urban architectural history. The sprawling, horizontal city of Los Angeles served as the perfect vehicle for Banham’s motive, in that it did not operate on an established grid system and its structure and space defied those of a more traditional city.

Reyner Banham identifies the impossibility of producing a conventional historical account of this city that is entirely unconventional in its essence. In order to accommodate the city’s expansive architecture from Pop ephemerides to civil engineering, Banham’s catalog of Los Angeles deviates from the traditionally accepted norms of urban architectural histories. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies introduces a new approach of unpacking urban architecture. In his attempt to digest the immense and expansive urban region, Banham breaks the city of Los Angeles down into four ecologies; “Surfurbia,” “The Foothills,” “The Plains of Id” and “Autotopia.” This approach takes advantage of the city’s diverse localities and provides a new way of critically examining the metropolis that reflects the order and logic of the city’s rare form. Tying the ideas of urban architecture to ecology, Banham’s innovative method of understanding the city allows him to cohesively merge the architectural extremes of the expansive city, providing context through it’s unified report of the vast urban region.

This manifesto of the city of Los Angeles identifies and contextualizes the distinct territories of L.A., in a holistic way that leaves the reader with a fully formed impression of the city as a total complex entity, rather than a scattered city comprised of small separate towns. Banham provides the context needed to comprehend this often-misapprehended city. Looking at the ecologies as both a cause and consequence of the city’s architecture and infrastructure, Banham establishes a foundation capable of conceptualizing the city of L.A. In Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, the tone and structure of Banham’s optimistic take on the city seems to reflect the spirit of Los Angeles itself. Banham writes, “Simply to go from the oldest monument to the newest could well prove a short, boring and uninstructive journey, because the point about this giant city, which has grown almost simultaneously all over, is that all its parts are equal and equally accessible from all other parts at once.” The curious structure of his text is engendered by the unique qualities of Los Angeles itself. His breakdown of ecologies provides his audience with a conscious reflection of an unparalleled model of the urban region. The text seeks to inform readers of the easy mobility, informality and diversity embedded into the multi-centered character of the city. Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies emerges as a tightly constructed urban geography capable of provoking new discourses on the city.

Reyner Banham. 1971. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. New York: Harper & Row.

MA Design Studies Course Blogs

Here you’ll find the living archives of several courses offered in the MA Design Studies program—syllabi, readings, resources and student papers.  This should give you a more textured insight into our offerings.  Enjoy!

Design Fictions Fall 2013

Design Practices & Paradigms Spring 2013

Writing for the Public Realm Spring 2013

Social Impact Design: Sistema Bioblosa

Using the often-overlooked technology of bio-gas energy sourcing, Alexander Eaton, CEO and co-founder of Sistema Bioblosa, employs simple and informed design strategies to empower impoverished farming communities. A key speaker at the A Better World by Design conference held in Providence, Rhode Island, this past September, Eaton presented the benefits that Sistema Bioblosa provides for small-scale farmers in rural Mexico.

Central to the Sistema Bioblosa model is the biodigester, which enables farmers to convert organic waste into renewable energy and organic fertilizer.
The design of the biodigester itself is an adaption of large-scale technology that is utilized by industrial farmers. In contrast to the older stoves that took months to build, Eaton’s biodigester can be assembled without technical assistance in an hour or so. It is comprised of a fifteen-foot long bag made of rough synthetic plastic, completely enclosing an anaerobic environment, allowing for the bacteria in the waste to flourish and convert to biogas and fertilizer. Connected by tubes, the converted biogas transfers and collects in another bag, which is lead through a pipe into the home for use in the kitchen or bathroom. A second tube connects and funnels the liquid organic fertilizer to an exterior tank. The manure produced by two cows or six pigs per day can issue a cubic meter of biogas, equivalent to 2.2 kWh of electricity. Regarded as a long run cost saver the possibilities inherent in this design enable small family farms to escape the poverty cycle. Eaton and his team of technicians travel to the family farms that are interested and provide individual training for the installation and use of the biodigester. Often the outreach and interest spreads throughout the community of local farms. Moreover, return visits allow the Sistema Bioblosa team to gather feedback, which Eaton identifies as imperative to the continued success of their work.

Promoting renewable energy and environmental development, Sistema Bioblosa works to instill the knowledge of managing resources that is essential to the future of farming in Latin America. By transforming materials and saving energy, the technology and design of the biodigester raises the standard of living for those who use it. Making the benefits of this biodigester accessible to all rural famers in marginalized populations ensures that the social and environmental impact of Sistema Bioblosa is far reaching. The model of Eaton’s Sistema Bioblosa encourages better waste management for small farmers and the rural poor. In doing so, they are helping to foster organic agriculture, improve health conditions and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigating the risks of global climate change. By improving waste management and generating sources of renewable energy and organic fertilizer, Sistema Bioblosa serves a defining role in the movement towards global sustainability.

From the Director

Susan Yelavich (Director)

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:

Apply now