FROM THE DIRECTOR
Of all the questions that you might bring to a new Masters Program in Design Studies, this might be the most urgent: What will this program prepare me to do? What kind of paths will it open up?
I could argue, and have in the past, that correlating education with jobs is a risky equation since it devalues the intrinsic rewards of learning. But I suspect I’d be preaching to the choir and ignoring the more relevant question, which is: How will an MA in Design Studies help me design my life?
Today, it makes less sense to talk about jobs, and more sense to talk about a vocation that can take many forms (and still pay the rent!). I believe that our students will be as likely to develop their own enterprises as to join up with like-minded organizations. Let’s look at those organizations first, since that’s the terrain I know best. Here’s a short list of possibilities:
- Design firms and studios: Recently a well-known product designer told me that with global outsourcing there was less and less demand for conventional design and his firm needed help in identifying new arenas for practice. Design Studies looks toward that horizon, seeking an active relationship between the identification of issues (be it education or sustainability) with opportunities for action.
- Non-governmental organizations: We are in the process of establishing liaisons and internships with a variety of NGOS who address issues that range from prison reform, to health and nutrition, to housing, and immigration. At the same time, we are waiting to learn of your concerns so we can establish relationships with the most relevant groups and institutions.
- Think Tanks and Foundations: Organizations ranging from the Rockefeller Foundation to the Aspen Institute actively engage with design issues and promote thoughtful speculation about their affects on our futures. They are logical partners for Design Studies ventures.
- University and college faculties of design and design studies: Students in Design Studies are encouraged to work as teaching assistants at the New School. The field of Design Studies is still young; so the opportunities to teach after graduation may well reside in departments of art history, design history, cultural studies and other related fields. Our graduates are fortunate, as they will have a high degree of flexibility in this regard.
- Museums: Museums are looking for ways to become more active cultural forces, both in their physical and virtual presences in the world. Design Studies graduates will bring fresh views as to the nature of objects and our relationships with them in the 21st century.
- Publishing: The vehicles of publishing may be undergoing convulsions of change as the digital age matures and print outlets become increasingly vulnerable, but the need for substantive writing is only increasing. Design studies students will be introduced to new and ongoing forums for communication at the same time they refine their voices as scholars and writers. And being in New York City, they’ll have a chance to meet some of the most provocative critics and authors in the field of design, as well as those working on its edges in such prestigious publications as the New York Review of Books.
Of course, entering these fields is no longer a matter of burnishing a resume with an advanced degree, if it ever was. It has always been a matter of relationships. Because the MA Design Studies resides at the New School and within Parsons and the New School, our students can avail themselves of any number of networks—networks in the fields of design and architecture, of social and political action, and advanced design studies.
Just as critical will be the relationships you form and the networks you design for yourself. Increasingly, the most innovative thinking and work are coming from what were once considered alternative practices. Now open-source collectives of all types are flourishing. Not only do scholars, critics, designers and curators come together under umbrellas of common interest, but they actively seeking out their audiences and partners, instead of waiting for them to be identified by someone else. In a recent interview with Steven Kurutz in the New York Times, Pedro Gadanho, the newly appointed curator in the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Architecture and Design, spoke to this point vis a vis architecture, saying:
…traditional practice has to be questioned. Possibly a section of the profession has to get closer to the attitude that artists have had for so many decades: doing unsolicited work, advancing their own ideas before someone asks them. Maybe architects have to get out of that high place in academia or in the corporate office and go back in the streets and find work there. (NYT, 1/11/12)
Just as Gadanho sees possibility for architects in the streets, I see possibility and excitement in aligning Design Studies scholars with groups such as the one that produced Open Design Now. This collaborative effort, dedicated to the premise that design is best understood as a shared activity, involves a host of contributors from design author and critic John Thackera to designer and entrepreneur Bruce Mau. And this is not just wishful thinking. We are encouraging the incubation of similar collaborations by housing the Design Studies program in the same space as Parsons’ MFA programs in Transdisciplinary Design, and Design and Technology. Design Studies students will graduate understanding the design process not as an abstraction but as palpable change.
Moreover, Design Studies is part of a triad of graduate programs specifically focused on history and theory: the MA in Fashion Studies and the MA in Decorative Arts and Design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. The opportunities for cross-pollination with scholars and peers committed to enlarging the perception of design are exponentially increased by virtue of these sister programs. I’ll discuss this and the broader field of New School graduate studies in my next post.
In the meantime, to summarize the employment landscape for our students, I would offer this: Design is changing rapidly, not only in terms of its technical processes and global reach, but also in terms of its ambitions and ethos. Both for-profit and non-profit organizations are seeking new platforms of practice and new ways to think about the motivations for, and consequences of, design. Our students will be there to identify them.