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

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

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

To read the full piece, see: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dmj.12026/epdf

Komal Sharma published on Design Observer

The editors of Design Observer have selected Komal Sharma’s contribution to the MA DS Journal Plot(s) Vol IV for publication. To read more about Komal’s inquiry into the relation of design to craft, see: http://designobserver.com/feature/whats-old-is-new-again/39630

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

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

Alumni Spotlight: Laura Belik


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


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

By Susan Yelavich

Komal Sharma

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

‘homo faber’

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

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

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

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

Design Special-homo faber

Sidin’s page on smart home

10% of MA Design Studies Grads in PhD Programs

by Susan Yelavich

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

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

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

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

An Open Letter to the Graduating Class of 2017

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

by Susan Yelavich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep questioning, stay curious, and stay in touch!

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Salem Tsegaye, MA Design Studies ’14

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Alumni Spotlight: Quizayra Gonzalez


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


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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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.”


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.


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

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.


Program Contact

Caroline Dionne, Program Director

Program Update

Parsons is not currently admitting new students to this master’s degree program. Parsons is now offering a Graduate Minor in Design Studies that is designed to complement the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies and other graduate programs across the university in design, liberal arts, and social research.