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

Published on: June 13th, 2016

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.

They are brave because, as they know to their cost, no-one knows what design studies is—and that includes the faculty who teaches them. They have all had to figure it out, often painfully, for themselves.

So what is it these students have been doing for the last two years? Ostensibly, it is studying, but it might be better to say thinking   design—and indeed, especially this cohort, not just thinking but also making and creating design.

(If you want to see some of this work we will have this year’s capstone projects up on our new program web-site in the next couple of weeks).

But its not just design they have been thinking about. For the real subject matter of this program is not just “design” in the old-fashioned and somewhat limited sense of the word, what they are really looking at is how we, as persons, relate to and live with the world we have made. What they really study is the artificial; more specifically, the world as artificial.

A few years ago this would have seemed almost nonsensical.

Universities studied nature (and its application in technology) and they studied social and subjective life. Almost nobody studied, thought, the artificial world.

But today, as we understand that in climate change we are artificially making- over even the largest natural systems, we suddenly realize that our world is indeed artificial, that the effective horizon, medium and prime condition of existence our lives is no longer nature but artifice.

This means of course that our dependency on the artificial and artificial things is all but absolute.

As I have been talking some of you have already surreptitiously glanced at your i-phones (and if you have not already research tells us that on average you likely will within the next three-four minutes). If I were to try to take them away from you would scream like toddlers being deprived of candy. For I would be taking away one of the crucial things that enables and—vital word—mediates your existence.

Design is nothing more, and nothing less, than the act of mediation the artificial things that enable our lives.

To study design is therefore to study what is happening to the world today.

Let me end with a quotation by the Nobel prize winning economist, cognitive psychologist and computer scientist Herbert Simon. At the conclusion of one of the chapters of his 1969 book Sciences of the Artificial He says this.

“The proper study of mankind has been said to be man. But I have argued that people—or at least their intellective component—may be relatively simple, that most of the complexity of their behavior may be drawn from their environment, from their search for good designs. If I have made my case, then we can conclude that, in large part, the proper study of mankind is the science of design, not only as the professional component of a technical education but as a core discipline for every liberally educated person.”

We don’t quite do the “science” of design on MA Design Studies, but these students have spent the last two years to trying think (and create) around these questions.

That, for me, is why they are both brave and special.

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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.