MA Design Studies Students connect with and through Things

Published on: October 13th, 2016



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. The fragments were chosen to compose a “material portrait” of each student’s life. Objects, photographs, and mementos yielded stories that offered insights into to each other—the people sitting beside us in the workshop, our fellow travelers in the two-year MA program.

Of course, five objects can’t solidify a narrative; but, according to German philosopher Hannah Arendt, what they can do is challenge mainstream narratives and encourage connection between disparate things to form new narratives. This is why students were told to bring their own object narratives, which would be shared with everyone, but after their objects were woven together into another story by another student.

So what can someone say about a single infant’s shoe, a blob of scented candlewax, a copy of The Wizard of Oz?

“The objects we hold dear reveal much about our sense of self,” Diana Duque, MA Design studies Class of 2018, said after the workshop. “Each collection of objects revealed aspects of the ‘infraordinaire’ as [Georges] Perec so graciously coined. Charged with emotional and personal significance, our first individual exercise was to interpret the personal collection from an anonymous participant. The ‘storytellers’ and their designed objects were revealed only at the end of the exercise, in some cases with surprisingly different narratives than the outsiders’ interpretations. This morning session provided a rare opportunity to bond with colleagues and exercise our quick wit and rusty writing skills under very tight time constraints.”

Kayla O’Daniel, Class of 2018, said that it forced her to define a person based on objects, and in doing so she felt we offered a new perspective on ourselves. “These objects can allude to our perspectives and our desires as designers.”

The stories we wove were varied. Some of these stories revealed complex density in apparent simplicity, others suggested that design is what is possible in the realm of imagination, and some were practical, utilitarian, and grounded in this world. The diverse group of students making up the MA Design Studies program this academic year come from backgrounds in architecture, journalism, philosophy, graphic design, business management, psychology, and economics. These objects are possibly not definitive of the group as design scholars just yet, but they are a starting point in their journey towards thinking design.

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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.