What Is/Are Design Studies?

Published on: January 4th, 2012


If you’re reading this, it’s probably safe to assume you’re curious about Parsons’ new Masters in Design Studies. This is the first in a series of posts in which I’ll describe what’s unique about the program and try to anticipate some questions, beginning with:


Design studies (like design) is a multifarious enterprise. A branch of the humanities, it comprises a wide range of critical perspectives on the meanings and values embodied in objects and places. It examines the forces that design exerts in, and on, the world—forces design sets in motion but does not control. Parsons’ Masters in Design Studies program places particular emphasis on four points.

  • the role of the designer and the design studio in redefining the scope of practice in the 21st century;
  • design as an iteration of aesthetic and intellectual histories that continue to inform the present;
  • the social, political and environmental behaviors and consequences of designing objects, places, situations, and systems today;
  • design as the projection of different futures.

Above all, the MA Design Studies program focuses on the development of articulate, critical voices that can speak to these issues.  Students will be prepared to write for the academic context, the design community, and the larger public realm. Working in close proximity to MFA studio programs at Parsons, they also have the opportunity to integrate film, video, and other media into their work.

This, of course, is just the start of the conversation, which we look forward to inaugurating with you next fall. In the coming weeks, I’ll share some thoughts on the following hypothetical questions:

  • What is the difference between design studies and design history?
  • Who is this program designed for?
  • What will this program prepare me to do?
  • How will design studies students engage with other students and professors at Parsons and the New School at large?

In the meantime, please send your questions to me at yelavics@newschool.edu.


Susan Yelavich
Director, Masters in Design Studies

Associate Professor, School of Art and Design History and Theory, Parsons The New School for Design

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.