Notes From the Dean
Parsons the New School for Design’s multidisciplinary curriculum evolves with the twenty-first century.
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This year Parsons formed a partnership with New York City’s Center for Social Innovation to incubate design-led social innovation projects by Parsons students and alumni. One of the projects in development is Citysteading, a community-driven process for empowering and engaging marginal-ized communities.
Courtesy Josh Barndt, Alexandra Castillo Kesper, Braden Crooks, Aubrey Murdock, Joel Stein, Charles Wirene
Every generation is presented with challenges specific to its time and place. We live in a world changing in ways that were unimaginable at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when design education first began to take shape. Technology (aided and abetted by design), advances in scientific knowledge, and shifts in social and cultural norms shaped design in the twentieth century. Our problems today involve more complex and interconnected systems—climate, cities, resources, networks, flows—and call for a new paradigm. Design in the twenty-first century is of critical importance in both addressing these challenges and transforming them into opportunities to remake the world around us. To do so, design education must change.
Design schools have traditionally adhered to a model that builds programs based on a foundation year, a well-defined and contained introduction to the basics of material, form, and color. And while that foundation is an important cornerstone of design education, it leaves little room for the more exploratory methods of cross-disciplinary and technology-based learning, and for understanding and applying design in the context of the larger world. That old model needs to evolve to reflect design’s enhanced role as a catalyst for innovation and creativity.
Almost a decade ago at Parsons, we began reevaluating our academic programs to respond to this new context. Over the past several years we have introduced a number of graduate programs that educate designers for this era, from Transdisciplinary Design,to Design and Urban Ecologies, which explores the complex forces that influence urban growth and development. And now, this fall, our incoming freshmen are the first to take part in a redesigned undergraduate curriculum that provides greater opportunities for self-directed learning, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and exposure to academic areas beyond the traditional boundaries of art and design.
The new Parsons curriculum is about choice. Students today absorb information constantly from a variety of media and sources. The process of learning has become so multi-directional that it requires purposeful navigation. The proliferation of massive open online classes (MOOCs) and open courseware has created unprecedented opportunities for the self-directed learner and introduced a radical and productive disruption to educational models throughout the world. Online learning, however—at least for those who pursue it toward a formal degree—still operates on the model of assembling courses within the narrow context of a subject area. This assumes that knowledge can be gained or downloaded as discrete units (courses) and pieced together upon completion. Design education requires more curation and context. If the goal is to facilitate an experience that helps students define who and what they might become as designers, then we must provide vehicles that allow them to veer off traditional pathways of learning.