Notes From the Dean

Parsons the New School for Design’s multidisciplinary curriculum evolves with the twenty-first century.

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Hello Compost, a thesis project by Parsons alumni Aly Blenkin and Luke Keller, seeks to introduce food-waste collection to low-income families by giving them a percentage of the revenue, which will earn them credits for purchasing locally grown produce.

Courtesy Aly Blenkin and Luke Keller

Being part of a university, the New School, opens up remarkable possibilities for cross-disciplinary study. As our incoming freshmen progress through the curriculum, we expect to see them using the flexibility afforded them to do the unexpected. That might mean an architecture student minoring in politics, a fashion major pursuing a course of study in Chinese, or a communication designer taking a minor in psychology. Or it might mean fine arts students collaborating with jazz students, or management students initiating a project with philosophy majors. We don’t know what they will choose to do, but we’ve opened the doors for them. It will be up to each student to exercise that freedom and create an experience that appeals to her imagination and goals.

But no matter what course of study a student pursues, she will not learn about design in isolation. Today’s complexities require approaches that interweave design with other ways of thinking and doing. Students need to actively engage with the role design can play in shaping the world around them, and gain real experience working with others across disciplines, cultures, and perspectives. This approach drives the work of consultancies such as IDEO and Frog Design, where social scientists, designers, artists, and business professionals collaborate, applying their collective expertise. At Parsons, we teach similarly cross-disciplinary routes, taking advantage of our unique position within a university that values design as equally as it does the social sciences, performing arts, management, policy, and liberal arts. This environment provides natural opportunities to bring together students and faculty from a diverse array of academic fields, to conduct research, tackle real-world projects, or just share ideas. When I see the results of these cross-university efforts—whether it’s the design and construction of passive houses or a program for youth that connects education to design and social change—I’m more convinced than ever that design education cannot operate alone.

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Oct 31, 2013 10:30 am
 Posted by  No Sale

Where are the studies? Where are the reports? Where are the examples of successful pilot programs? Where are the lists of successful students and eminent alumni from these programs? Where is the SUBSTANTIVE EVIDENCE that any of this theory will result in the hoped for outcomes?

Towers takes for granted that a new century requires a new paradigm without ever attempting to explain WHY. He takes for granted that all of this theory will result in something he doesn't even attempt to define without ever suggesting HOW. I see buzzwords and jargon and the specialized language of academia but no attempt to transcend all that rhetoric in order to be understood.

The salient and most critical insight in the old parade of the Emperor's New Clothes; the part that goes straight to human nature, is that the con-artists who pulled off that scam could't have done so without tapping into the innate insecurity people have about their own intelligence. Telling folks that if they don't see what isn't really there it's not because it isn't there but because they aren't smart enough only works if those folks really aren't smart enough. That isn't everyone, all the time.

Towers says "Almost a decade ago at Parsons, we began reevaluating our academic programs to respond to this new context". It should come as no surprise to anyone that it was also "almost a decade ago" that Bob Kerry spent millions of dollars "rebranding" Parsons: new logo, new FACADES, new school name even. To what end? New century, new hairstyle? Parsons has also undergone a dramatic corporatization (like all colleges) that has seen a massive swelling of middle management where none even existed before. Deans, Assoc deans, directors, managers, advisors, coordinators, etc. To what end? New century, new administrative bloat?

The only reason to brand or rebrand something is to attempt to SELL IT differently. Parsons is now in the business of selling design education to students, plain & simple. The emperor is naked.

Nov 9, 2013 01:46 am
 Posted by  la pintura

very well put---I agree . This is really unfortunate for the unaware design student who needs a concentrated immersive education in visual form and function. Because in the end, the skills visual designers have to acquire are more difficult to resolve in four years, than the ability to research and probe content and read and think, which are more ingrained from having learned to read at the age of five. Which language is most familiar, the verbal or the visual. Which type of format?Spatial or the linear?

If you are going to school to become a well trained designer, you have to be extremely fluent in form language and that can occupy the entire four years, and it is the only time it will be that type of pure immersion. Why dilute?

Trendy packaging, philosophical hodge-podge is not going to change the core identity of what design is. It has never changed--why pretend that drawing is less important than it is. Is this because it can't be disguised as a literary or psychological metaphor? The talking about design is very much easier than the doing ==and students love to discuss what things are 'about' and what they mean and what they will look like. But--show it, construct it, make it work--let it speak on its own terms. That is difficult. This idea of non-verbal communication through form is intimidating to people who are not good at it.

Materials come and go, so do styles. Be very very wary of this nonsense. It is. Nonsense. I would never send my kid to a school where she decides on her course of study if she's trying to learn a subject. Would you want your kid in medical school deciding what he should be studying? or should we leave it to the experts? I know of someone who is a painting and neuroscience major, in his third year he wishes he had simply majored in painting at a good art school. And what is neuroscience without a real focus? neurosis. Will it have been worth the $300,000 spent in future years? Which is more timeless? form or fashion?

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