Notes From the Dean

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

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Empowerhouse was Parsons’s entry into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. Students and faculty partnered with Habitat for Humanity and the local government to make their competition entry the first passive house in Washington, D.C. 

Courtesy Martin Seck

Rethinking design education required us to approach curriculum development with the same creativity, flexibility, and exploration that we encourage of our students. It also forced us to ask some fundamental questions: How could we accommodate increased breadth without sacrificing depth? Give students more opportunity to explore the urban environment without compromising academic rigor? Provide a flexible array of choices while still guiding them toward a consistent set of learning outcomes? Answering these questions and developing solutions necessitated a different strategy, with faculty from all areas of the school playing a role. Taking our cue from open-source sharing and crowd-sourced information gathering, we’ve made the curriculum a constant point of communication, hosting workshops and forums, and creating shared virtual libraries of instructional resources, readings, and syllabi. It’s an iterative, ongoing process; we call it designing the design school.

This is a crucial time for design education. The issues of our time require that designers focus their talents not just on form and function—the principal obsession of the previous century—but on the interconnections between design and society, and the potential of design as a transformative force. The world has changed; the role of design has changed. And the way that designers are taught to engage with the world must change, too. 

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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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