We are excited to share student projects, department news, event information, and photos from the MFA in Products of Design program. Check back frequently for updates.

Douglas Rushkoff: F1RST Thesis Presentation Keynote

On May 8th, 2014, the inaugural thesis presentations from the first graduating class of the MFA Products of Design program took place at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. The opening Keynote was delivered by Douglas Rushkoff, cultural and media critic and author of last year’s Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. A short chat between Douglas and Allan Chochinov, chair of the MFA program, closed out the opening section prior to the students taking the stage. Enjoy the keynote above.

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Masters Thesis: COEXIST: Mixing With Urban Wildlife, by Rona Binay

Masters Thesis: COEXIST: Mixing With Urban Wildlife, by Rona Binay

Turkish designer Rona Binay’s MFA Products of Design thesis entitled, ‘COEXIST, Mixing with Urban Wildlife’ studies the relationship between city and nature through the lens of urban wildlife. A seeming contradiction, Rona’s embrace of urban/natural was triggered when she discovered footage of a coyote playing with a bottle on a frozen pond in Central Park. (Another fascinating example of urban wildlife is the peregrine falcon, which nests on high-rise buildings and bridges within the city.) Rona acknowledges that cities not only serve as living landscapes for humans, but also provision as habitats for many different species.

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Inspired by Natalie Jeremijenko’s argument that “This whole idea that we address environmental issues by not doing stuff just doesn’t work,” COEXIST aims to raise public awareness of biodiversity in urban areas and provide systematic solutions linking wildlife with urban through the application of design. 

Throughout the semester, Rona immersed herself in the literature and with subject matter experts, speaking with authors such as Hal Herzog (author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals) around ethics, scientists such as Jason Munshi-South on anticipated future urban wildlife, in addition to rooftop beekeepers, urban park rangers, urban wildlife enthusiasts and opponents, architects, landscape planners, designers, artists and speculative thinkers.

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Masters Thesis: Whateverest: Exploring the Landscape of Apathy and Agency, by Charlotta Hellichius

Masters Thesis: Whateverest: Exploring the Landscape of Apathy and Agency, by Charlotta Hellichius

Charlotta Hellichius’ thesis, “Whateverest,” investigates the landscape of apathy and agency. She positioned it as an exploration into her own shortcomings, and an attempt to understand why she “can’t care about everything.” Charlotta set out to understand and explain why certain behaviors are integral, while others fail to become equally as important. Whateverest is about how to overcome the “whatevers” that we face in our everyday lives, and explores the landscape of apathy, harnessing personal agency, and designing for our cognitive limits of engagement.

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Every day we face an avalanche of choices that we have to “deal with”—what to wear, what coffee to order, what to prioritize at work, what lunch to eat, what YouTube video to watch, what email to respond to right now, and which ones to save for later. This affliction is called “decision overload,” and all of these small decisions are taxing our capacity to focus.

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Masters Thesis: Five+: An Exploration of Mindful Experience Through the Lens of Sense, by Cassandra Michel

Masters Thesis: Five+: An Exploration of Mindful Experience Through the Lens of Sense, by Cassandra Michel

Products of Design MFA student Cassandra Michel’s thesis titled “Five+: An Exploration of Mindful Experience Through the Lens of Sense,” started as a question of happiness and how happiness is achieved. She began by conducting research, discovering the philosophy of Mathieu Richard who proposes that happiness is a skill that is cultivated.

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Cassandra also identified a 2010 Harvard research study conducted by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert which revealed that humans have a unique ability for mind-wandering. Mind-wandering is the ability to think about the past and the future, but can quickly lead to unhappiness. In the Buddha’s Brain, Neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson contends “our vastly more developed brain is fertile ground for a harvest of suffering. Only we humans worry about the future, regret the past, and blame ourselves for the present. We get frustrated when we can’t have what we want, and disappointed when what we like ends. We suffer that we suffer.”

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Masters Thesis: The End. By Matthew Barber

Masters Thesis: The End. By Matthew Barber

Products of Design MFA student Matthew Barber’s thesis, entitled “The End.” looks at the shifting landscape of death and dying in today’s society, and the consequences of living an increasingly digital life. Matthew chose to tackle this subject after observing the effects of his grandmother’s passing from dementia. “I think this thesis really began back in 2011,” he reflects, “I saw my family struggling with my grandmother’s passing and thought that there must be a better way. I wanted to understand why this was so hard on us.”

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Instead of looking at traditional patient-driven solutions, Matt began by looking into design solutions based on the patient’s extended family and friends. He saw an opportunity to investigate the terminally ill, but more specifically, the things and the people that they leave behind.

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