On May 8th, 2014, the MFA Products of Design department held its inaugural Masters Thesis Presentations, entitled F1RST—a day-long event that featured keynote presentations by celebrated author and cultural critic Douglas Rushkoff, followed by formal thesis project presentations from 15 graduating students...the Class of 2014. The MFA Products of Design Masters Thesis follows a unique formula, designed to support the "multi-lingual design" mission of the department. It is a year-long design pursuit that investigates a chosen subject matter or territory, where students create work that is instantiated through the following lenses: Speculative design; expert research; product prototyping; information architecture; service design, interaction design, experience design; user testing; branding, and business modeling. Valuing the strategic, the social, and the environmental, the thesis stands as a testament to the need for a holistic and critical approach to creating the products of design. Below are links to the projects presented. (View event photos of the day here.)
Chair of the MFA Products of Design, Allan Chochinov begins the inaugural thesis presentations at the SVA Theatre in New York City. [WATCH]
Douglas Rushkoff: "We are not alone." [WATCH]
GROUP 1: FROM PRODUCTS TO PLATFORMS
The first group of thesis projects acknowledges the fundamental, systemic nature of design, and that the artifacts we put into the world do not stay discreet—but rather fragment and pollinate across time, space, and media in ways that are unpredictable and unprecedented.
The objective of Richard Clarkson’s Products of Design Thesis, entitled Super: Moments of Remarkable, was to help people feel powerful by allowing them to realize their true potential in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles in life. Richard explored this challenge through experience design and positive-cognitive psychology. [VIEW PROJECT]
Damon Ahola’s thesis, entitled Hacking the Orchestra of Life: A Movement for Capturing Ambient Energy, explores the space of energy generation through human-made sources. [VIEW PROJECT]
Emi Yasaka's thesis, entitled In The Running, Human Mobility in a Sedentary World, examines the barriers to physical fitness in contemporary life. The project was inspired by her own running journey, as well as her experience with a local community running program catering to underserved. [VIEW PROJECT]
Clay Kippen’s thesis, entitled Lucid: Seeing as a Tool for Learning, examines the importance of tactile experiences in how we understand the world around us. Inspired by the work of neurologists such as Frank Wilson and philosophers such as Matthew B. Crawford, Lucid delves into the influence that tactile cues (things that we experience through touch and sight) have on the ways that we build problem-solving skills used in our daily lives. [VIEW PROJECT]
Kathryn McElroy’s thesis, entitled Presence: How to Use Digital Technology to Live a More Analog Life, explores approaches to limiting the distraction caused by modern information technology. [VIEW PROJECT]
GROUP 2: FROM SYSTEMS TO SERVICES
Systems are fundamental to the way we need to see and understand our world, and more and more, these systems are rendered by designers as service offerings. But the challenge with systems is that they’re messy, inconsistent, and made of people, prejudice, policy, and often, inertia. These next projects attempt to address difficult systems through the perspective of design.
Joseph Weissgold has spent the past year exposing the similarities he’s seen between his two background disciplines: Education and Design. Both these disciplines, he argues, are in a state of transformation, shifting from industries focused on optimizing efficiency through mass-produced offerings, to industries focused on experiences that are flexible enough to be personally relevant to their intended audiences—whether users or students. [VIEW PROJECT]
Rona Binay’s thesis entitled, ‘COEXIST, Mixing with Urban Wildlife’ studies the relationship between city and nature through the lens of urban wildlife, acknowledging that cities not only serve as living landscapes for humans, but also provision as habitats for many different species. [VIEW PROJECT]
Products of Design MFA Student Willy Chan’s thesis, entitled Alive: Comforting Your Food, questions the farming industry’s practices, concentrating specifically on the humane treatment of livestock and the organic certification process. Willy supports the argument that organic certification does not always ensure the humane treatment of animals on our farms, and that there should be different form of assessing a farm’s practices. [VIEW PROJECT]
Zena Verda Pesta's thesis, entitled State of the Art Project: Transforming Local Businesses Into Learning Laboratories, explores apprenticeship programs for teens with local making- and process-based businesses, partnering with schools and local practitioners of art and design. [VIEW PROJECT]
Mansi Gupta’s thesis, titled BETTER: The Prejudices & Practices of Mass Production, began with one goal: to bring sustainability to the larger fashion system, especially the factories that produce the garments. [VIEW PROJECT]
GROUP 3: FROM HYBRIDIZED TO DEMATERIALIZED
Two of the most tantalizing trends in contemporary design are hybridization and dematerialization—where physical, designed objects can become virtualized entirely, or brought back into a kind of hybrid, in-between state. "Things” are being replaced by “experiences” in our modern culture, but these experiences need also be deliberately considered through design.
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. Through experience design, service platforms, and mobile apps, Five+ attempts to build on contemporary ideas around neuroplasticity—that our brains and psychological tendencies are malleable, and can change with both experience and practice. [VIEW PROJECT]
Charlotta Hellichius’ thesis, Whateveres, investigates the landscape of apathy and agency. She initially positioned it as an exploration into her own shortcomings, and an attempt to understand why she “can’t care about everything.” [VIEW PROJECT]
Samantha Moore's thesis, entitled Around: Drawing out Relief and Engagement in the Urban Environment, explores overcoming everyday frustrations in New York City. The thesis began as a personal journey for relief but was soon reframed and applied to a larger audience through a platform where participants envision and prototype change. [VIEW PROJECT]
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. [VIEW PROJECT]