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.
Products of Design MFA student Clay Kippen’s thesis, titled “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. Much of this research points to the significance of Tacit Knowledge—a theory proposed by Michael Polanyi—where people actually know more than they think, and that this intuitive knowledge is gained through practice and firsthand experience. Lucid is a case study in building intuition through making, and is explored as a platform, digital service, product, public experience, and workshop.
Clay’s design process is influenced by his experimentation with photographic media. Prior to moving to New York City, he lived in Pittsburgh, PA, where he picked up his father’s analog SLR camera for the first time. As he grew increasingly curious about the photographic process, Clay became involved with Pittsburgh Filmmakers community darkroom. It was there that he learned to enlarge black and white prints, which he describes as “this sense of an all-encompassing magic.” He continues: “When you drop the print into the developer and rock the solution back and forth, the image appears on the surface of the paper, seemingly out of no where. It’s as if you solve the mystery of where “pre-digital printing” came from, in just a minute and thirty seconds.” While working in the darkroom, it was the smells, the sounds, and the way that the darkroom felt that stood out in Clay’s mind—precisely because they were connected to the process of making.
Masters Thesis: Presence: How to Use Digital Technology to Live a More Analog Life, by Kathryn McElroyJune 3, 2014 by Products of Design
Products of Design MFA graduate 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. After Kathryn fell in love with smart objects and electronics in her first year of graduate school, she knew that she wanted to pursue electronics in her thesis work. At the same time, however, she was keenly aware that information technology was capable of causing endless distraction and social interruption in her personal life. As a result, Kathryn directed her initial research and design explorations into mindfulness and technology-aided meditation, then quickly focused her attention toward limiting distraction and increasing focus as a way to help users become more present in their work and their experiences.
Kathryn’s early research included surveying current literature around distraction, focus, and attention, including essays and articles in Fast Company, The New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Atlantic, Wired, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and various TED talks. The number of articles on the topic evidenced the immense impact and interest around the subject, and her reading list expanded to include The Distraction Addiction by Alex Pang, Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson, Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku, and many others others. Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock had a great impact on Kathryn’s work; his observations resonated tightly with the project, especially the second chapter in the book—“Digiphrenia”—where Rushkoff discusses “how technology lets us be in more than once place—and self—at the same time.” Living simultaneously in multiple worlds consumes more cognitive energy, he argues, and the relentless onslaught of updates and information makes it difficult to find focus. His solutions included designing technology that embraces natural human cycles and rhythms, and seeking a balance in the demands of our attention.
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. For decades, the fashion industry has been criticized for having a negative social and environmental impact through its production practices. As a response, a green fashion trend, recently known as “sustainable fashion,” has emerged in the form of small brands, marketplaces and protests against fashion factories. Using the ideas of sustainable fashion as inspiration, Gupta wanted to devise ways that sustainable production methods could be adopted by factories as well.
Click diagram to enlarge
After interviewing multiple experts in the field to understand the myriad issues, challenges and languages of sustainability in fashion production, it was clear that Gupta’s work needed to address a kind of systems intervention. Every expert provided her a different definition of sustainability, pinpointing what they thought were the most urgent challenges; Gupta began to see the territory of fashion production and sustainability as a complex system made up of many stakeholders. And to ground her work, she resolved to define sustainability for herself.
Masters Thesis: Hacking the Orchestra of Life: A Movement for Capturing Ambient Energy, by Damon AholaMay 26, 2014 by Products of Design
Products of Design MFA student 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. While jogging on a treadmill at the gym one day, Damon looked at the landscape of people bobbing up and down on machines. He thought, “We were all exerting a huge amount of energy, but consuming a vast amount of energy as well.” His observation led to the question, “how can we take advantage of all of this activity?”
Ahola also looked ahead to population growth. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, the number of people in the world will increase from 7.1 billion to 9.6 billion, necessitating a need for 50% more energy. Inspired by the notion that “everything that lives also moves,” Damon used this ideal to frame his year-long body of work, aiming to inspire meaningful change by challenging people’s perception of energy use and production.
This blog post was written by Natalie Balthrop, Producer at Zago—a strategy and design studio in Manhattan. She co-led a workshop with the inaugural class of the SVA Products of Design graduate students with Manuel Toscano, CEO at Zago. Below is the story of workshop and the impact the students’ work had.
“We have had a lot of people come in and out of our doors over the years. And none have captured the essence of what we do the way that you have. I commend you for that.”
—Dr. Jeff Brenner, MD, Executive Director and Founder of Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant Award Winner
This quote ended eight months of work from the first graduates of the Products of Design program at SVA. Their design interventions struck a chord with every department of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare providers. Here’s how we got there.
Last summer, Manuel Toscano and I met Jeff Brenner, Executive Director and Founder of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers (CCHP), at a Complex Care Innovation Lab organized by the Center for Healthcare Strategies. CCHP is an organization that works to improve the care of Camden’s highest-cost, highest-need patients in the healthcare system. CCHP operates on a three-pronged theory of change fueled by data, engagement, and clinical redesign. By allocating resources in these three areas, CCHP works to improve the quality, capacity, coordination, and accessibility within the healthcare system with a patient-centered approach rooted in compassion and empathy. CCHP’s basic principle is that if you improve care for the sickest patients in the healthcare system not only will you improve the quality of life for patients, you will dramatically reduce costs. Brenner started this work when he began running the numbers around hospitalizations in Camden and realized that the sickest, most expensive patients were actually geographically localized. Data enabled him to find the patients that needed his services most and thus has been foundational to the organization.
After our first meeting at the Innovation Lab, Manuel and I spoke to Dr. Brenner about adding design capacity to the already progressive CCHP. Interestingly, CCHP is already quite advanced in using design processes in program development and organizational strategy. Inherent in their delivery model is the consideration of healthcare as a system where success means that all patient’s needs are addressed. For example, health is not a result of people being immunized and making their doctor’s appointments, but is an issue that encompasses social services, housing, community infrastructure, transportation, and so much more. CCHP designs its programs to address all of these patient issues.
Since 2012 when the Products of Design program began, Manuel and Allan had been in conversation about a workhop around Design and Politics, two subjects that are inextricably linked. Working with Dr. Brenner, CCHP, and Camden, NJ seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore these heavily weighted topics, especially considering healthcare’s recent political spotlight.