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.

Masters Thesis: BETTER: The Prejudices & Practices of Mass Production, by Mansi Gupta

Masters Thesis: BETTER: The Prejudices & Practices of Mass Production, by Mansi Gupta

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.

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Masters Thesis: Hacking the Orchestra of Life: A Movement for Capturing Ambient Energy, by Damon Ahola

Masters Thesis: Hacking the Orchestra of Life: A Movement for Capturing Ambient Energy, by Damon Ahola

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.




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Design and Politics: SVA Works With the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers

Design and Politics: SVA Works With the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers

This blog post was written by Natalie Balthrop, Producer at Zagoa 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.

A photo from the streets of Camden, NJ Courtesy of Zago/2013)

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.

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Cameron Tonkinwise Visits As Part Of The Visiting Lecture Series


On April 22nd (and fittingly, Earth Day), Cameron Tonkinwise returned to give the closing lecture of the 2013-2014 Visiting Lecture Series. The talk was entitled “Design as Deliberate but Deliberative Futuring.” In the talk, Cameron argues that “where craft was mired in real-time in-the-field trial-and-error, design promised processes of forethought to find and decide on preferred futures. The mania today for design thinking iterations, rapid full-scale prototyping, and pivoting lean beta releases threatens to return us to the era of craft.”

At the start, Cameron reflects on his visit to the department last year: “When I spoke at SVA this time last year, I reacted with the suggestion that designers needed to re-cultivate the capacity to vision bigly and boldly. But I now worry that this modernist gesture lies too close to that of the techno-libertarians running many digital businesses. This talk worries about those who advocate the Proactionary Principle – the insistence that to face today’s challenges, such as those concerning our sustainability, we need to take risks with large-scale technologies. Given this shift in the political spectrum of design, I suggest some heuristics for designing resolutely but reversibly.”


Open to the public, the lecture was attended by students from several MFA programs, design professionals and fans, and a couple new students who will be joining us this coming September!

MISSION CTRL Goes Live at Wanted Design!

MISSION CTRL Goes Live at Wanted Design!

As part of NYCxDesign, the students of the MFA in Products of Design at the School of Visual Arts present  MISSION CTRL, a suite of interactions that explore how we come together to experience and share new design. The interventions turn common gestures of digital, social networking into analog artifacts and performances, critiquing our dependence on new technology and providing alternatives for timely communication and wayfinding. Through a playful series of dynamic, participatory installations, MissionCTRL celebrates the design community at large, and invites visitors to put away their devices and interact with each other in real life (IRL). The work comes out of a 10-week class called Design Performance taught by Sinclair Smith, which explores design exhibition beyond the pedestal, focusing in on interaction, participation, and staging new behaviors.

The roving work is part of WantedDesign,  and visitors can learn more at ProjectMissionCTRL Tumblr. [Photos: Vidhi Goel]




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