Michael Chung, celebrated film maker and faculty member, just put the finishing touches on a new film about student life here at the MFA Products of Design program. We have always been huge fans of Michael's work, and were thrilled to engage him in putting together a video that would simultaneously show what it was like to be a student in the program, along with providing a broad representation of the kinds of people who, well, "live here." We asked Michael about challenges of the project, along with the role that video now plays in the designer's toolkit.
Steve Hamilton’s master’s thesis, Enough is the New More: Reframing Scarcity to Feel Like Abundance, began with a manifesto of dialectics, eschewing our persistently growth-based metric for success, rejecting the last several centuries of western economic culture that led to the consumerization of happiness in the United States, and offering a more humane and sustainable alternative. His early research centered around a plethora of “wicked problems”—including those pertaining to vastly embedded systemic structures such as energy, materials, transportation, and the design of our cities—and culminated in a set of radical artifacts that speculate on an alternative future.
Design strategist and storyteller Julia Plevin did not realize how much of an effect the environment had on her wellbeing before she moved to New York City to attend the Products of Design program and found herself yearning for nature. After a harsh New York City winter left her depressed and out of whack, she realized that she suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). And she realized she was not alone. According to the National Institute of Health, 6% of the U.S. population suffers from seasonal affective disorder and 14% of the U.S. population suffers from winter blues. These numbers are even larger if you consider many Americans live in places like California or Florida that do not have long, cold winters.
Heath Wagoner’s master’s thesis, Disclosional: Creating Conversation Around, In, and Outside HIV, centers around HIV and the role of conversation. Acknowledging that oftentimes “a conversation is simply not enough,” Heath argues that in the case of HIV, it is imperative. Disclosional is aimed at making communicating about HIV status easier, and to remove its stigma. Heath’s thesis work began with him volunteering at the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center (LESHRC) in New York, and ended with a participatory and immersive exhibition and an educational app.
Berk Ilhan’s master’s thesis, Uplift, addresses the quality of life of cancer patients—identifying opportunities that cultivate joy and happiness, and strengthening the support group around the patient. Based on his hypothesis that, through design, joy and humor can positively change most experiences—and inspired by the revolutionary physician Hunter Doherty (popularly known as “Patch Adams”), advocate of humor, fun, and love in healthcare—Berk’s work re-imagines hospital and outpatient experiences beyond conventional boundaries.
Lusha Huang’s master’s thesis, It’s Chinese to me: Luck and Cultural Empathy, explores the disconnect between Chinese an American culture. As a Chinese student in an international design department, Lusha enthusiastically took on the role of messenger—eager to share her country’s tradition and philosophy with others. Her over-arching goal is to build a cultural bridge, fostering understanding between Americans and Chinese. Central to her thesis is the theme of luck, which dates back to ancient China and has always been extremely important to Chinese culture.
Elisa Werbler’s master’s thesis, Things, explores how we ascribe value to our everyday possessions. It examines the things we cherish from our past, the things that signify our relationships with others, the things we consume, the things we share, and the things we can’t bear to part with. Western society suffers from an affliction known as “loss-aversion”—the pain of losing something is greater than the pleasure of gaining something. This term, coined by world renowned psychologist Daniel Kahneman, goes hand in hand with what’s known as “the endowment effect”—the idea that something is more valuable to you than anyone else, simply because it’s yours. The combination of these two ideas led Werbler down a path of trying to pinpoint the exact moment when a decision is being made about something, whether it is in anticipation of a purchase, or an attempt to let go.
A the start of the second MFA Products of Design thesis presentations, aptly named "SE2OND", chair Allan Chochinov welcomes guests, talks about the philosophy and process of the the department's unique approach to the thesis, and provides thanks to the many people who made the projects possible.
Brandon Washington's master's thesis, The Spectacle, is an investigation into Guy Debord's theory of the same name and how it relates to contemporary society. The spectacle is a communication tool that employs fantasy in order to sell the idea of how we should live our lives, and what we should aspire to be.
May Shuchang Sun's master's thesis, Her Sense: Women, Technology and Intervention, is aimed at helping women in the workplace by creating technology that builds confidence. The thesis work grew from her initial question: "How can we build and strengthen the relationship that women have with technology?"
The objective of Lucy Knops' master's thesis, The Void: Finding Value in Nothing, was to reframe the "role of absence" in people's daily lives. She began on a conceptual level by asking simple questions: What if nothing could be something? What if we could add to our lives by taking away more?
Eliz Ayaydin's master's thesis, I Was There When, explores how people deal with traumatic memories-specifically, mental relief following natural disasters. Arguing that "at base, designers make sense of messes," Ayaydin set herself the challenge of making sense of one of the most unexpected and uncontrollable messes there are.
Vidhi Goel's master's thesis, Kona: Changing Perspective on Learning in India, challenges the structure and effectiveness of the current curriculum and public school system in India. She believes that "learning should empower children and liberate them from mental barriers and social crutches."
Lance Green's master's thesis, Grey Space, is a study focused on the interstitial spaces in which we often find ourselves working, and on our ability to adapt to new or unfamiliar working environments.
Andres Iglesias' master's thesis, Shift: A Proposal to Lift Community Morale, explores two principal ideas: the power of optimism to change the way a group of people see their immediate surroundings, and how searching out "the good" in one's environment-rather than focusing on the flaws-can be crucial for developing a sense community.
Miguel Olivares’s master’s thesis, In Knead: Rebuilding Intent in Our Relationship with Food, examines how food can be a material for relationship building. Miguel’s love for food and design began in a 10-day immersive workshop held in the Domaine de Boisbuchet, France, studying the physical, emotional and experiential benefits associated with cooking. Inspired by the work of neurologists such as Frank Wilson and philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, In Knead focuses on the influence that the hands have on how we engage our way of being in our daily lives. In Knead is a case study in creating purpose through cooking, and is explored as a digital product, tools, public experience, and business enterprise.
I'm currently reading a new book on entrepreneurship called An Entrepreneurs Manifesto by Steve Mariotti. He's a bit of a revolutionary when it comes to mentorship. Mentoring has been on my mind lately and the connection is that for those of us that never had a real mentor, especially at an early age, how does this affect us and how does this lack of guidance create trouble down the line of our lives?
I decided to focus my summer research on the experiences of traveling. I’ve always been fascinated by traveling and by exploring different cultures. Also, now that I’m experiencing how it is to live abroad, I'm putting my own culture into perspective. Living here has not only taught me a lot about American culture (and Chinese, and Thai, and Turkish, and so on) but it has also changed how I perceive Brazil and São Paulo just by being distant and looking back with distant eyes.
In preparation for the Thesis I course and during the summer between the two years of the program, the masters students engage in thesis reading and send "check-in" emails to each other three times before the start of fall. With Eden Lew's permission, here's what she wrote to her classmates on June 14th—her first "check-in".
The first-year students (soon to be second year!) of the MFA Products of Design program are interning at some amazing places: American Express; Gensler NY; Local Projects; Google Palo Alto; PSFK; Mother New York; Tomorrow Labs; SYPartners; Pensa; Outdoor Voices; Birsel + Seck; HTC Design Management Group; Baltz Works; Nike Running; Lippencott, NewLab, The Principals; Questto|No; Wondersauce; and Marchon.
The students of the MFA Products of Design took home 5 different honors in this year's Core77 Design Awards! The recognized work spanned multiple categories—from Interaction Design and Social Impact Design, to Consumer Products and Packaging.