In her thesis Prosumerism: Crafting Alternate Consumption Experiences, Sowmya Iyer explores whether products and services can ease the consumer’s guilt of excessive spending and materialism by providing them with options that best fit their values of sustainability. She also wanted to find out if these products/services could be adaptive to the consumer’s lifestyle and built for their convenience. As part of her research process, Sowmya spoke to researchers, innovators, educators, authors, and artists exploring ways to reduce the effects of modern consumerism on the environment.
Designed by recent grad Louis Elwood-Leach as part of his Masters Thesis, FirstHand is a watch with an algorithmically-generated and digitally-manufactured watchface. Using parametric design on the input side, and digital fabrication on the output side, the innovative watch concept produces a unique design every time it is ordered and sold. "The experience of purchasing and assembling the product connects the user to the design and manufacture process," Elwood-Leach offers, "thereby developing a relationship with the product through understanding the details of its design.”
As an avid climber and hiker, Alexia Cohen found herself interested in examining the role of women in the great outdoors. When she started climbing three years ago, she attended an event organized by Flash Foxy—a group of women dedicated to celebrating and empowering women climbers. Through this event, she met her climbing partner Janice, who as Alexia recalls “quickly became a friend and a mentor. Her guidance and support helped me develop my climbing technique and become more comfortable in this new space.” She also began to understand the importance of community and women mentors in traditionally male-dominated spaces.
Webbing is an online event planner for non-monogamous people who want to celebrate their relationships. Yangying Ye designed Webbing as part of her thesis, MONO/POLY: Designing for a Post-Marriage Society. (Webbing is a play on the word “wedding”—a ceremony for meaningful relationships of more than two.)
There are a ton of books out there on how to have more productive, more meaningful meetings, but the fact of the matter is, you’re not going to read these books. You haven’t yet, and you probably won’t. So the problem is that everyone agrees that meetings are completely broken, but nobody will take the time or the trouble to learn how to fix them. I have an alternative solution, and it’s made by changing one single word. No books, no seminars, no videos, no list of rules to post on the conference room wall. Just one word.
Since mass industrialization, the past few centuries have seen abundant growth and prosperity for humankind, but not so much for the planet. With little regard for the environment, industrialization has caused all kinds of pollution, loss of natural areas and biodiversity among others, and this carries a cost. This cost can be expressed as ecological debt that future generations must pay. By honing into the ecological debt accumulated by cities, Kuan Xu attempts to redeem by introducing the concept of ecological service and its significance. The design interventions then take a variety of lenses to advocate for ecological service design to instigate environmental consciousness and awareness driven action in the urban environment. With the mission of introducing ecological service into the city, and city dwellers adopting it, Kuan presents his thesis—Symbiosis, Ecological Services for the Urban Environment.
Manako Tamura has spent the last year trying to reconcile her experience as an assimilated immigrant of color by interviewing, designing for and reflecting with the generation 1.5 immigrants of color who, like her, migrated to the US in the most formative years of their identities. Going into this journey, she first thought her thesis was going to be about transnationalism, where the main tension she had to resolve was around immigrants’ countries of origin and their adopted homelands. “As I spoke with users and experts on the subject, it became clear that the real tensions had to do with the transactional nature of assimilation where,” she reveals, “one could not embody both American and another culture.”
Lassor Feasley’s thesis You Are on the Fastest Route: Intentional Community and Responsible Autonomy examines how self-driving cars might impact American culture and the habits of everyday life. For many Americans, the traditional motor vehicle mediates access to everything from social and economic connections to childhood independence and family roles. "What happens when the underlying calculous behind motor age culture is rewritten and the way people explore and understand the world is reimagined?”, Lassor asks. Through his research, Lassor wanted to try and anticipate the consequences that autonomous cars might inspire. Over the past year, he has explored the social, the economic, and the ethical aspects of car culture, and leverages the tools of design to imagine how an advanced mobility system might drive positive change.
As a designer, Jiani Lin believes that great design can be inspired by our everyday experiences. Her thesis YES, MAYBE NOT: A Design Investigation into Young Adulthood focuses on exploring the shared emotions, behaviors, and experiences young adults have as they graduate college and enter the working world, or plan to do so, all while leaving behind their comfort zone. She addresses young adults’ identity exploration on a professional, romantic, and social level through designing objects, products, service platforms, apps, and systems that can help this generation prepare for the period of life post-graduation.
Nowadays, many people enjoy visiting amusement parks like Disneyland or Universal Studios. These parks are all about theme-based experiences—experiences which, in a sense, are very close to living inside a game. “Why then, can’t a person’s daily life be experience-based in a similar way? What would it look like if we augmented ordinary life with games and experiences to make a new lifestyle for people” Teng Yu questions. In response, he developed Respawn: Activating the Bedroom Generation By Gamifying Public Spaces—a thesis of speculative, service, experience, and product design that imagines near futures where games are designed to help people building character, learning skills, and conquering challenges. Yu’s designs and ideologies subvert the unhealthy lifestyles associated with gamers by providing new and wholesome ways to game in real-world contexts.
Bernice Wong’s thesis, In Equality: Migration, Labor, and Our Modern Global Economy, explores our relationship and role in the interconnected systems that allow some to prosper and others to suffer exploitation or enslavement. She traces the state of labor rights in today’s American agricultural industry back in time to the abolition of slavery in 1865, understanding that agriculture in the U.S. remains rooted in a system historically intended to control and repress the black body. Her design projects seek to intervene where there are structures of abuse, confronting the issues of immigration, exoticism, colonization, and race as intersected and inseparable.
Juho Lee’s thesis work was inspired by the conversation that he had with his close friend about depression and suicidal feelings in South Korea during the summer of 2017. He recalls, “It seemed like a very serious issue, and I didn’t know what my friend was going through until he shared his suicide ideation. Even though he said he is okay now and laughed it off when he told me, I didn’t know how to respond.” This experience made Juho realize that perhaps Korean men are unable to reach out for help when they really need it. As someone who spent his youth in South Korea, Juho also recognized that he never learned how to discuss the topic of suicide with anyone. This insight inspired his master’s thesis Cast Away: Designs for Socially Isolated Korean Men Contemplating Suicide.
The historical mindset towards people with physical disabilities has been one of pity and exclusion. While the notion of pity and exclusion is looked down upon in liberal societies, an understanding of what constitutes the objectification of people with disabilities, as well as a greater effort towards inclusion, is still not widespread. The voices of people with limb loss and limb differences (LL/D) are not part of an extensive ongoing conversation about their rights, needs and wants. Through her thesis Upgrade, Adya aims to create the conditions that lead to more open conversations about and with people with LL/D and their acceptance in society, as well as easier access to products and services that improve their quality of life.
Before Jingting He started her thesis, she did a year-long project that consisted of sliding anonymous thank-you notes underneath the Department Chair’s office door every Monday morning. By designing these letters anonymously, she felt she could express herself more freely and creatively. She wouldn't have realized she was creative enough to produce such delightful work if she hadn’t given herself a mask of anonymity. Therefore, Jingting developed A Mask That Reveals: Exploration and Expression Through Anonymity, a thesis that creates anonymous platforms to help people explore and express other sides of themselves.
Louis Elwood-Leach’s thesis Invisible Possessions explores the rise of these invisible products and considers opportunities to reclaim our relationship with possessions in an augmented age that increasingly values access over possession, experience over product, and machine over individual. Elwood-Leach argues that in losing sight of the possessions in our lives, we are losing the means to engage with our memories, culture and sense of self.
"Currently, we live in a world that is a consequence of ignoring sound. We have reached peaks of noise pollution in our physical environments—especially in urban landscapes. This has occurred because the visual has been given priority over the aural, and continuous ignorance has led us to create and use noise abatement measures to reduce the effects of unintentionally designed soundscapes." Through his thesis Contemporary Soundscapes: Design to Prioritize Untapped Aural Potential in the Visual World, Antriksh takes the opportunity to explore the use of untapped audio potential as a medium of experience and product design through which he can engage people with the meaning of sound in its various forms.
Reaching the peak performance in competition is something athletes constantly struggle with. Many companies, doctors, research labs, and sports teams invest a lot of time and money developing new strategies and technologies to improve athletes’ performance—ranging from new training techniques to researching failure, success and how the human body works to perform sports-specific tasks. After a year of experience and research on the subject, Sebastian Harmsen states “to this day, there hasn’t been a perfect formula for success in sports, but some athletes are pretty darn close!”
As artificial intelligence’s capabilities continue to expand, there’s a growing anxiety that the impending AI Revolution may automate more jobs than it creates—triggering a crisis of worker displacement to rival the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. In response, Will Crum developed Me, Myself and A.I.: How I Learned to Love the Machine That Took my Job, a thesis of speculative designs that imagine near and distant futures where AI is used to increase individual agency—not diminish it. Crum’s proposals and provocations address access to work and other ways to protect human dignity in an automated age.
In his thesis GENTLEmen: Challenging Adults to Raise Feminine Boys, Andrew Schlesinger explores gender identity, masculinity, stereotyping, parenting, education, and male culture. Andrew has been investigating the restrictive nature placed on men and the necessity for them to conform to a masculine ideal, which is destructive to themselves and those around them. Through the feminist movement, most would acknowledge there has been a significant approach towards teaching girls traditionally masculine traits. This thesis argues we need a similar, foundational shift to teach boys feminine traits.
LoopWhole is a suite of ecological service provocations that increase conservation through impact reframing. Popular culture supports the message that material possessions represent drivers of happiness and satisfaction. For businesses, a significant measurement of success relies on endless growth and constant expansion. Thus, both consumers and producers help create centrifugal force that contributes to excessive rates of production and consumption. In turn, that taxes our financial, physical, and environmental health. They also create rampant pollution, excessive consumer debt, and a rapidly-degrading environment for many species.
With their unique ability to make ideas that seem plausible, feasible, and even inevitable, product designers are able to critique contemporary systems through tangible means. Speculative objects can provoke conversation by raising questions: Should the object exist? Why doesn’t it exist already? What must we do today to avoid needing the object in the future? In Radical Times, students from the Products of Design Master’s program at the School of Visual Arts explore speculative futures to inform product proposals for the present day. Each of these 17 products is a three-dimensional manifestation of their year-long theses, offering the students’ assessment of an urgent, contemporary issue.
The students have created The Datalogue, a four-part stationary machine which emulates the systems and unmasks the consequences behind data collection. Though data mining is an invisible procedure that occurs through countless digital channels, the exhibition transforms it into a visible, tangible process.
To start off the day for the fifth annual MFA Products of Design Thesis Presentations, program chair Allan Chochinov welcomes guests, families, and simulcast viewers, discusses the role of design in the world, and how "the design anything means the design of everything." Enjoy the opening remarks below, and be sure to check out all the thesis projects that follow here!
Designing from the question, “What bothers you the most?” Tzu-Ching Lin thought to all the infuriating times someone tried to open the door to a public bathroom he was using, often even when the stall was clearly marked as occupied.
On Friday, February 23rd, the MFA Products of Design department held its fifth annual Design:Match Job Fair event, where global and local firms and organizations met with students, shared work, and discussed employment, funding, and entrepreneurship. Below is a list of this year's attendees, along with some photos of the event!
Designed by first-year student Zihan Chen, Lyft Learn is a speculative partnership between Lyft and Coursera—a service where the leading car share provider and the massive online class platform provides Lyft riders with free accesses to all online classes from Coursera whenever they are riding a Lyft—across the U.S.
SIGMA is an open source mental health community that provides support to individuals struggling with anxiety and depression. Student Evie Cheung designed this project based on cognitive behavioral therapy. She mentioned, “According to research, over 43 million Americans struggle with mental illness in a given year. One in five Americans will experience a mental health condition at some point in their life. However, less than half of those individuals will ever seek treatment. There are many reasons for this, but it usually comes down to one of two obstacles: lack of access to care and stigma.” She wants Sigma to be a new movement for mental health that addresses both of the above issues.
We are beyond honored to be featured in the brand new MoMA Wholesale Catalog in the form of an entire spread devoted to the projects produced as a result of MoMA's 4-year-long collaboration with SVA's Products of Design program. (Last year one of our students' projects was featured on the cover!)
"Everyone knows that it's a myth that technology has reduced our use of paper of course," offers first-year student Runshi Wei. "But there is also a unique gratification with crumpling up drafts and throwing them into the trash bin." Thus was born SLAM JUNK. Indeed, there is a long history of office-based basketball hoops, and Runshi's project takes things to the next level by integrating motion sensors, light and sound effects—all powered by Arduino.