The heart of the program is the mastering of three fields crucial to the future of design: Making, Structures, and Narratives.

 

Shorter, more intensive courses, mixed with a "no grades" policy translates into maximum risk and an optimized use of time, attention, and resources.

 
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In the program, students don't have to choose between tracks. They are all combined, strategically placed across the 2-year experience.

Making
Students investigate multiple dimensions of physical design practice, its processes, and tools. We deepen the connection to craft, and explore the fascinating potential of technology on artifacts. We ground making in both the personal delight of the maker, and the commercial, production, and experiential possibilities that happen with scale.

Located on steps away from Products of Design is the new Visible Futures Lab (VFL)—a mix of a woodworking and machine shop, rapid prototyping lab, electronics lab, sewing & soft lab, and gallery, all in one space. The VLF is a state-of-the-art Maker Space featuring the latest tools for digital fabrication (see complete list of equipment here).

Structures
Students learn about the information and business structures that make effective design possible: research, systems thinking, strategy, user experience and interaction/information design. Students gain a capacity to put design in experiential, social, business and economic contexts.

Narratives
Design demands stories. At every step, the story of the design and its animating ideas must be made compelling through drawing, graphic representation, videography, history, writing, and point of view. Students explore the storytelling dimension of design necessary throughout the design process—from idea to market.


 

YEAR 1 | FALL SEMESTER

Making Studio

Faculty: Becky Stern, Product Manager, Instructables

Making is at the heart of product design. Serving as an introduction to the re-emerging fields of making, hacking, modding and do-it-yourself (DIY), this course will delve into techniques, tools and resources for expanding what we can make ourselves. We will combine traditional and novel techniques and materials in electronics, computation, crafts, fabrication, entrepreneurship and more, moving beyond ideation and concepting to create fully functional products of design. Students will have opportunities for online exposure and access to a network of innovators, hackers, hobbyists and crafters producing DIY projects. Hands-on skill workshops in electronics and crafts are complemented with field trips, discussions and critiques.

Affirming Artifacts

Faculty: Allan Chochinov, Chair, MFA Products of Design; Partner, Core77

Affirming Artifacts is a course that quickly immerses the designer into navigating the design criteria of purpose, appropriateness and fit. Too often, design solutions are conceived in isolation or abstraction, with little bearing on the context in which they will ultimately live and thrive. In this course, students will take a rigorous approach to conceiving and executing various products of design—material, experiential, discursive or activist—with an eye toward pushing beyond obvious wants and needs and moving toward preferred behaviors through context-specific persuasive objects.

Systems, Scale and Consequence

Faculty: Richard Tyson, Connected Places Strategy Director, Gensler Research Institute; James Wynn, Intelligent Places, Gensler

This course will trace the life of designed products and services through the systems that make them possible, valuable and meaningful. It examines some fundamental questions: What obligations must be addressed when conceiving the scale systems of designed objects? What constraints does working at scale put on the designer? How does conceiving these consequences change how we design? This course encourages collaboration to conceive, explore and articulate the implications of designed products and services—the limits, possibilities and opportunities that shape a professional designer’s practice and career.

Design Research and Integration

Faculty: Alexandre Hennen, Director of HealthCare Solutions, Johnson & Johnson Design; Jonathan Meléndez-Davidson, Design Strategist, Johnson & Johnson Design

Design, its related tools and its research methods have become essential compo- nents for companies that seek disruptive change and true innovation, and have found that old models lead only to incremental solutions. Held at IDEO, this course will examine early phases of the innovation process with an emphasis on design research methods—from framing an initial challenge to inspiration, insight, synthesis, idea and concept. We will address the key transitions between articulating needs and designing solutions for those needs. Working in teams on a shared challenge, students will create designs that convert creative ideas into action and products grounded in human-centered research.

3D Product Design

Faculty: Sinclair Smith, Principal, SS&Co

Three-Dimensional Product Design introduces students to product development and the design of basic hand tools. It uses the past as a frame and asks students to research and redesign tools that have been rendered obsolete or forgotten by some technological innovation or cultural shift. The philosophical argument of the course is that humanity’s development is inextricably intertwined with the development of its hand tools, and that our survival through an unforeseeable future depends on the sustainability of our handwork.

Design for Sustainability and Resilience

Faculty: Claire Hartten, Designer, Integrative Sitopian Projects; Kate Bakewell, Founder, Executive Director, Biocities

Many product designers feel trapped in siloed roles, supporting the production of wasteful, disposable and toxic materials. Through the theme of food, this course will examine relationships, systems and infrastructures connecting us to local and global sustainability: growing, harvesting, processing, transporting, distributing, selling, preserving, cooking, eating and disposing of the waste related to food—the elements that shape many aspects of our lives and relate directly to our planet’s future. Working with sustainability experts and change makers (including scientists, engineers, farmers and other specialists), students create designs that address one of the most fundamental aspects of life. Sessions take place at various locations throughout New York City and its surrounding region, as living laboratories for design projects.

Design for Social Value

Faculty: Jennifer Rittner, Principal, Content Matters; Rachel Abrams, Associate Principal at Arup | Design strategy

The way we think about and understand value creation has largely been driven by financial measures of success. Today, social and ecological concerns have often been ceded to governments and nonprofits while business focuses on financial outputs. This course proposes a new model—one in which companies, governments and nonprofits all need to create new kinds of value in order to thrive in a changing economy. Design for Social Value will challenge our concepts of business success, social innovation and the role of the designer. Students will work directly with institutional and business partners to identify, design and evaluate new types of value. Rooted in a learning-by-doing methodology, student teams will work directly with organizations to develop products and services that create new value. A series of guest lectures will provide students with further opportunities to learn from and work directly with thought leaders in the social space.

Lecture Series | Studio Visits | Seminars

Faculty: Kristina Lee, Director of Operations, MFA Products of Design; Allan Chochinov, Chair, MFA Products of Design

Rotating weekly: Lecture Series introduces the students to world-renown design thinkers and practitioners. Studio Visits bring students out into New York City to visit the most contemporary studios and designers in their own environs. Seminars introduce professional practice, portfolio, interviewing techniques, and creating a network that will fortify students in their professional lives.

 


YEAR 1 | SPRING SEMESTER

Smart Objects

Faculty: Matthew Borgatti, Founder, Super-Releaser

The ubiquity of embedded computing has redefined the role of form in material culture, leading to the creation of artifacts that communicate well beyond their static physical presence to create ongoing dialogues with both people and each other. This course will explore the rich relationship among people, objects and information through a combination of physical and digital design methods. Beginning with an examination of case studies, students will gain a sense of the breadth of product design practice as it applies to smart objects. Through a combination of lectures and hands-on studio exercises, students will investigate all aspects of smart object design, including expressive behaviors (light, sound and movement), interaction systems, ergonomics, data networks and contexts of use. The course will culminate in a final project that considers all aspects of smart object design within the context of a larger theme.

Material Futures

Faculty: Andrew Dent PhD, Vice President, Material ConneXion

These interactive workshops will address current and future material worlds. Taught at Material ConneXion with a library of more than 5,000 innovative materials, technologies and processes, the series will examine the fundamentals of material technologies used in design and the context surrounding material choices in terms of performance, aesthetics and sustainability. Future trends for shaping the material choices of tomorrow will also be explored. An understanding of today’s range of material possibilities is essential, but what creates real change is deliberate design for material futures. Second-generation nanotechnology, biomimicry and biomaterials all offer the possibility to move beyond our current manufacturing processes to a future that is better aligned with our environment and resources.

Design Performance

Faculty: Sinclair Smith, Principal, SS&Co

Design Performance will take an improvisational approach to organizing student work and presenting it to the community in an end-of-year exhibition. Products and ideas perform specific roles in our lives, and we perform specific roles in relation to them. A designer manipulates the roles and relationships between products and users. In this light, the designer can be seen as director in the highly malleable and controllable theater of the designed world. Drawing from a long history of storytelling and performance techniques, this course will explore new possibilities for communicating innovative design work. Students will be guided through an evaluation of their product and design ideas and develop the ideal forum for presenting those ideas.

Business Structures

Faculty: Toshi Mogi, Global Financial Services Lead, Frog Design

Taught at the acclaimed Frog Design Studios in Brooklyn, This course examines the critical aspects of successful organizations, including the development of strategy and business models, business plans and pitches, intellectual property and entrepreneurship. Through an exploration of fundamental business issues at the beginning of the 21st century, students develop either a business plan for a new organization or a new business model and strategic plan for an existing organization. The result is a formal “pitch” presentation given to guest professionals and classmates.

Framing User Experiences

Faculty: Jason Severs, Chief Design Officer, DROGA5

Products are no longer simply products; they live within complex business and technological ecosystems. To fully understand the user experience, designers must be highly flexible communicators, facilitators, mediators and thinkers. Whether designing a dialysis machine, a mobile phone app, or a water filtration system for the developing world, design is as much about framing user experiences as it is about the creation of new artifacts. This course focuses on the relationships between objects and their contexts, how to identify human behaviors and needs, and how those behaviors and needs converge to create user experiences.

Video Storytelling

Faculty: Michael Chung, Founder, Cinematic Reality

Visual storytelling has become a critical tool in helping designers sketch, prototype, visualize and communicate their ideas. Increasingly, this storytelling takes place within the medium of video, which provides a powerful, immersive and easily disseminated means of articulating the products of design. From context to scenarios, from use to benefits, as product designers expand their purview into the realm of experience design, video has become a lingua franca of both design practice and design commerce. This course will cover the basic principles of visual communication using techniques in contemporary filmmaking. Working in teams on a tangible project, students will get hands-on experience in different stages of the storytelling process, including observation, ideation, script writing, storyboarding, shooting and editing.

Design Histories

Faculty: Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Museum of Modern Art

This course will examine the past 20 years of design history, focusing on some of the objects, personalities and forces that have come to define contemporary design practice and discourse. Over the past two decades, we have seen the emergence of design metaphor, design irony, critical design and design interactions. We have grappled with authorship, the design personality, the role of the media, the interdisciplinary expansion of design exhibitions and the emergence of social media. Additionally, the growing popularity of design-for-luxury and design art has provided a provocative dichotomy for humanitarian design and design for social change. DIY design, hacking, modding, rapid prototyping and an explosion of craft have accompanied a revolution in designers empowered by the Internet, and science and technology have become design drivers alongside design thinking, influencing business culture and policy making alike. What do we make of these developments, and what do they portend for the future?

Point of View

Faculty: Rob Walker, Author

Point of view is a core building block of any successful design, and any successful design career. It’s about what you believe and why you believe it. While it’s easy to rationalize almost any design project as “good” from various sets of design criteria, the strongest designers take a proactive role in defining and articulating a clear point of view and carrying it through their work. If designers are going to be more than executors of others’ ideas or agents in the service of industry, they must enter the professional world with their own ideas, firmly grounded, passionate and with a personal stake.

Deconstruction & Reconstruction

Faculty: Ayse Birsel, Co-Founder & Creative Director, Birsel + Seck

Processes of deconstruction and reconstruction are some of the most powerful tools for the designer. Objects and experiences come to us packaged in coherent wholes and, as creative thinkers, we have the opportunity to tenaciously question these wholes in order to evaluate, understand and reshape them. Deconstruction is a simple and intuitive way to take apart our present reality and to perceive it anew—as a set of abstractions—freeing us to be both critical and appreciative of the way things might otherwise go together. Reconstruction combines the deconstructed parts in new ways to derive innovative, novel solutions. In this course, students create taxonomies of their daily activities and priorities, and re-imagine them as a visual language.

Interaction Intervention

Faculty: Sigi Moeslinger & Masamichi Udagawa, Partners, Antenna Design

Interaction design is not limited to the domain of digital media; it is at the heart of every artifact. Similarly, all artifacts can be construed as “interventions,” soliciting reactions whenever they are encountered. One aspect of designing an artifact
is to encourage an intended activity and mediate the relationships between its multiple audiences, making the interaction a key factor of the design. In this course, students will design an intervention into a public space, providing an object/environment/service—either entirely physical or enhanced with electronics; stand-alone, or connected—intended to encourage curiosity, investigation, thought, interaction, socialization and positive change.


YEAR 2 | FALL SEMESTER

The second year focuses on business structures, environmental stewardship, design metrics, strategy, and delight, culminating in a year–long thesis project that combines previous learning and individual passion. Interwoven with this purposeful, change–making work, students develop the personal, creative and business connections to enable their professional success. Students leave with comprehensive documentation, robust fluencies, and signature work.


Thesis 1: Research and Design Lenses

Faculty: Andrew Schloss, Allan Chochinov

Thesis I is an opportunity to explore design-thinking, design-making and design- doing that is ambitious in scope, innovative in approach and worthwhile in enterprise. Each student will choose an area of investigation and then begin rapid design-making exercises to create a body of design work, research, ideation and presentation materials. Research and exploration will help to surface the design opportunities that resonate most powerfully with a point of view, the urgencies of design needs, the scale of potential solutions and the richness of design endeavor. Since theses tend to be multilayered, students will execute design work on a continuum of enterprise—from design gestures and discursive design concepts through primary and secondary research to prototypes, as well as systems and business models.


Product, Brand, and Experience

Faculty: Hylnur Atlason, Founder, Atlason

Products are increasingly seen as the embodiments of brands and consumer experiences, with product design playing a critical role in reflecting a brand’s personality. In this course, students discover how product design, consumer experience and branding interrelate, and how addressing the needs of both users and markets from different perspectives can provide a more holistic approach to the creation of designed objects. We will work through a complete design process, defining an opportunity within a specified consumer space, performing research, developing insights and strategy, concepting and refining. Throughout the process, students concentrate on creating a cohesive and viable brand campaign, including final design, identity and packaging.


Virtual Reality

Faculty: Daniel Perlin, Founder, Make_Good_Design

As products and experiences move from the physical to the digital, and now to the virtual, new design technologies, processes and methodologies are required. This course introduces students to the foundational principles of designing for VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality), taking them through deep dives into the hardware, software and UX considerations of designing for this new medium. Overarching topics will range from live-action 360 filmmaking to sound design, character and persona design, and narrative structure. Students will leverage their newfound skills and techniques to create immersive experiences in a final project using the Unity platform.


Leadership and Strategic Management

Faculty: Megan Ford, Program Manager, argodesign

The hidden forces behind how consumer objects are made will be the focus of this course. Systems thinking, lifecycle analysis and Stakeholder Management Theory will be used as frameworks for understanding the industrial process. We will also examine the ecological, social and financial impact of a consumer product across the full product lifecycle. Critical analysis, business logic, design research and object-making consciousness will be addressed. Course work follows the product manufacturing cycle from ideation to final end-of-life. Students will document the lifecycle of a product and develop an alternate design scenario that radically improves it.


Design for Public Policy

Faculty: Shanti Mathew, Deputy Director, Public Policy Lab

Culture, values, law, politics, policy, and the state—these are the materials of a society, but what do each of these words mean, how do they interact as a system, and how do we leverage them to create change? In this class, we will define the terms above and learn the practicalities of government, including common processes of developing policy and delivering services. Students will be exposed to classic philosophical readings on the nature of the state, as well as current design practitioners working to innovate in government. Together, we will interrogate how we practically—and ethically—negotiate power, values, politics, and physicality as we work in the public sector, for the public good. At the end of the course, students will have practiced their ability to connect social theory to professional practice, visually map service systems, identify levers of change, and conduct human-centered policy design initiatives with government.


YEAR 2 | SPRING SEMESTER

Thesis II: Information Architecture and Documentation

Faculty: Jennifer Rittner, Principal, Content Matters

Design work is often fraught with complex details and seemingly unanswerable questions. It turns out that it is entirely possible to make things without making much sense. This course will focus on making sense of students’ thesis work, and how best to communicate that work to peers, to stakeholders, and to the project’s intended audience. The work in Thesis II represents the culmination of the program and will embody the knowledge and strategies students have learned during the past two years. The written thesis document and a formal verbal and visual presentation given by each Master of Fine Arts candidate will be produced in this course.

Service Entrepreneurship

Faculty: Steven Dean, Partner, Prehype

Services have a significant impact in our everyday lives and in great measure determine the quality of our well being as we interact with the world around us. As designers are called upon to imagine and design increasingly complex product- service systems, we need new frameworks for understanding, and tools to steer us toward better outcomes, more meaningful service experiences, and greater chances for the viability of businesses. Great service experiences are about relationships: those between people, between people and things, and between people and processes. These relationships form and grow based upon the quality and effectiveness of the “conversations” that take place. Learning how conversation works among the participants of larger service systems is useful to describe how a service works, and to reveal opportunities for improvement through design. In product-service ecosystems, students will learn to see participants, objects and interactions as opportunities for conversation to define and agree on goals, and the means by which to achieve them.

Business Modeling

Faculty: Bill Cromie, KT Gillett, Hannah Calhoon, Partners, Blue Ridge Labs

Creating iterative business models aimed at uncovering the assumptions that impact the potential success of any venture is the focus of this course. We will explore how to prioritize risks and apply rapid, low-cost methods to generate earnings and increase confidence. The course is structured to help students strengthen their ability to create more robust business concepts by iterating on the fundamental business cases underlying them. By the end of the course, students will be able to access the primary drivers of success for their concepts, map out the path forward and pitch their business plans to a panel of invited experts.

Design Delight

Faculty: Emilie Baltz, Founder and Creative Director, BALTZ WORKS

Creating iterative business models aimed at uncovering the assumptions that impact the potential success of any venture is the focus of this course. We will explore how to prioritize risks and apply rapid, low-cost methods to generate earnings and increase confidence. The course is structured to help students strengthen their ability to create more robust business concepts by iterating on the fundamental business cases underlying them. By the end of the course, students will be able to access the primary drivers of success for their concepts, map out the path forward and pitch their business plans to a panel of invited experts.

Designing Beyond Screens

Faculty: Brent Arnold, Design Manager, Lyft

Creating iterative business models aimed at uncovering the assumptions that impact the potential success of any venture is the focus of this course. We will explore how to prioritize risks and apply rapid, low-cost methods to generate earnings and increase confidence. The course is structured to help students strengthen their ability to create more robust business concepts by iterating on the fundamental business cases underlying them. By the end of the course, students will be able to access the primary drivers of success for their concepts, map out the path forward and pitch their business plans to a panel of invited experts.

Thesis Presentation

Faculty: Allan Chochinov, Chair, MFA Products of Design

Whether telling a tale through text, video, audio or other medium, knowing how to engage an audience and make a clear argument is crucially important to making an impact and producing a lasting effect. In this course, each student will be assisted in defining a presentation that effectively communicates the message at the heart of the thesis.