The latest in a series of one-on-one conversations with SVA department chairs.
In September 2012, SVA is launching a pioneering new graduate program, MFA Products of Design. Chaired by Allan Chochinov, editor-in-chief of the oldest established design Web publication, Core77, the MFA is an extensive two-year program that will guide students as they reinvent design systems in ways that are focused on positive, long-term sustainability.
In between talks at the Mayo Clinic, IDSA National, and AIGA National, Chochinov shares, via e-mail, his vision of the program, its mandates and point of view, and some of the experiences students can expect to engage in.
Tell me about MFA Products of Design.
The MFA in Products of Design is a two-year, immersive graduate program that prepares exceptional practitioners across various disciplines for leadership in the shifting terrain of design. We talk about educating “heads, hearts, and hands” to reinvent systems and catalyze positive change, and we do this through design thinking, design making, and design doing. Throughout the program, students gain fluency in the three fields crucial to the future of design: Making—from the handmade to digital fabrication; Structures—business, research, systems, strategy, user experience and interaction; and Narratives—including video storytelling, history and point of view. Most of the coursework is project-based, and we engage emerging science and materials, social systems, and business savvy to help students develop the skills and fluency to create positive consequence. We navigate the challenges of production, consumption, and sustainability, and keep a keen eye on celebration as well as problem-solving. The department is optimistic and rigorous—those two keep everyone in check!
What kind of students are you expecting will apply?
There are a few different kinds of students who have been attracted to the program: People with strong skills and experience in product and industrial design—disillusioned with the kinds of projects they are working on in their professional lives—who are looking for more meaning in their design work. We’re also welcoming people with deep knowledge and experience in progressive fields who actually ought to be in design; who will be more powerful with strategic and design thinking abilities, able to create positive change through scale. There will be candidates who are comfortable in the world of business, DIY, research, and entrepreneurship who love to “make things;” who understand that the enterprise of design is a team sport requiring multi-disciplinary thinking and fluencies across a vast array of stakeholders.
What are you most looking forward to about starting?
I’ve been teaching graduate and undergraduate design for over 16 years now, and the excitement that comes with new students every September is just as tremendous as it was when I started. But the fall of 2012 will be extra special of course, since my relationship to the MFA Products of Design students will be as teacher, mentor, advocate and air traffic controller (!) in a much more holistic, all-encompassing way. In addition, I will be working with faculty who are some of the most amazing practitioners and thinkers in the world, and the anticipation of creating a safe, nurturing environment for these two groups—students and teachers—to co-create in is indescribable.
What can enrolled students expect from their first year?
A program’s first year students are pioneers, helping to define the inputs and outputs of a program and really making the curriculum their own. We are placing a great deal of emphasis on point of view in this MFA, so students’ individual voices will be honored and celebrated. The first year studio experience will be a whirlwind of endeavor—from soldering arduino boards to working with NGOs; from deep immersion in interaction design to research, systems thinking, and environmental stewardship. Students will be attending classes off campus at New York’s IDEO office, at Material ConneXion, and in various food-related venues. They’ll also be co-mingled with MFA Interaction Design students for two of their classes, and will occupy the Visible Futures Lab—a state of the art making facility stocked with high-tech rapid prototyping machines, low-tech shop tools, and everything in between.
I read somewhere recently that you guys are going to have a pretty impressive kitchen. Care to elaborate?
Sure, this is something we’re very proud of. Food is the ultimate design experience, encompassing extraction, production, distribution, point of purchase, preparation, tools, aesthetics, consumption, waste, composting—it’s really the perfect analog to design. But it’s also the fuel that powers us, and my experience with design students is that they focus solely on their homework and little else, including their wellbeing. We’ve devoted generous space to food storage, preparation, and enjoyment, and will encourage students to treat their eating habits with the rigor and passion that they treat their design work. Many of our faculty are passionate about food and food systems, so there will be curricula around the topic. But we’re not dogmatic about this; we simply want to give students more than a microwave and a water cooler, and to encourage them to spend time in ways that are technology-free, socially vital, fun, and delicious.
What do you hope students will get out of the program by the end of it?
We’re preparing the next generation of people to understand that designers create consequence. We want that consequence to resonate with the students as individuals, and we want it to reflect the principals and values of the department as a whole and of the institution of the School of Visual Arts. Ultimately, we are preparing students with the training, education, and networks to empower them to fill leadership positions at the leading design firms and progressive corporations, to create enterprises, organizations, and businesses of their own, and to become lifelong ambassadors for the power of design. We won’t wait ’til the end for any of this, by the way. It will start the first week.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I feel immensely privileged to be a part of the SVA Graduate Programs, and am grateful to David Rhodes and Steven Heller, who first approached me with the challenge of creating an educational experience around the “next” products of design. Their encouragement for pushing the boundaries of design disciplines, and Anthony Rhodes‘ support of the operational and Arts Abroad components of the program, have made the promise of this MFA unique and powerful. In the end, it’s all about the students of course, and we can’t wait to get started.