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Parsons' new MFA degree applies design thinking to global issues
Feb 21, 2010

Parsons The New School for Design is announcing a new Master of Fine Arts in Transdisciplinary Design, which will launch in Fall 2010. The new program will serve as a laboratory to empower designers to face the complex challenges of today's 24/7, global culture through new forms of collaborative, cross-disciplinary practice. "Some of the challenges we face in an increasingly globalized world are not easily addressed by a single design discipline," said Joel Towers, dean of Parsons. "This program will take an innovative approach that harnesses the power of design thinking to engage problems characterized by inherent complexity." Parsons' new graduate program in Transdisciplinary Design is focused on studio-based projects that bring together experts from a variety of backgrounds and points of view to tackle real-world challenges. For example, in the face of large-scale disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti, students and faculty together with external collaborators would explore how it is possible to design resilient infrastructure, taking into account the role of social systems and the built environment on natural ecologies. The program is based in the School of Design Strategies at Parsons, which encompasses innovative programs that apply design thinking to study the intersection of cities, services and ecosystems. This includes undergraduate programs in environmental studies, integrated design, and design and management; and new programs under development in undergraduate and graduate-level urban design, strategic design, and graduate-level design and management. "From reinvigorating the public sphere to fostering sustainable everyday practices, the MFA in Transdisciplinary Design will create an environment for learning and experimentation," said Jamer Hunt, chair of Urban and Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons, who is directing the new program. After earning a doctorate in cultural anthropology, Hunt served as director of the Master in Industrial Design program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia as well as led the practice, Big + Tall Design, which combines conceptual, collaborative and communication design. He is a founder of DesignPhiladelphia, an initiative to energize Philadelphia's design community and establish the city as a laboratory for innovative design projects. Hunt is joined by a faculty representing a range of disciplines, as well as an advisory board that features leaders in design and business, including: Bruce Nussbaum, professor of innovation and design at The New School and BusinessWeek contributing editor; Fiona Raby, partner in the design practice Dunne & Raby; Fred Dust, partner and practice lead at IDEO and a member of the Parsons Board of Governors; Tucker Viemeister, chief of the Lab at Rockwell Group; and Andrew Blauvelt, design director and curator of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Through the program's sponsored projects, students will reframe the possibilities of design and pioneer new practices. As transdisciplinary design is a highly connective practice, the program will leverage relationships that Parsons has established with leading corporations, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations to embark upon the kinds of local and global collaborations that are necessary to make meaningful change. To celebrate the launch of the program, the School of Design Strategies is presenting a series of programming the spring. The Stephan Weiss Lecture Series will feature conversations around design for a complex world, which will include February 23, Yochai Benkler, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies and co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, in conversation with Anna Valtonen, rector of the Ume Institute of Design in Sweden and former head of Nokia Design Foresight; on March 25, Andrew Blauvelt in conversation with eating designer Marije Vogelzang, principal of the Amsterdam-based design studio, Proef; and on April 6, Natalie Jeremijenko, director of the xdesign Environmental Health Clinic at New York University, in conversation with Nigel Snoad, technical evangelist and product manager for the Microsoft Public Safety Initiative. In addition, on March 26, Parsons will present HEADSPACE: On Scent as Design, a one-day symposium with The Museum of Modern Art in partnership with International Flavors & Fragrances, which will bring together leading design thinkers, scientists, artists, architects, perfumers and designers to explore the untapped medium of scent as a new territory for design.

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