Cutting-edge design education goes way back at Parsons. It was the first U.S. school to introduce programs like fashion design (1906), interior design (1907), and graphic design (1910). These groundbreaking curricula were the brainchild of the school’s director, Frank Alvah Parsons, who realized that the Industrial Revolution would spawn a slew of new professions. A century and a digital revolution later, Parsons is still at the forefront of innovation. “Right now, we’re looking at how we can take advantage of what’s going on in the world to produce dynamic, exciting new programs that aren’t offered anywhere else,” says Jamer Hunt, associate professor in Parsons’ new Master of Fine Arts program in Transdisciplinary Design. “It’s based on one simple idea,” he says. “We live in a very complex world, and most of the challenges that face us can’t really be addressed by one design discipline. Yet design has the potential to be at the center of the solutions. So we’re developing an experimental space where students can learn to transcend disciplinary boundaries.”
Hunt believes that the next generation of designers will take an active role in reinventing infrastructures such as the health-care system. In order to grapple with such massive concepts and institutions, designers will have to collaborate with experts in other fields. “We’re putting designers together with people like political scientists, anthropologists, and business managers to identify nontraditional methods to meet challenges that require multidimensional thinking,” says Hunt. To that end, he is looking to build networks with external nonprofit organizations and industry partners to collaborate on projects with students.
Another important aspect of the program is the transdisciplinary approach used within the school itself. Hunt is laying the groundwork for student collaborations with counterparts in the social science departments of The New School. “This school has two great core strengths, social research and design,” explains Hunt, “yet the two have never been practiced together. This is an opportunity to create a sandbox and play together to see what can be built.”