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Lucille Tenazas

Faculty / Lucille Tenazas, Henry Wolf Professor


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Lucille Tenazas had scarcely arrived at Parsons before she was telling her students to “get lost.” For a class assignment she devised, students walk to a random point ten minutes from home, departing from their normal route. Their senses, awakened by unfamiliar surroundings, observe, navigate, and interpret the landscape keenly and freshly—valuable abilities for designers, who encounter new terrain with each new client or project. What they notice during the exercise might show up in a book or a film or a series of posters expressing students’ experiences as newcomers.

A participatory way of relating to new situations underlies Tenazas’s notion of the designer as “cultural nomad.” Her role is to help each student develop an authentic voice and a comfort with difference that adds range and nuance to that voice. “As a designer, you’re put in the position where you have to respond to somebody else’s needs or problems” Tenazas says. “If you’re aware of who you are, you can take on the identities and problems others may pose and not lose your own.”

These are the insights of an individual who, equipped with a degree in fine arts and an interest in design, traveled from the Philippines to the U.S. in 1979 for advanced study, first at California College of the Arts (CCA) and then at Cranbrook Academy of Art, where she earned an MFA in Design. Her experimentations with type led to an interest in the complexity of language and the interrelationships of meaning, form, and content. After working in New York for several years, she moved to San Francisco where she opened her own firm and became the founding chair of the graduate program in design at CCA. In 1996, she became the first president of the AIGA to be based outside of New York.

Tenazas is now developing a pathway within the existing MFA Design and Technology program emphasizing design, craft, and technology for students who are interested in multidisciplinary and hybrid design practices. The curriculum will help shape the next phase of communication design, where students will use both analog and digital technologies to execute richly tactile designs, mix human intuition with artificial intelligence, and invent complex and poetic cross-platform means of visual expression.

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