Culture and Place

Home Within a School

The School of Constructed Environments (SCE) is home to the BFA in Product Design program. This academic home supports the interdisciplinary inquiry that distinguishes Parsons as a whole. Students pursuing SCE’s architectural, product, and lighting design tracks share research and fabrication facilities, and all work in an open design studio with wireless digital capability. Collaborative projects underscore the spatial and experiential qualities of furniture, equipment, and objects and expose product designers to opportunities to effect social change among different audiences and at unexpected scales. Some of these collaborations—interdisciplinary projects for the Luxury Education Foundation, for example—occur with other partners, like Parsons’ School of Design Strategies or Columbia Business School.

Liberal Arts Inquiry

By enrolling in art and design history and theory courses as well as related studio classes, students acquire essential research, writing, and critical reasoning skills while developing conceptual foundations for creative inquiry. Because Parsons is part of a university with a tradition of cross-disciplinary inquiry, students can choose from a wide range of lecture courses and electives in the humanities, social sciences, media studies, and business.

City as Studio

Studying in New York City, students in Product Design acquire a sophisticated understanding of how products are conceived, developed, and fabricated. Students form interdisciplinary design teams for semester-long studios in which they partner with industry sponsors for focused exploration on topics such as innovative uses for materials or packaging and presentation for point of sale. Internships with local offices such as Harry Allen & Associates, Movado Group, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Martha Stewart Omnimedia let students to apply their growing skills to commercial projects.

For disciplinary research, New York’s museums, collections, and archives present work in contexts useful for both applied and critical study. The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, home to an extensive collection of decorative arts and furniture and sponsor of many industry-related events, is a key resource. Material ConneXion, a consultancy for industry practitioners researching new materials, complements Parsons’ own collection in the Angelo Donghia Materials Center.

Real-World Impact

Through the year-long senior thesis program, Product Design students and faculty expand their commitment to social entrepreneurship through project-centered alliances with nonprofit and for-profit endeavors, government agencies, and specialist consultants. For one such project, senior Eddie Shao-Hsien Chiu created Mobee, an educational toy designed to improve the motor skills of young people with cerebral palsy.

Industry relationships forged through the senior thesis process create internship opportunities, support student research and prototype testing, and challenge students to become accountable for the ripple effects of their products and services. In recent years, students have partnered with Kiehl’s Since 1851, a New York–based hair- and skincare products company, the German glass manufacturer Reidel, and the New York City Department of Transportation.

A number of projects developed in Product Design studios reach the marketplace, further extending the program’s mission of making design a force of social change. In collaboration with the United Nations’ Adopt-a-Minefield project, Product Design student Hideaki Matsui created Cleanup, a line of soaps shaped like landmines, whose sale supports worldwide de-mining efforts. Recent alumna Amelia Cunard developed a venture to make furnishings from recycled castoffs—an idea born in a class jointly led at Parsons and the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy—into Re-Fab, a viable growing business recognized by the New York Green Business Competition for its business model and products.

A Research Culture

At Parsons, scholarly study of the field is as important as research in form making. The Product Design program hosts industry practitioners for lectures and project consulting and crits. Design professionals discuss challenges in product design that range from theoretical dimensions to practical aspects like prototyping and manufacturing. For example, students recently heard a presentation about evolving technologies such as laser sintering and 3D printing.

Research also has a global component: Students and faculty recently collaborated with students from France’s St. Etienne School of Art and Design and Sweden’s Konstfack University College of Arts, Craft and Design on an award-winning project to create temporary housing for visiting designers in Hällefors, Sweden.



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