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Degree Requirements 

• Successful completion of 60 credits, including all required courses, the thesis project and paper. Documentation of all thesis projects must be on file with the MFA Products of Design Department to be eligible for degree conferral. 

• A matriculation of two academic years is required. Students must complete their degree within four years, unless given an official extension by the provost. 

• Products of Design grades on a pass/fail system. Students are required to remain in good academic standing. 

Note: Departmental requirements are subject to change by the department chair if the chair deems that such change is warranted.

The first-year experience is grounded in project-based work—both through semester-long courses and shorter studio intensives—complemented by provocative speakers and inspiring field trips. The second year focuses on business structures, environmental stewardship, design metrics, strategy, entrepreneurship and delight. The yearlong thesis project generates change-making, multidisciplinary work around a chosen field of inquiry, resulting in a comprehensive set, documentation, robust fluencies and a powerful professional network of advisors ready to help in the move toward professional practice.

The program ends with a public celebration around the power of design.

First Year Requirements

PDG-5040  Design Research and Integration
PDG-5080  Making Studio
PDG-5120  Design for Sustainability and Resilience
PDG-5150  Systems, Scale and Consequence
PDG-5190  Studio Intensive: Affirming Artifacts
PDG-5191  Studio Intensive: Deconstruction and Reconstruction
PDG-5192  Studio Intensive: Intervention Interaction
PDG-5193  Three-Dimensional Product Design
PDG-5230  Lecture Series and Studio Visits I
PDG-5235  Lecture Series and Studio Visits II
PDG-5260  Seminar I
PDG-5265  Seminar II
PDG-5420  Business Structures
PDG-5520  Framing User Experiences
PDG-5530  Smart Objects
PDG-5560  Design for Social Value: Design Outputs
PDG-5670  Studio Intensive: Material Futures
PDG-5672  Studio Intensive: Design Performance
PDG-5730  Design Narratives: Video Storytelling
PDG-5731  Design Narratives: Design Histories
PDG-5732  Design Narratives: Point of View
PDG-5950  Thesis Preparation

Second Year Requirements

PDG-6070  Seminar: Leadership and Strategic Management
PDG-6160  Product, Brand and Experience
PDG-6240  Thesis: Research and Ideation
PDG-6314  Seminar: Climate Futures
PDG-6324  Seminar: Designing Justice
PDG-6327  Seminar: Design for Public Policy
PDG-6630  Service Entrepreneurship
PDG-6635  Futuring and Three-Dimensional Product Design
PDG-6640  Business Modeling
PDG-6650  Design Delight
PDG-6670  Designing for Screens
PDG-6960  Presentation
PDG-6970  Thesis: Integration and Documentation 


General Course Listing - MFA Products of Design

Design Research and Integration
Fall semester: 3 credits
Design, its related tools and its research methods have become essential components for companies that seek disruptive change and true innovation, and have found that old models lead only to incremental solutions. Held at IDEO, this course will examine early phases of the innovation process with an emphasis on design research methods—from framing an initial challenge to inspiration, insight, synthesis, idea and concept. We will address the key transitions between articulating needs and designing solutions for those needs. Working in teams on a shared challenge, students will create designs that convert creative ideas into action and products grounded in human-centered research. 

Making Studio
Fall semester: 3 credits
Making is at the heart of product design. Serving as an introduction to the re-emerging fields of making, hacking, modding and do-it-yourself (DIY), this course will delve into techniques, tools and resources for expanding what we can make ourselves. We will combine traditional and novel techniques and materials in electronics, computation, crafts, fabrication, entrepreneurship and more, moving beyond ideation and concepting to create fully functional products of design. Students will have opportunities for online exposure and access to a network of innovators, hackers, hobbyists and crafters producing DIY projects. Hands-on skill workshops in electronics and crafts are complemented with field trips, discussions and critiques. 

Design for Sustainability and Resilience
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
Many product designers feel trapped in siloed roles, supporting the production of wasteful, disposable and toxic materials. Through the theme of food, this course will examine relationships, systems and infrastructures connecting us to local and global sustainability: growing, harvesting, processing, transporting, distributing, selling, preserving, cooking, eating and disposing of the waste related to food—the elements that shape many aspects of our lives and relate directly to our planet’s future. Working with sustainability experts and change makers (including scientists, engineers, farmers and other specialists), students create designs that address one of the most fundamental aspects of life. Sessions take place at various locations throughout New York City and its surrounding region, as living laboratories for design projects. 

Systems, Scale and Consequence
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
This course will trace the life of designed products and services through the systems that make them possible, valuable and meaningful. It examines some fundamental questions: What obligations must be addressed when conceiving the scale systems of designed objects? What constraints does working at scale put on the designer? How does conceiving these consequences change how we design? This course encourages collaboration to conceive, explore and articulate the implications of designed products and services—the limits, possibilities and opportunities that shape a professional designer’s practice and career. 

Studio Intensive: Affirming Artifacts
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
Affirming Artifacts is a course that quickly immerses the designer into navigating the design criteria of purpose, appropriateness and fit. Too often, design solutions are conceived in isolation or abstraction, with little bearing on the context in which they will ultimately live and thrive. In this course, students will take a rigorous approach to conceiving and executing various products of design—material, experiential, discursive or activist—with an eye toward pushing beyond obvious wants and needs and moving toward preferred behaviors through context-specific persuasive objects. 

Studio Intensive: Deconstruction and Reconstruction
Spring semester: 1.5 credit
Processes of deconstruction and reconstruction are some of the most powerful tools for the designer. Objects and experiences come to us packaged in coherent wholes and, as creative thinkers, we have the opportunity to tenaciously question these wholes in order to evaluate, understand and reshape them. Deconstruction is a simple and intuitive way to take apart our present reality and to perceive it anew—as a set of abstractions—freeing us to be both critical and appreciative of the way things might otherwise go together. Reconstruction combines the deconstructed parts in new ways to derive innovative, novel solutions. In this course, students create taxonomies of their daily activities and priorities, and re-imagine them as a visual language. 

Studio Intensive: Intervention Interaction
Spring semester: 1.5 credit
Interaction design is not limited to the domain of digital media; it is at the heart of every artifact. Similarly, all artifacts can be construed as “interventions,” soliciting reactions whenever they are encountered. One aspect of designing an artifact is to encourage an intended activity and mediate the relationships between its multiple audiences, making the interaction a key factor of the design. In this course, students will design an intervention into a public space, providing an object/environment/service—either entirely physical or enhanced with electronics; stand-alone, or connected—intended to encourage curiosity, investigation, thought, interaction, socialization and positive change. 

Three-Dimensional Product Design
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
Three-Dimensional Product Design introduces students to product development and the design of basic hand tools. It uses the past as a frame and asks students to research and redesign tools that have been rendered obsolete or forgotten by some technological innovation or cultural shift. The philosophical argument of the course is that humanity’s development is inextricably intertwined with the development of its hand tools, and that our survival through an unforeseeable future depends on the sustainability of our handwork. 

PDG-5230 / PDG-5235
Lecture Series and Studio Visits I and II
Two semesters: no credit
Throughout the program, students visit design sites and studios of innovative and ambitious design-makers in the New York City area. Visits will be followed by substantive discussion. Alternating weeks with the studio visits is an ongoing lecture series, hosting some of the most creative minds in the world of design. Lectures are followed by Q&A sessions and informal networking receptions. 

PDG-5260 / PDG-5265
Seminar I and II
Fall semester: no credit
Seminar gives students an essential set of tools for communicating and analyzing design. During the first semester, students are guided through presentation skills, portfolio production, writing articulately about their work and critiquing the work of their peers. Seminar II focuses on a breadth of contemporary issues in design. 

Business Structures
Spring semester: 3 credits
This course examines the critical aspects of successful organizations, including the development of strategy and business models, business plans and pitches, intellectual property and entrepreneurship. Through an exploration of fundamental business issues at the beginning of the 21st century, students develop either a business plan for a new organization or a new business model and strategic plan for an existing organization. The result is a formal “pitch” presentation given to guest professionals and classmates.

Framing User Experiences
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
Products are no longer simply products; they live within complex business and technological ecosystems. To fully understand the user experience, designers must be highly flexible communicators, facilitators, mediators and thinkers. Whether designing a dialysis machine, a mobile phone app, or a water filtration system for the developing world, design is as much about framing user experiences as it is about the creation of new artifacts. This course focuses on the relationships between objects and their contexts, how to identify human behaviors and needs, and how those behaviors and needs converge to create user experiences. 

Smart Objects
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
The ubiquity of embedded computing has redefined the role of form in material culture, leading to the creation of artifacts that communicate well beyond their static physical presence to create ongoing dialogues with both people and each other. This course will explore the rich relationship among people, objects and information through a combination of physical and digital design methods. Beginning with an examination of case studies, students will gain a sense of the breadth of product design practice as it applies to smart objects. Through a combination of lectures and hands-on studio exercises, students will investigate all aspects of smart object design, including expressive behaviors (light, sound and movement), interaction systems, ergonomics, data networks and contexts of use. The course will culminate in a final project that considers all aspects of smart object design within the context of a larger theme. 

Design for Social Value: Design Outputs
Fall semester: 3 credits
The way we think about and understand value creation has largely been driven by financial measures of success. Today, social and ecological concerns have often been ceded to governments and nonprofits while business focuses on financial outputs. This course proposes a new model—one in which companies, governments and nonprofits all need to create new kinds of value in order to thrive in a changing economy. Design for Social Value will challenge our concepts of business success, social innovation and the role of the designer. Students will work directly with institutional and business partners to identify, design and evaluate new types of value. Rooted in a learning-by-doing methodology, student teams will work directly with organizations to develop products and services that create new value. A series of guest lectures will provide students with further opportunities to learn from and work directly with thought leaders in the social space. 

Studio Intensive: Material Futures
Spring semester: 1.5 credit
These interactive workshops will address current and future material worlds. Held at Material ConneXion with a library of more than 5,000 innovative materials, technologies and processes, the series will examine the fundamentals of material technologies used in design and the context surrounding material choices in terms of performance, aesthetics and sustainability. Future trends for shaping the material choices of tomorrow will also be explored. An understanding of today’s range of material possibilities is essential, but what creates real change is deliberate design for material futures. Second-generation nanotechnology, biomimicry and biomaterials all offer the possibility to move beyond our current manufacturing processes to a future that is better aligned with our environment and resources. 

Studio Intensive: Design Performance
Spring semester: 1.5 credit
Design Performance will take an improvisational approach to organizing student work and presenting it to the community in an end-of-year exhibition. Products and ideas perform specific roles in our lives, and we perform specific roles in relation to them. A designer manipulates the roles and relationships between products and users. In this light, the designer can be seen as director in the highly malleable and controllable theater of the designed world. Drawing from a long history of storytelling and performance techniques, this course will explore new possibilities for communicating innovative design work. Students will be guided through an evaluation of their product and design ideas and develop the ideal forum for presenting those ideas. 

Design Narratives: Video Storytelling
Spring semester: 1 credit
Visual storytelling has become a critical tool in helping designers sketch, prototype, visualize and communicate their ideas. Increasingly, this storytelling takes place within the medium of video, which provides a powerful, immersive and easily disseminated means of articulating the products of design. From context to scenarios, from use to benefits, as product designers expand their purview into the realm of experience design, video has become a lingua franca of both design practice and design commerce. This course will cover the basic principles of visual communication using techniques in contemporary filmmaking. Working in teams on a tangible project, students will get hands-on experience in different stages of the storytelling process, including observation, ideation, script writing, storyboarding, shooting and editing. 

Design Narratives: Design Histories
Spring semester: 1 credit
This course will examine the past 20 years of design history, focusing on some of the objects, personalities and forces that have come to define contemporary design practice and discourse. Over the past two decades, we have seen the emergence of design metaphor, design irony, critical design and design interactions. We have grappled with authorship, the design personality, the role of the media, the interdisciplinary expansion of design exhibitions and the emergence of social media. Additionally, the growing popularity of design-for-luxury and design art has provided a provocative dichotomy for humanitarian design and design for social change. DIY design, hacking, modding, rapid prototyping and an explosion of craft have accompanied a revolution in designers empowered by the Internet, and science and technology have become design drivers alongside design thinking, influencing business culture and policy making alike. What do we make of these developments, and what do they portend for the future? 

Design Narratives: Point of View
Spring semester: 1 creditPoint of view is a core building block of any successful design, and any successful design career. It’s about what you believe and why you believe it. While it’s easy to rationalize almost any design project as “good” from various sets of design criteria, the strongest designers take a proactive role in defining and articulating a clear point of view and carrying it through their work. If designers are going to be more than executors of others’ ideas or agents in the service of industry, they must enter the professional world with their own ideas, firmly grounded, passionate and with a personal stake. 

Thesis Preparation
Spring semester: no credit
Thesis Preparation is designed to provide all of the ingredients required for the thoughtful planning and solid groundwork for the master’s thesis: an overall introduction to the thesis; an investigation of protocols and methodologies; a review of thesis activities and deliverables; a discussion around strategies and personal point of view; and a set of quick-start activities and presentations that will launch each student through the summer and into the second year with knowledge and enthusiasm. Students will create pitch documents, conduct secondary research, and present findings and directions to the group. This work is discussed, and each student will create a plan and strategy for the summer. This work is rigorous preparation for the second-year thesis courses. 

Seminar: Leadership and Strategic Management
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
The hidden forces behind how consumer objects are made will be the focus of this course. Systems thinking, life cycle analysis and Stakeholder Management Theory will be used as frameworks for understanding the industrial process. We will also examine the ecological, social and financial impact of a consumer product across the full product lifecycle. Critical analysis, business logic, design research and object-making consciousness will be addressed. Course work follows the product manufacturing cycle from ideation to final end-of-life. Students will document the lifecycle of a product and develop an alternate design scenario that radically improves it. 

Product, Brand and Experience
Fall semester: 3 credits
Products are increasingly seen as the embodiments of brands and consumer experiences, with product design playing a critical role in reflecting a brand’s personality. In this course, students discover how product design, consumer experience and branding interrelate, and how addressing the needs of both users and markets from different perspectives can provide a more holistic approach to the creation of designed objects. We will work through a complete design process, defining an opportunity within a specified consumer space, performing research, developing insights and strategy, concepting and refining. Throughout the process, students concentrate on creating a cohesive and viable brand campaign, including final design, identity and packaging. 

Thesis: Research and Ideation
Fall semester: 6 credits
Thesis I is an opportunity to explore design-thinking, design-making and design-doing that is ambitious in scope, innovative in approach and worthwhile in enterprise. Each student will choose an area of investigation and then begin rapid design-making exercises to create a body of design work, research, ideation and presentation materials. Research and exploration will help to surface the design opportunities that resonate most powerfully with a point of view, the urgencies of design needs, the scale of potential solutions and the richness of design endeavor. Since theses tend to be multilayered, students will execute design work on a continuum of enterprise—from design gestures and discursive design concepts through primary and secondary research to prototypes, as well as systems and business models. 

Seminar: Climate Futures
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
Cities have flooded, temperatures have risen, and humans and other animals are being forced to adapt to new environments and conditions at an unprecedented rate. By taking Kim Stanley Robinson’s seminal text, New York 2140, as a launch pad, we will investigate the possibilities of design practice as they apply to New York’s streets and the shifting tide markets of the globe. To perform this practice, we will interrogate design questions, such as the collapse and extension of the Anthropocene, the necessity of human adaptation, the challenges of combined and uneven development, the interconnected nature of hyperlocal and global world systems, new forms of communications design, and what it means to live in flooded streets and float in the skies. Each week we will sketch a new design based on the readings, selecting one moment or object from the text as inspiration. Supplemental texts will range from readings to films to interactive works. Final presentations will be in the form of a proposal for a new design object for New York in 2140. 

Seminar: Designing Justice
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
How do we make a just society? If we know that a system doesn’t work how do we actually go about making a new one? What exactly is “systems transformation” and how does it happen? The aim of this course is to examine how to re-engineer systems in the real world. And, more importantly, we will focus on engineering systems that center equity and work specifically to better the lives of historically marginalized communities. While these communities are often the focus of work and research, it is rare that anything actually transfers power or disrupts predatory systems. This is, in part, because we continue to operate out of a paternalistic stance that assumes that because we have skills we also have the knowledge to identify what to do with them. This course will challenge that assumption. 

Seminar: Design for Public Policy
Fall semester: 1.5 credits
Culture, values, law, politics, policy and the state—these are the materials of a society, but what do each of these words mean, how do they interact as a system and how do we leverage them to create change? In this course we will seek to answer this question and examine the practicalities of government, including common processes of developing policy and delivering services. Students will be exposed to classic philosophical readings on the nature of the state, as well as current design practitioners working to innovate in government. Together, we will interrogate how we practically—and ethically—negotiate power, values, politics and physicality as we work in the public sector, for the public good. By the end of the course, students will have practiced connecting social theory to professional practice, visualized public systems, identified levers of change and explored policy innovation initiatives around the world. 

Service Entrepreneurship
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
Services have a significant impact in our everyday lives and in great measure determine the quality of our well being as we interact with the world around us. As designers are called upon to imagine and design increasingly complex product-service systems, we need new frameworks for understanding, and tools to steer us toward better outcomes, more meaningful service experiences, and greater chances for the viability of businesses. Great service experiences are about relationships: those between people, between people and things, and between people and processes. These relationships form and grow based upon the quality and effectiveness of the “conversations” that take place. Learning how conversation works among the participants of larger service systems is useful to describe how a service works, and to reveal opportunities for improvement through design. In product-service ecosystems, students will learn to see participants, objects and interactions as opportunities for conversation to define and agree on goals, and the means by which to achieve them. 

Futuring and Three-Dimensional Product Design
Spring semester: 3 credits
Futuring and Three-Dimensional Product Design helps students develop traditional 3D product designs that instantiate the central argument(s) of their thesis. Using the future as a frame of reference, students will be asked to imagine how their research will unfold in the future and to imagine how they can meet those behavioral criteria and demands with three-dimensional product propositions. We will examine how, in an increasingly digital world, three-dimensional artifacts will continue to create value for humanity. The course’s approach moves through three phases: deep futuring, near futuring, presenting. As students reel their wild explorations back into the present, they hone a product concept that is ready for an unforeseeable future, but meets the functional, aesthetic and philosophical demands of today. 

Business Modeling
Spring semester: 1.5 credits
Creating iterative business models aimed at uncovering the assumptions that impact the potential success of any venture is the focus of this course. We will explore how to prioritize risks and apply rapid, low-cost methods to generate earnings and increase confidence. The course is structured to help students strengthen their ability to create more robust business concepts by iterating on the fundamental business cases underlying them. By the end of the course, students will be able to access the primary drivers of success for their concepts, map out the path forward and pitch their business plans to a panel of invited experts. 

Design Delight
Spring semester: 2 credits
This course celebrates the joy of design. While design is traditionally seen as a problem-solving discipline, there are incredible opportunities to introduce products and experiences into the world that find their genesis in other rationales. Through design making, interviews and research, students will play with stimulation, celebration, amplification, choreography, symbolism and emotion as tools that inform a new design ethos. We will challenge traditional needs-based design processes, and delve into celebration, heightened articulation and drama as new expressions of design. Through the lens of the emotional and the experiential, students will explore both the place of design within the world of the senses, and the role of the senses within the world of design. 

Designing for Screens
Spring semester: 3 credits
Digital interaction is a ubiquitous form of communication in today’s world. Designing for Screens provides students with the framework to understand, discuss and create effective interactive designs on digital displays. Through a series of collaborative studio sessions, open discussions, critiques, site visits and guest lectures, students will be immersed in the current culture of screen design. From mobile apps and tablets to desktops and immerse displays, this course will cover the process of designing products for screens from concept to wire frame to interface design and user testing. 

Spring semester: 1 credit
Whether telling a tale through text, video, audio or other medium, knowing how to engage an audience and make a clear argument is crucially important to making an impact and producing a lasting effect. In this course, each student will be assisted in defining a presentation that effectively communicates the message at the heart of the thesis. 

Thesis: Integration and Documentation
Spring semester: 3 credits
Design work is often fraught with complex details and seemingly unanswerable questions. It turns out that it is entirely possible to make things without making much sense. This course will focus on making sense of students’ thesis work, and how best to communicate that work to peers, to stakeholders, and to the project’s intended audience. The work in Thesis II represents the culmination of the program and will embody the knowledge and strategies students have learned during the past two years. The written thesis document and a formal verbal and visual presentation given by each Master of Fine Arts candidate will be produced in this course.

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