SVA Products of Design, Parallel Times

How are we training the designers of tomorrow? SVA Products of Design participants learn to design beyond the next fad into the next 50 years

The Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn Cosmic Pathway at the Haydn Planetarium in New York City spatially maps the length of the known universe (13 billion years, give or take a few) into a 360-foot-long spiral. The entirety of human history (150,000 years) appears on that spiral in the thickness of a single human hair.

“If you think about what we have done here for the past 100 years, you are either astonishingly impressed or astonishingly horrified,” notes Allan Chochinov, in his Creative Mornings talk. “If you are like me, you probably swing back and forth all the time.” Given our rapid pace of change,Chochinov goes on to say that, with 50 odd years of productive time, each of us has the potential to have huge influence on our world. What, he asks, are you going to do with your creative life?

As a celebrated designer, design thinker and Chair of the multi-disciplinary MFA in Products of Design graduate program at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Chochinov spends a good deal of time thinking about—and challenging others to think about—the impact of their creative lives. “Designers are not in the artifacts business anymore, they’re in the consequences business,” he claims. To prepare a new generation of designers for this reality, Products of Design focuses on “educating head, heart and hands” in order to train designers to catalyze positive change by moving us both intellectually and emotionally.

Last year as part of their Futuring and Speculative Design class, students explored possible futures through PARALLEL TIMES, an exhibition of artifacts developed through the varied lens of extrapolated futures- both desired and dystopian. Using the insights they gained from this exercise they then tracked backwards, creating a contemporary product using Raymond Loewy’s MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) principle that would propel us towards that future. PARALLEL TIMES not only provokes its audience to think about the future we want, but more importantly highlights the power of the designer to materially shape the path forward. 

A look at the thesis work that emerges out of this thoughtful approach to design education makes its benefits clear: from poetic issues such as how to design a more mindful relationship to time in an increasingly distracted age, environmental issues like how to shift our disposable culture through the design of adaptable furniture, and even uncomfortable issues like how to bring dignity to assisted suicide, it is clear that these designers are interested in more than the next fad; they are interested in the next 50 years.

We need more of this: more designers thinking about the impact that they want their creative life to have, acting from both their head and their heart, and taking on the task of helping us to envision our collective future.  

Photo Credits: SVA, Dave Pinter; Eden Lew