Master in Design Studies (MDes) at the GSD

Dear GSD community,

I write to share with you some exciting updates to our Master in Design Studies program, a realm of the GSD that incubates some of our most innovative interdisciplinary design work. This program refresh further deepens the MDes program’s historic commitment to a pedagogy of nimble and independent design research, while also multiplying productive overlaps between the program and the school’s departments. These changes emerge from an ongoing internal review, which includes conversations with students, faculty, alumni, and design professionals, and discussions with program director K. Michael Hays, as well as Jorge Silvetti, who was among the MDes program’s originators, and John May, who directed the program prior to Hays.

I’ll begin with the mechanics: The MDes program will drop its eight formal concentration areas and instead take up four flexible “Domains” of inquiry: Ecologies, Mediums, Narratives, and Publics. Across a four-semester curriculum, MDes students in each of these four Domains of study will pursue a set of shared courses, including research methods and related topical courses, before each defining an individualized “Trajectory,” or curricular path. Anticipated “Trajectories” may include, for example, the design analyses, impacts, and possibilities of topics like resilience and climate change; housing densities; responsive environments and technologies; participatory historical chronicles; and risk, recovery, and preemptive practice. In their final semester, students will combine their independent expertise in directed, collaborative and applied capstone projects.

An important note to those students currently enrolled in the MDes program: nothing will change in terms of your degree requirements or expectations.

More broadly, the MDes program will continue investigating the underlying processes shaping contemporary life, while encouraging a more elastic, intellectually generous, and embracing approach to design questions and investigations. In a sense, we hope with this reorientation to implicitly question the over-standardization of knowledge and method, and offer a mobile, dynamic course of study that can cut among and through different topic areas. MDes is understood as an opportunity to study design to become not just a stronger designer, but also a stronger thinker.

I am excited to announce that the following faculty have been appointed to head the program’s four Domains:

Toni L. Griffin will lead the Publics Domain, which will consider what constitutes the global public realm, focusing on how design facilitates urban justice, on where policy and publics intersect, and on what defines resilient communities, cities, and regions;

Erika Naginski will oversee the Narratives Domain, which will offer students the opportunity to advance a broad array of visual and verbal discursive genres, furthering historical and theoretical investigations into the social, cultural, technical, and political contexts of design;

Chris Reed will lead the Ecologies Domain, which will pursue advanced studies in topics related to climate resiliency, obsolete industries, territorial infrastructures, migration, and other critical issues within the broader contexts of our global social and natural environment; and

Allen Sayegh will direct the Mediums Domain, which will develop and deploy computational and analogue tools and technologies across fields of interactive design, human interfaces, and artistic and responsive environments;

In part, the success of the MDes program has stemmed from its currency; this exciting update expands that rich topicality, amplifying focus on topics like social equity, climate, and housing.

Finally, the Real Estate and Built Environment track of the MDes program will be given a new home in the Department of Urban Planning and Design. Application to the Real Estate track is suspended for a year while we finalize that transformation. Students currently enrolled in MDes REBE will finish their degree following the current structure of the program.

In sum, all of the moves described above are evolving, and many of you will have questions. I encourage you to visit the MDes program website to review frequent developments and to reach out to the four Domain Heads—Chris Reed, Allen Sayegh, Erika Naginski, and Toni L. Griffin—as well as to the MDes Program Director, K. Michael Hays, Program Administrator, Margaret Moore de Chicojay, and Program Coordinator, Liz Thorstenson.

All my best,

Sarah M. Whiting