Recognizing the ever-expanding role that designers play in today’s world, a program that will launch this fall at Parsons aims to train students to be well-rounded problem solvers capable of applying design thinking to a wide range of issues.

Parsons to Offer MFA in Transdisciplinary Design
Photo courtesy Matthew Sussman/The New School

The Urban and Transdisciplinary Design program, as it’s called, will be housed in the Manhattan-based university’s School of Design Strategies. It will offer a Master of Fine Arts in Transdisciplinary Design—the first degree of its kind in the country.

“The word transdisciplinary is often off-putting, because it sounds a little pretentious,” acknowledges Jamer Hunt, the program chair. “But it’s really a simple idea. We want to create an experimental space where we can address complex problems that transcend disciplinary boundaries.” For instance, when designing responses to natural disasters, “you really need to bring in multiple kinds of capacity and skill,” Hunt explains. A transdisciplinary designer would be equipped not only to develop a wide variety of products and systems, but also to consider and respond to the social, financial, and environmental aspects at play.

Students applying for the two-year graduate program must have a traditional undergraduate design degree or experience in the design world. “We’re looking to bring in people who have design experience but are starting to see that there are limitations to what their disciplinary practice allows them to do,” he says. The school plans to accept 15 students for its first year.

The core of the program will be studio-based projects that bring students and various experts together to develop new solutions to real-world problems. In addition, says Hunt, “we have seminar courses that make the link between the world around us, which is changing for political, social, technological, and environmental reasons, and how and why we design.” He expects graduates will end up in a wide variety of jobs, including positions with large design consultancies, nonprofit organizations, and public agencies.