SVA MA Design Research
136 W 21st St, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10011
of Visual Arts
The two-semester MA in Design Research, Writing & Criticism provides intensive instruction in techniques for analyzing design and its cultural and environmental implications.
The program combines humanities-oriented critical thinking and journalistic tools to produce writing and editorial content intended to inform and engage broad audiences. The rigorous one-year MA with thesis offers a high-impact, targeted program well suited to the circumstances of both established professionals and recent graduates wishing to continue their studies at an advanced level.
Here in the SVA Department of Design Research, Writing & Criticism we study design in all its manifestations, with a pronounced interest in its contexts and consequences. This means we don’t just focus on designed products or buildings, but also on the infrastructure that connects them, and the policy that shapes them. We try to look at what happens after a designed product is launched. We go beyond the glossy images supplied by the manufacturer to discover how things actually get used and discarded, and how they impinge upon our daily reality.
The program’s curriculum charts the cutting edge of design practice and is responsive to exciting developments in the media landscape.
Through workshops, seminars, lectures, and site visits, students examine the issues and policies that shape the designed environment; learn research methods, reporting techniques, and theoretical models; and experiment with a range of media vehicles for communicating their research, including writing, podcasting, and public speaking.
Each student will identify an individual research territory to explore during the year, culminating in a thesis portfolio of written and applied media projects. Degree candidates must successfully complete 30 credits, including all required courses, with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0. A residency of two academic semesters is required.
This seminar exposes students to key issues in cultural theory and criticism, with a view to the study and interpretation of designed space and objects. Special consideration will be given to the development of critical positions that serve as a lens for reading the complexity of the built environment within a larger context. Sessions will focus on key texts drawn from disciplines that include philosophy, critical theory, art criticism, cultural studies, anthropology and media studies. These readings offer different perspectives on cultural economies, politics and systems of meaning, with a goal of helping students define their own critical framework for research.
Through group meetings and one-on-one consultations, each student will choose a thesis topic that is innovative and rich enough to withstand extended inquiry. Students will be guided through the process of identifying problems, developing critical questions, and developing primary and secondary sources as they embark upon research for their thesis portfolio. Students will explore research methodologies and resources related to design research as they develop a thesis research question and build a research dossier to support their writing.
The history of design can be best understood when explored through a spectrum of experiences: makers and users, intentions and consequences, experiences and interpretations. Design influences culture at every level, at the level of individual behavior, the construction of community and our foundational systems and structures—businesses, governments, civic institutions, systems of belief. To what extent do we understand the underlying belief systems that drive those systems? As design writers, what responsibility do we have to understand, investigate, critique and expound on our analysis of the larger social dynamics at play? In this course, we consider ways of approaching design history. Beginning with an introduction to the field of design history itself, our episodic structure zooms in on case studies across various periods and types of design: from the chair to the room, exhibitions, graphics, and digital technology. While examining this handful of moments within an expansive field, students are encouraged to consider relevance to contemporary discourse as well as biases and gaps—both here and in “the canon.” Together we will discuss how ideas in history inform design thinking and making, and attempt to understand how we construct cultural narrative and meaning through history. Reading and writing about design requires a broad social lens focused on those whose stories are often left untold alongside those who have gained a megaphone to amplify their voices.
This course will provide an overview of some of the social, economic, political, institutional and personal forces giving shape to our contemporary designed environment—both in New York City and globally. Through seminars, a selection of walking tours, site walk-throughs and visits to some of the city’s design and architecture studios and planning offices, students will be introduced to the issues, controversies and development conflicts that impact the urban environment, and the protagonists who play a role in them. They will investigate how everything from the tallest skyscraper to the smallest bit of ephemera is part of the design ecosystem that is otherwise known as a city, and will find out how urban design is affected by the political process. By the end of this course, students will be familiar with the work of a broad range of international designers, architects and urban planners, and will be conversant with many of the policies and processes that determine the material form of the 21st-century city.
This course offers tools and inspiration for probing journalism—covering reporting strategies, research methods, writing styles and ethics. How to create a compelling narrative, use language vividly and precisely, and structure different writing formats will be addressed, and students will research, report, write and edit news stories, features, profiles and reviews. Distinguished writers will visit the class to discuss their strategies and experiences. Students will learn how to initiate and develop story ideas and how to pitch stories to editors. Structuring a story using a lede, nut graf and kicker will be explored. Particular emphasis is put on interviewing techniques, which play an important part in gathering information for all kinds of stories.
In this course students explore the building blocks of researching and writing feature-length nonfiction narratives. The course begins with a warm-up workshop focused on objective versus subjective approaches to writing about design. The next segment of the course focuses on interviewing skills, while the final segment asks students to develop narratives from material found in selected archives. Students will learn interviewing skills and best practices, conducting several interviews to produce a written profile piece. A selection of New York’s most significant and esoteric public and private archives, collections and libraries will be visited, and students will practice constructing compelling visual and written narratives based on individual discoveries and research.
This workshop is predicated on the idea that critical research and writing encompasses a rapidly expanding range of media and that a researcher, writer, editor, or scholar working in the contemporary design and media landscape needs to be proficient in multiple media formats beyond the written text. Students will learn how to translate their thinking about design, architecture and visual culture into the form of a compelling podcast. By the end of this workshop, students will have produced an eight-minute podcast for their thesis portfolio. Other media to be explored will be chosen by the department chair.
The thesis explores a particular research theme connected to design, architecture, or visual culture and that makes an original and significant contribution to knowledge. Working in consultation with their thesis advisors, students will develop detailed research plans, identify useful archives and sources, analyze the results of their research and develop a thesis portfolio, including a reflection essay, research dossier, podcast and 5,000 words of writing. Students will meet as a group for workshops and individually with their advisors during the writing and editing phases.
This course focuses on developing the writing portion of students’ research projects through a series of workshops based on the essay. Students will experiment with voice, style and form as they hone their research and explore how to tie it to a narrative. This course features guest visits from notable writers focused on design and visual culture. Drawing on readings and other sources related to research projects, students work toward fostering a public discussion about design through clear, engaging and illuminating writing.
In the publishing world, a team of editors and proofreaders is responsible for developing, refining and checking an author’s prose before publication. The copyeditor sets the style standard and enforces it, knows and applies grammar and punctuation rules, and formats text elements such as citations, all while being sensitive to the author’s voice and the expectations of the audience. To develop their own inner copyeditor, students will learn to hone their self-editing tools, including recognizing common mistakes and challenges in editing their own work. This course also features guests in other editorial roles, including acquisition editors and assignment editors who become part of the students professional network beyond the program.
The Design Research, Writing and Criticism Department is pleased to offer a two-week, online Summer Intensive aimed at those who would like to refine their skills as thinkers, researchers and storytellers.
Through a robust daily schedule of seminars, lectures and workshops, the intensive offers students and working professionals a unique opportunity to study with a faculty composed of leading writers and editors, and engage in conversation with prominent designers, architects and urban planners.
Due to increased demand, we are excited to offer an on-site option for this year's Summer Intensive. In addition to online instruction from our renowned faculty, on-site participants will receive desk space in our bright and airy studio in the heart of Manhattan. So if you’re in the New York area or would like to be, we invite you to live in the department this June.
On-site perks include:
24/7 studio desk and printer access
In-person studio visits to New York design firms
Roundtable talk with DCrit faculty member and design writer Steven Heller
Opportunity to observe editors of publication-in-residence The New York Review of Architecture produce their Summer issue #36
Meet fellow in-person participants and explore the city
Free access to SVA-partner museums
For more information, visit our Summer Intensive page.