SVA MA Design Research

SVA MA Design Research, Writing & Criticism1 is a one-year graduate program2
devoted to the study of design, its contexts & consequences.
Our graduates have gone on to pursue research-related careers in publishing, education, museums, institutes, design practice, entrepreneurship, & more.3

  1. Formerly known as D-Crit
  2. About the program
  3. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. All successful candidates awarded a significant scholarship!
SVA MA Design Research

136 W 21st St, 2nd Floor

New York, NY 10011





(212) 592-2228

Essay – Research Types – SVA MA Design Research



The Postman Doesn’t Have to Ring

Like most New Yorkers, I don’t live in a doorman building. Whether I’m expecting a package or not, I answer my door buzzer, and if I hear “Amazon” or “FedEx” or “UPS” I buzz them in. By the end of every day there are at least four or five packages sitting in the downstairs hallway or at the bottom of the stairs.


Affable Attendant

It’s unmistakable that a thoughtful designer created this beauty. The elegantly scruffed, antique-looking design stands out in the power-washed painted concrete doorway. Its brown color is rich and warm like an RCA tabletop radio.


Screens Extinguished

Because of extenuating circumstances (a particularly large and heavy suitcase for a two-week trip to New York), I have made a calculated decision. Navigating the subway with this bag would be a physical feat I haven’t adequately trained for, and a Lyft driver would be unlikely to help me wrest my luggage into the trunk.


On Commitment I

On better days, excuses to visit the corner cafe can be limited. It usually falls after teeth brushing and before the first ping on Slack. But mostly as walks that converge post lunch break, just past noon, at congregations that disrupt the urban grid. On worse days, that race towards a refill is at closing time as well. 


How many people can you fit on a fire escape?

Oil-based, high gloss exterior paint over rust resistant primer, caked on decade after decade until it bubbles and cracks. A little bit of rust around the bolts. Simple brackets attached to brick facades in a way that, upon first glance, wouldn’t seem to hold up a shelf in my apartment. Fire escapes are an undeniable icon of New York City.


Seen / Unseen

We’re safe because we cross together. Orderly white lines bisect our path from one curb to the next: equidistant, equal width, all the way across. If we walk as a mass across this slatted surface, then the people in the cars will see us better. If we stay together, and within the width, then we’ll be safe.


Witch’s Eye

The India Street exit of the northbound Greenpoint G station has two convex mirrors mounted at the exit. Or entry, depending on your point of view. They are both around seven to ten inches in diameter, lined with a strip of black rubber around the edge. They have recently been replaced, but the dark lines of grime linger, outlines of their larger predecessors.


Speaker for the Streets

One of the best things about NYC is the noise. Over 8 million people just simply existing comes in more increased audible waves than you would ever imagine. But perhaps the noise which transcends all else is the manufactured sounds that come from the unmistakable JBL Flip speaker.


Aegolius verizon

As early as 2002, ornithologists reported sightings of a bird hitherto unknown in New York City: Aegolius verizon. The reports swelled with each passing year, until, at last, Aegolius verizon joined the pigeon on the top shelf of the city aviary, and sightings were no longer worth seeing. Today, Aegolius verizon perches on every other rooftop, hooks its talons into the eaves, and keeps watch.


Curbs of Allure

“Please curb your dog.” A plea no bigger than a postcard faces the street with a logo, “Curb Allure,” stamped in the corner. The small post sits behind a glass encased in aluminum or steel and looks welded to the fence. The fence is only a foot high and guards a tree. If you’re not familiar with Curb Allure, it’s the latest brand name in tree guards.


The Mighty Traffic Cone

New York is known as the city that never sleeps, but it is also the city that never stops. With more than 731,000 vehicles entering Manhattan every day, plus, buses, taxis, and bicycles, mobility could become a challenge.


On Commitment II

Everyone has the same card, but no two are punched alike. In New York, as in many cities, coffee has become a serious phenomenon, and over the past ten years, barista culture has proliferated. A barista’s commitment to coffee can be nothing short of extraordinary.


The Exit Sign

Despite their ubiquitous presence in everyday life, exit signs are designed for disaster, and in New York City specifically, this design has rules. While most municipalities follow the guidelines for exit signs issued by the National Electric Code (NEC), the New York City Building Authority produces their own additional requirements, rendering the majority of manufactured exit signs unusable.


Journeying Through Precarity

The theme of precarity brings to mind the seminal 1941 Jorge Luis Borges short story, “La Biblioteca de Babel.” Written in response to another not-so-distant foray into mutually-assured self-annihilation, his narrative fantasy offered readers a metaphor for the biblical scale of our global, cultural crisis.


Moon Memes and Fashion Themes: Social Media at the Turn of the 20th Century

The invention of the camera provided individuals with a chance to see a great deal of the world outside of their microcosm, allowed them to share updates of their lives with their family, and provided a visual source of entertainment and activity through the act of collecting portraits of beautiful women, celebrities and pets. While […]

Essay, Excerpt, Thesis Research

Making Room for Baby

Lila Allen, Class of 2016, wrote her thesis on the design of children’s spaces. Her research was adapted for publication in the 4th issue of Kinder: A Journal Dedicated To Child Design, Past, Present, and Future. Consider the choice between two cribs: One is a Vetro, a fully recyclable, limited-edition acrylic pen by Nursery Works […]


The Price of Loyalty: Paper Receipts and Their Implications

“Do you have a rewards card?” asked Luz, a stout cashier wearing a t-shirt that read “Attention Kmart Shoppers,” as she rang up a single pack of Orbit Sweet Mint gum. “No,” I replied. “Would you like to sign up for one? It only takes a minute,” she pressed. “No, thanks,” I said as the […]

Essay, Lecture

Curiosity-Driven Research at CERN

Straddling the border between Switzerland and France, CERN or the European Organization for Nuclear Research is the largest particle physics research complex in the world and home to the most powerful particle accelerator ever built— the Large Hadron Collider. To give you a sense of scale, imagine a circular tunnel with a circumference of roughly […]


(212) 431-6189

Meg Farmer finds human traces of Donald Judd all but erased in the renovation (and museumification) of his house at 101 Spring Street, New York.


Evolution of the Poison Label: From Skull and Crossbones to Mr. Yuk

Walk through the isles of a pharmacy today and most product labels will have icons that illustrate the integrity of the product, like the rabbit that assures us that the product is cruelty free and not tested on our furry friends. And, the icon of the three green arrows curving towards one another in a […]