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

Hands. – SVA MA Design Research

Paul Olmer



My meditations on commodity and fetish bring me back to the image, and specifically my fetish of late, the image of a process.


Beautiful images sell ideas. As designers, we use images all the time to sell our ideas, and the more the beautiful image, the better.


I tracked down a recent press release after reading an article about “small batch craftsmanship” of a large shoe retailer. The press release included a one-page blurb and several images.


The images for the press release were helpfully sorted into three separate folders: “high resolution still life” (images of the shoe in profile in a studio environment with a white background,) “high resolution stylized still life” (shoes artfully arranged in a workshop environment,) and “storytelling images” (beautifully shot process-orientated photos of cobblers crafting the shoes.)


Of the seven “storytelling images” six had disembodied hands working on some specific process associated with the making of shoes. In one image, a rugged hand is stitching the top toe panel to the side panels. The pinkie finger on the left hand is wrapped in tape. We can see the tools of the craftsperson blurred and out of focus in the background. This image is labeled “made in Maine storytelling 9.”


I thought of other cobblers I had seen recently, including a video of a high-end athletic shoe being made. The video begins with a lulling head-bobbing electro synth pop beat.


We follow the shoe from beginning to end. We see disembodied hands throughout, bodiless craftspeople. When a young Asian woman walks across the background, we notice. She is the only whole person we see, ever.


I am struck that both a small batch artisanal high-end pitch centered on craft and a high tech athletic shoe would not allow a whole person, a seasoned craftsperson, to be seen. When is it ok to show a whole person?