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

The Work at Hand – SVA MA Design Research

Paul Olmer

The Work at Hand

In the rear corner of a store at 391a Orchard Road in Singapore, a woman with spiky grey hair and glasses sits on a high stool, above a small custom worktable with a specialized sewing machine.  She sits just askew of the table, focusing on the piece in her lap. Exclusive luxury products on beautifully crafted brass shelves with thick glass inserts surround her.

She wears a brown leather apron with an iconic green and red branded neck ribbon, a chocolate brown long sleeve shirt, and a fabulous printed twill silk scarf kerchief style around her neck. (Available via Net-A-Porter for 465.00 US Dollars.)  

The Gucci Artisan Corner is a new retail event that transports the craftsmanship of Gucci’s Florentine leather goods factory directly to a Gucci store near you.”

This woman will helpfully monogram your recent purchase at Gucci. She is there. The sewing machine is there. The handbags are there. Whether or not this mise en scene “transports craftsmanship” from Florence to Singapore is unclear, but they are next to one another

The act of placing things next to one another is a straightforward act of design. We associate the two things regardless of their relationship. Max Wertheimer and his team at the New School in New York in the 1920’s articulated five Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization, one of which is the “Law of Proximity.” It states, “Objects that are near or ‘proximate’ to each other tend to be grouped together.”

This theory, which is both a theory of visual perception and a theory of emotional perception, is now a deeply ingrained habit in designers. We think of it as natural and intuitive—which it is.  Like any pattern, this one is ripe for manipulation.  

The practice of artfully and purposefully connecting a brand next to a craft or craftsperson in order to benefit from the perceived value of that craft is what I’m calling “proximity to craft.”  While there may be no direct relationship between the brand and the craft or craftsperson it is placed next to, there is the intent that the associations we have with craft or craftsperson will rub off on the brand.  

These positive associations include making things by hand, taking the time to do things right, understanding the raw materials, and having a complete perspective of the process from beginning to end. A luxury design consultant, Bruce Montgomery, expands on craft’s promise, “Unique, irreplaceable crafted products allow us to see that taste is about more than money.  Craft will offer us all ways to show off our originality, our refinement, and our élan.”


Tony Ho Loke, a Vice President at Weber Shandwick, an international public relations firm, breaks down the strategy of proximity for us from a brand’s perspective: identify attributes of the brand you want to accentuate, choose partners who reinforce these attributes, then place them near one another. We, the consumers, will the do the rest.