Allan Chochinov is the Chair and co-founder of the MFA in Products of Design Program at the School of Visual Arts, a new two-year, immersive program which prepares practitioners for leadership in the shifting terrain of design. Allan also writes widely on design education and the impact of design on contemporary culture. He talks to PSFK about the state of design education and how creativity works.
How do we foster innovative thinking and creativity?
I think it can be instructive to decouple the idea of innovation with the sole goal of creating new goods and services. One of the problems we acknowledge are the limits of what we, as a species, choose to measure, and how we measure it; we like to turn everything into a store, for example, where consumers and consumables are the central protagonists. And we’ve gotten quite good at structuring the creative process and ‘innovating’ in these contexts. But there are others, certainly, and so you are seeing a structured kind of creativity taking shape in fields around design for social innovation, in crowdsourcing and open sourcing projects, in the explosive metric of simple participation. In recent history we’ve mythologized creativity and innovation (and even genius!) around individual pursuits. Now we recognize that some of the most creative enterprises are fueled by lots of people, along multiple pursuits; that design, at least, is a team sport.
Is the Products of Design program at SVA a response to the fluid landscape designers find themselves in these days?
Your description of a fluid landscape is apt. One could argue that in many contexts right now, ‘all design is all design,’ or to sharpen that up a bit, that the fluencies and awarenesses required of designers are extraordinarily broad, interdisciplinary and blurry. From the regrettable loss of hand skills to the dazzle of digital fabrication, from the framing of user experiences to the framing of government policy, we understand that most challenges are fundamentally systemic and need to be negotiated with a balance of rigor, point of view, and humility. The MFA Products of design program is aimed at balancing these requirements and equipping the designers of tomorrow with the skills—sure—but perhaps more importantly with the perspective to see more clearly the contexts they’ll be operating in. It’s a two-year program with a deep bench of faculty both renegade and disciplined, and we’re extremely excited to welcome our first cadre of students in September 2012.
What makes remarkable design?
I am fascinated by a very popular app right now called Draw Something, which echoes in my mind Khoi Vinh’s words that ‘anything that can be social, will be.’ Essentially you are given a choice of words to draw, and you draw one of them, and then the person you are playing with (across the internet) has to guess the word from your drawing. Sounds simple. But the genius of the thing is that you actually watch the drawing being drawn over time, like an animation, so it’s more about the moment of recognition than about the effectiveness of the overall work. I don’t know if you’d consider this a ‘design project’ exactly, but for me it typifies a kind of key ingredient in the product of design that is the game: the age-old notion that the story is important, but the storytelling is more important.
Original photography for PSFK by Catalina Kulzar