How Parsons Became A Catalyst For Innovation [Need To Know]

Simon Collins explains how the school fosters incredible talent and produces ‘better than expected’ work.

Originally published in PSFK’s Need To Know Magazine Volume 1

A recent report by The Center for an Urban Future highlights how design and architecture schools, such as Parsons in New York City, act as creative hubs and ‘critical catalysts for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth for the city.’ We spoke to Parsons’ Dean, Simon Collins, for our Need To Know Magazine who explained that:

Parsons is filled with students and faculty who are compelled to be innovate by their very nature. They are constantly looking for challenging problems that they can apply their design skills to elegantly solving. In the past these efforts were largely targeted at internal projects. Over the past four years we have worked hard to show the world what we do. With every success we get more requests and are able to be ever more selective about who we work with and what we do. Hence the projects become more attractive and the quality goes ever upward.

Parsons has always enjoyed immense respect from the industry, not least because of the impressive number of alumni who are household names—Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Tom Ford, Jason Wu, Anna Sui, Proenza Schouler, Alex Wang, etc.—and understandably the school was focused on education rather than, for instance, PR. Over the past 4 years we’ve run some very high profile projects working with the fashion industry and drawing on the very best of what our students and faculty are capable of. Some small, and some very large, with partners like LVMH, Christian Louboutin, Allen Edmonds, Li Ning, Braciallini, Saks, etc. we have gotten a lot of attention. Since we continue to deliver over and above what anyone expects, word has gotten around.

One restriction has always been time outside the classroom for our students and faculty to work on projects. We addressed this by strategically targeting specific projects at sections of our student and faculty populations who had time to spare at different points in the curriculum. We know when our students have the mind space to deliver and we target that. Furthermore, my professional experience means I’ve an idea what our partners are looking for so I’ve been able to understand their goals and marry them with our own academic ones.

Collins On Inspiration:

My professional career involved working with Zegna in Italy, Fila in New York and Italy, Nike in Asia, Greg Norman in New York, Marks and Spencer in London and many others. From each I learned a little or a lot. Taken together I have a rich source of inspiration for all that we do at Parsons. If I was to point to a couple of examples I think the absolute commitment to quality that was part of the Marks and Spencer culture and the dedication to excellence that was part of Nike’s culture were particularly inspiring. I’ve picked up small tips along the way and they never quite leave my mind:

  • You are your own brand.
  • Bloom where you are planted.
  • Bring value to the process.
  • Just Do It, etc. Cliches perhaps, but no less true for all that.

Originally published in PSFK’s Need To Know Magazine. Click the banner below to purchase the print version.

Originally published in PSFK’s Need To Know Magazine. Click the banner below to purchase the print version.

Original photography for PSFK by Catalina Kulzar 

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