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Symposium Synopsis

Submitted on October 2, 2021 - 3:44pm
Question prompts for A Symposium on Design Graduate Education

On April 30, 2021, the Division of Design hosted a virtual event titled A Symposium on Design Graduate Education. The meeting was co-organized by Audrey Desjardins, James Pierce, and Annabelle Gould. It was made possible with the generous support of the Jones Endowed Fund for the Arts from the UW College of Arts + Sciences.

In essence, the aim of the symposium was to ask: What is graduate design school all about?

This one-day event was a space for faculty and students to share ideas and ask questions about the future of graduate design education against the backdrop of current social, political, ecological, and economic change. The day consisted of keynote speakers, roundtable discussions, and panels that brought together current graduate students, recently graduated students, and faculty who teach in graduate programs in design.

The day started with an opening panel where Elizabeth Chin (Art Center) and Matthew Peterson (NC State) offered provocations to open up perspectives on graduate design education. Trained in anthropology, Chin discussed ‘Unthinking Capitalism,’ inviting designers to rethink their relationship to the extractive nature of design and to imagine alternatives. Peterson articulated how design-based discovery can lead to important advancements in research while retaining the exploratory nature of design practice.

The second panel, moderated by Jeremy Barribeau (UW MDes alum), invited current master's degree and PhD students in design to reflect on their experience in graduate school. Heidi Biggs (Penn State), Sofía Bosch Gómez (Carnegie Mellon), Ryan Diaz (RISD), Kaiwen Yang (Emily Carr), and Larrea Young (Michigan) generously and candidly shared how their work and perspectives expand traditional roles for design. Their inspiring trajectories showcased careful participatory and community oriented projects as well as the blend of art and design experimental approaches.

After a short break, we reconvened for a panel discussion that portrayed a variety of existing graduate programs. We invited Denise Gonzales Crisp (NC State), Amanda Menking (UW), Will Odom (Simon Fraser), Stacie Rohrbach (Carnegie Mellon), and Ron Wakkary (Simon Fraser and TU Eindhoven) to briefly present how the graduate programs at their institutions orient design. Key discussion points involved balancing the practice and craft of design with the research orientation of graduate school.

The fourth panel asked ‘Where are they now?’ and invited alumni to share how their graduate experience shaped their career trajectories. Nina Paim (, David Reinfurt (Princeton), Maurice Woods (Inneract Project), and Jayme Yen (UW) offered vivid portraits of their time in graduate school and revealed the importance of taking time to experiment.

For our final panel of the day, we invited organizers of the 2021 North American PhD by Design symposium to join us and talk specifically about doctoral studies in design. While many departments have master's-level programs in design, PhD programs in design are still relatively new and rare in design departments. Ahmed Ansari (NYU), Carl DiSalvo (Georgia Tech), Laura Forlano (IIT), and Lara Penin (Parsons) shared lessons learned in planning, starting, and maintaining doctoral programs in design. Importantly, they underscored the importance of recognizing and elevating the unique ways design can lead to new knowledge and discoveries in the world.

The day concluded, and we were filled with zoom fatigue (of course!) but, more importantly, with buzzing ideas and the sense that we have a community who is deeply committed to rethinking what the future of graduate education in design can and should be.

All the panels were recorded and are available to watch on the symposium website.

Many thanks to Franklin Vandiver for the website design, to Vassilissa Semouchkina for tech support, and to Jeremy Barribeau for moderating the student panel. This event was made possible with the generous support of the Jones Endowed Fund for the Arts from the UW College of Arts + Sciences.