You are about to embark on a truly exciting, unique adventure known as the MFADT thesis. Over the course of this semester, you will be thinking, research, making, testing, iterating and reflecting on a project that interests, intrigues, and fascinates you.
The semester is divided into three parts: Research, Prototyping, and Testing.
Goal: Identify your primary research domain, design questions, and communities of practice.
Goal: Create multiple prototypes that respond to your design questions.
Goal: Test and refine your initial prototypes with an external audience in order to build a functioning Proof of Concept prototype.
What do you find interesting and inspiring right now? What questions do you have about it? What domain(s), or area(s) of study or inquiry, is it related to?
Who is doing similar work/research?
Where is the gap?
What makes your contribution novel and relevant to the domain?
What is a prototype?
What are different prototyping approaches and types?
What type of prototype is helpful to my research right now?
What prototype will help me test the interaction or experience? The look and feel? The role?
What are my design values?Who am i designing for?
Who is my intended audience?
What is one question you need to answer about the interaction of your project?
What form will your project take?
How do you design WITH instead of FOR?
What information do I need from my audience to make informed design choices?
What does a successful user test look like?
Studio: Final domain question(s);
final design question(s); 3 creative research artifacts; final presentation
Writing: Several assignments culminating in Milestone research paper
Studio: 3 or more prototypes; 1 should be high fidelity; final presentation
Writing: Several assignments culminating in Milestone prototyping paper
Studio: high fidelity Proof of Concept prototype for the Thesis Pop Up show; final presentation;
Writing: Several assignments culminating in Milestone testing paper
By the end of this semester, you will have a solid proof of concept for your project that responds to your design questions. In your second semester of thesis, you will continue testing and iterating as you prepare for the final thesis show. A note on assessment: As we progress toward the end of a module, we will clearly articulate our expectations for the class as a whole and for you as individuals. See the Criteria for Evaluation section below for a full list of criteria.
Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind over the next few months:
This is a process. A design process.
It’s important to remember that this investigation is a process in every sense of the word. If you begin with the answer, it is not a thesis project. If you do not have an intended audience, it is not a design thesis project. If you feel you are getting too caught up in one place or problem, go make something. Then get feedback on it. You will have moments of success and moments of frustration. Failure is a sacred part of the design process. Through failure you will learn new perspectives, tools, approaches, and more that will push your project forward.
Make early, make often.
One of the most difficult parts of this process is to transition from thinking to making. It is easy to think about an idea for quite a while, but this would be the wrong approach: you should be thinking and making together. Just because you don’t have a fully formed idea does not mean you can’t begin prototyping. Indeed, it is through prototyping that you will generate and refine your idea.
It is your thesis.
No one else is responsible for your project but you. Take ownership over it and be proud of it. Over the semester, you will become the expert. As your peers, professors, stakeholders, user testers, and even your mom offer suggestions, praise, and criticism, you should think critically before integrating their feedback into your project.
We form ideas and beliefs about the world based on our experiences and backgrounds. It is your role as a designer to question those at every stage of the process, from the basic (sitting is the primary function of a chair) to the complex (students in urban schools are more technologically literate than rural students). Always ask why.
Ask for help when you need it.
You will reach a point when you need support, whether technical, logistical, emotional, etc. The best thing to do is ask for help before it becomes a bigger challenge.
We cannot overstate the importance of this - prototypes, diagrams on napkins, user testing images, etc. As designer researchers, it is just as important that you communicate your process as the final product. Getting used to documenting takes time and - yes - it can be time consuming, but it will make your written deliverables easier and your presentations stronger. Just do it.
We understand the classroom as a space for practicing freedom; where one may challenge psychic, social, and cultural borders and create meaningful artistic expressions. To do so we must acknowledge and embrace the different identities and backgrounds we inhabit. This means that we will use preferred pronouns, respect self-identifications, and be mindful of special needs. Disagreement is encouraged and supported, however our differences affect our conceptualization and experience of reality, and it is extremely important to remember that certain gender, race, sex, and class identities are more privileged while others are undermined and marginalized. Consequently, this makes some people feel more protected or vulnerable during debates and discussions. A collaborative effort between the students, TA, and instructor is needed to create a supportive learning environment. While everyone should feel free to experiment creatively and conceptually, if a class member points out that something you have said or shared with the group is offensive, avoid being defensive; instead approach the discussion as a valuable opportunity for us to grow and learn from one another. Alternatively if you feel that something said in discussion or included in a piece of work is harmful, you are encouraged to speak with the instructor or TA.
PLEASE NOTE: This syllabus is a working document. Assignments and in class activities will change based on how we progress as a class. Please check it frequently for the most up-to-date version or email Liza or Louisa if you have any questions.
The MFADT thesis is a systematic investigation of a research domain within the fields of art, design, and technology conducted through both academic and material investigation. Students identify an area of study, and propose a series of experiments to explore this domain at increasing levels of depth through concept-based research, question-based prototyping and context-based testing. By the end of the course, students should be able to outline the major questions that guide their experimentation, the methods they use to find potential answers, and their individual, personal perspective about the outcome and goals of their study. This opinion, and the project-based work done to instantiate it, constitute a student’s thesis. Final project-based outcomes of the course include visually documented creative research, prototyping, and a final, high-fidelity prototype. This work needs to be tested with the projected audience outside of the MFA DT community, and should manifest students intended concept and form, without need for prior explanation. Written outcomes include elaboration of students research and their continually evolving guiding questions, working methodology, concepts, opinions and goals related to their project-based work.
The Thesis Project can take many forms, from fine art, to soft/hardware tools, interactive screen based work, online experiences, games or social experiments. Whether it is a series of projects, or a singular work, the project must evidence depth of exploration. The finished project must evidence originality and experimentation in critical concept, form, presentation and documentation. Emphasis is placed on thorough research, thoughtful experimentation, well crafted production and execution, user testing with key stakeholders, effective project planning, and writing with the potential to be published.
The course follows a studio format meeting twice a week, co-taught by studio and writing faculty. Class time is spent workshopping research and prototyping skills, giving peer to peer feedback, having one on one conversations with studio and writing faculty, and doing more formal presentations for faculty and outside critics. All students are expected to participate in the making, discussion, and critique of work. All students are also expected to contribute to in-class dialogue as a substantial part of their grade to demonstrate their understanding, questioning, and unique perspectives on the subjects studied. The process encourages students to learn from one another’s methods, and create their own studio-wide community of practice, to support one another in the development of their work.
Thesis Studio One is the third in a series of four MFA DT Studio courses: following Major Studios One and Two in the first year, and concluding with Thesis Studio Two in the spring. These four courses constitute the core of the MFA DT curriculum, with technical and academic electives supporting the central studio. Major and Thesis studios focus on development of concept and method; while support electives concentrate on technical development. Students are responsible for establishing intersections across different classes in their course of study.
By the successful completion of this course, students should be able to:
Demonstrate proficiency with a variety of research strategies ranging from academic research, to creative, design-based research, as evidenced in their first (research) project presentation;
Demonstrate mastery of design methodology and the iterative prototyping to test and critically evaluate concepts; as evidenced in their second (prototyping) project presentation;
Describe design values; key creative attributes related to students’ work that they will use to assess their own progress;
Design and execute a range of context-specific user testing approaches with core stakeholders or intended audiences outside of the MFA DT community, and to assess the efficacy of such tests, as evidenced in their final presentation;
Create a functional, high-fidelity, “proof of concept” prototype, refined as a result of testing and iterating that instantiates their thesis concept without need for prior explanation, as evidenced in their final presentation;
Articulate a thesis concept or guiding question(s) within their chosen domain of interest, that frames the trajectory of their further research, writing and production initiatives, as evidenced in their final presentation;
Describe a production plan for further development of work to be done in Thesis 2, as evidenced in their final presentation;
Demonstrate proficiency with persuasive writing and oral presentation skills, to articulate the overall concept, goals, and importance of their work; as evidenced in their final writing deliverables;
Demonstrate fluency with expressing the relationship of their thesis, with its project-based and written work, to other art and design precedents within the context of their domain of interest;
Demonstrate positive contribution to their thesis studio and cohort, by participating in group discussion and activities, offering productive criticism to others, and responding constructively to critique.
Over the course of the thesis year, students will emerge as experts in their domains of interest, framing the argument of how their work contributes to their chosen field. Though thesis instructors will act as mentors, students will ultimately be evaluated on their ability to articulate the context, concept and importance of their work.
Thesis One focuses on three central projects based on research, prototyping and testing, with the aim of developing a thesis through experimentation. Students are evaluated on their participation and execution of the defined deliverables for each project.
GOAL: Identify areas of interest.
Use various research methods to translate curiosity into inquiry and learning in your chosen subject area of interest, known as a “domain.” Present findings in a creative way, including research artifacts like original video, photography, writing (creative, scientific, or other), data visualizations, or models. Articulate the questions that have emerged from your research. What is most interesting?
Process: students reach out to at least 3 outside experts or sources, and employ at least 3 forms of creative research or conceptually generative prototypes beyond interviews, such as: “personal inventories,” “tours” with experts, maps, PAR etc. Please see the Creative Research document for suggestions, examples and in class exercises.
In class workshops: creative research methods with studio instructors, academic research with writing instructors.
Questions: What would you like to make and why? What domain are you working in, what precedents are you most inspired by, what questions are you asking, and how might your thesis respond to this? What is the historical / social / cultural / background of your concept? What is new and individual about your approach?
Final project based form: present at least 3 research “artifacts,” by giving form to at least 3 creative research methods, i.e., edit a video of an expert / source giving a tour of a chosen site; create a collage of findings based on a person describing an inventory of items that reflect their identity.
Final written form: Milestone Paper_Research
In their presentations, students should describe their domain of interest, initial research questions, 3 research artifacts, research process, and related precedents. They should explain their basic findings, and why they feel the subject area is interesting and important. From this work, they should then be able to describe 4 “design attributes,” which are qualities that will guide their experiments, or variables that they will test for, in their following prototypes.
Manifest domain research in multiple prototypes. Start by evaluating research artifacts from the previous exercise, and decide which, if any, you will continue to develop. Based on what you thought was most interesting from your previous research, and any tentative ideas and questions you have begun to form, consider 3-4 qualities you would like to test for with your prototypes. These could be qualities related to look and feel, experience, structure or concept, among others.
Process: Create 3-4 prototypes to test different variables, each using different methods. Please see the Prototyping Resource document for suggestions, examples and in class exercises.
Final project-based form: 3 prototypes, one of which is high-fidelity.
Final written form: Milestone Paper_Prototyping
In their presentations: students should describe each prototyping experiment; the related questions or variables that prompted the experiment, what they found out, and which prototype(s) they feel are interesting enough to continue to the context / audience / testing stage.
Based on their overall findings, students should state a tentative concept that describes their pursuit, and update the design values (creative qualities) that they would like their work to have. For more information on design values, see here.
Students create a project that evidences:
Context / stakeholder / audience testing: based on their prototyping exploration, students create or further develop a work within their chosen domain that involves designing not only FOR a particular audience, but WITH a particular audience outside of the MFA DT community. Though the concept originates from students own exploration within their chosen area of study, students must further refine their concept and approach by testing with their intended external audience, iterating, and testing again. This is necessary to ultimately create a functional, high-fidelity project known as a Proof of Concept prototype, which demonstrates the creator’s ability to overcome any issues critical to the project, in terms of aesthetics, method, technological backend, or audience implementation.
Process: students clearly identify and connect with their intended audience; design and implement at least 2 stages of testing with them. Please see the Testing Resource document for examples and strategies.
Final project based form: a high-fidelity work, proof of concept prototype to be developed for presentation in the Thesis One popup show.
Final oral and written form: From project, students should be able to:
describe their audience, how they tested with that audience, iterated, and their final conclusions.
describe their thesis: their opinion about the project, what impact they want project to have, and why it’s important.
describe their design values, creative qualities that to them, would define a successful manifestation of their thesis project.
Final written form: Milestone Paper_Testing
The MFA DT program recognizes writing as an integral part of the design process, as it is an essential mode of communication amongst all creative communities. Your thesis project will be supported by your writing and research. Specialized writing faculty co-teach with studio faculty during the thesis year to facilitate this process. All students will accompany studio work with a visual and textual record of their research, prototyping, and testing.
Your research and writing will complement your studio work and help to push it forward. Through discussion, research, writing and making you will articulate and represent your ideas. Gradually as you complete your four projects over the course of the semester you will sharpen your understanding of your subject area(s). You will formulate and answer design questions as you immerse yourself in self-defined problem spaces. Your prototypes are forms for your ideas.
Deliverables include process papers as well as 3 milestone papers: Research (Project 1), Prototyping (Project 2) and Testing (Project 3)
Assignments will be scheduled, adapted, or constructed by your faculty to support the T1 Syllabus:
Process research & writing assignments as described below.
Students are required to maintain a personal process and / or portfolio blog, and submit the url to their studio instructor by the end of week 1. The process blog should contain information including:
Weekly reports on research and studio work. You should expect to post 3-5 times per week.
Documentation of research artifacts and prototypes for each of the three phases.
The outcome of any in class assignments, as requested by the instructor.
Annotation of key references and precedents.
Students should send both of their faculty a single final archive, labeled with their last name, the course name, and the semester / year, eg: Travis_thesis_f18.
Final writing deliverable: Writing Portfolio: Includes Thesis Abstract, Process Papers, and 3 Milestone Papers, updated per writing faculty requirement. Please create subdirectories for your writing like this: Travis_thesis_milestones_f18 and Travis_thesis_process papers_f18.
Final Studio Deliverable: Final_Studio_Summary_Document: A two page document with 1-2 images that summarizes your concept, research, prototyping and production plan for the following semester; to be used as the basis for your final presentation. This document should be on the top level of your final archive, labeled like this: Travis_thesis_studio_f18.
Research Presentation + Artifacts 15%
Prototyping Presentation + Artifacts 15%
Final Critique + tested project, deliverables 30%
Writing Portfolio Package 30%
Class Participation 10%
An important note on grading.
Thesis is self-directed. You are responsible for doing the work. While we have class-wide and program-wide criteria for evaluation, we will work with you individually to set up assessment criteria specific to your project. This means grades get fuzzy, but in general:
If you show up on time and turn in work, you’ll get an A.
If you show up occasionally/are late consistently, with outstanding work, you’ll get a B.
If you don’t get an A or B, you are in danger of not passing thesis.
If you copy someone else’s work, you will fail.
The university provides many resources to help students achieve academic and artistic excellence. These resources include:
In keeping with the university’s policy of providing equal access for students with disabilities, any student with a disability who needs academic accommodations is welcome to meet with me privately. All conversations will be kept confidential. Students requesting any accommodations will also need to contact Student Disability Service (SDS). SDS will conduct an intake and, if appropriate, the Director will provide an academic accommodation notification letter for you to bring to me. At that point, I will review the letter with you and discuss these accommodations in relation to this course.
The Making Center is a constellation of shops, labs, and open workspaces that are situated across the New School to help students express their ideas in a variety of materials and methods. We have resources to help support woodworking, metalworking, ceramics and pottery work, photography and film, textiles, printmaking, 3D printing, manual and CNC machining, and more. A staff of technicians and student workers provide expertise and maintain the different shops and labs. Safety is a primary concern, so each area has policies for access, training, and etiquette with which students and faculty should be familiar. Many areas require specific orientations or trainings before access is granted. Detailed information about the resources available, as well as schedules, trainings, and policies can be found at resources.parsons.edu.
Students in the course will be evaluated and receive feedback on the following areas. The overarching goal of Thesis Studio 1 is the development of a Proof of Concept prototype that embodies a well-considered thesis concept.
Concept: How well formulated, well considered, and cogent is the student’s thesis concept?
Communication: How well is the student able to express their ideas, both verbally and with other forms of communication including writing, drawing, mapping, modeling, pre-visualizing etc?
Project Presentation: Is the student able to conceptualize, design and plan a suitable means of presenting their project through exhibition, demonstration, performance and/or lecture? Is the student able to articulate the core concepts and experience of their project?
Critical Thinking and Reflective Judgment: To what degree has the student demonstrated critical thinking skills over the course of the semester? Is the student reflecting on and questioning form, methodology, materials, utility, ergonomics, aesthetics, style, cultural, experience, research, and process?
Creative Process: Is the student incorporating proper use of problem identification, ideation, analysis, research, writing of specifications and constraints, real world costs, feasibility, testing and iteration? Is the student advancing their project through research, prototyping and writing?
Contextualization: Is the student able to connect their work and ideas to historical and contemporary precedents, and to situate their work within a community of practice? Can the student confidently synthesize several different approaches to a design problem and make conclusions of their own?
Evaluation: Can the student evaluate their projectsʼ successes and failures?
Integration and Appropriate Use of Technology: Is the student making good choices about the form and type of technology they are using to give form to their design concepts? Is the student able to integrate technology into the conceptualization of their projects?
Production and Time Management: Is the student able to scale their project to the appropriate time frame and technical/design resources at their disposal
Graduate Grade descriptions
A Work of exceptional quality
A- Work of high quality
B+ Very good work
B Good work; satisfies course requirements
Satisfactory completion of a course is considered to be a grade of B or higher.
B- Below-average work
C+ Less than adequate work
C Well below average work
C- Poor work; lowest possible passing grade
GM Grade missing for an individual
Grades of D are not used in graduate level courses.
Grade of W
The grade of W may be issued by the Office of the Registrar to a student who officially withdraws from a course within the applicable deadline. There is no academic penalty, but the grade will appear on the student transcript. A grade of W may also be issued by an instructor to a graduate student (except at Parsons and Mannes) who has not completed course requirements nor arranged for an Incomplete.
Grade of Z
The grade of Z is issued by an instructor to a student who has not attended or not completed all required work in a course but did not officially withdraw before the withdrawal deadline. It differs from an “F,” which would indicate that the student technically completed requirements but that the level of work did not qualify for a passing grade.
Grades of Incomplete
The grade of I, or temporary incomplete, may be granted to a student under unusual and extenuating circumstances, such as when the student’s academic life is interrupted by a medical or personal emergency. This mark is not given automatically but only upon the student’s request and at the discretion of the instructor. A Request for Incomplete form must be completed and signed by student and instructor. The time allowed for completion of the work and removal of the “I” mark will be set by the instructor with the following limitations: [You should include one the following standards, depending on the level of your course].
Graduate students: Work must be completed no later than one year following the end of the class. Grades of “I” not revised in the prescribed time will be recorded as a final grade of “N” by the Registrar’s Office.
Use of Canvas may be an important resource for this class. Students should check it for announcements before coming to class each week.
The use of electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, etc.) is permitted when the device is being used in relation to the course's work. All other uses are prohibited in the classroom and devices should be turned off before class starts.
Students are responsible for all assignments, even if they are absent. Late assignments, failure to complete the assignments for class discussion and/or critique, and lack of preparedness for in-class discussions, presentations and/or critiques will jeopardize your successful completion of this course.
Active Participation and Attendance
Class participation is an essential part of class and includes: keeping up with reading, assignments, projects, contributing meaningfully to class discussions, active participation in group work, and coming to class regularly and on time.
Parsons’ attendance guidelines were developed to encourage students’ success in all aspects of their academic programs. Full participation is essential to the successful completion of coursework and enhances the quality of the educational experience for all, particularly in courses where group work is integral; thus, Parsons promotes high levels of attendance. Students are expected to attend classes regularly and promptly and in compliance with the standards stated in this course syllabus.
While attendance is just one aspect of active participation, absence from a significant portion of class time may prevent the successful attainment of course objectives. A significant portion of class time is generally defined as the equivalent of three weeks, or 20%, of class time. Lateness or early departure from class may be recorded as one full absence. Students may be asked to withdraw from a course if habitual absenteeism or tardiness has a negative impact on the class environment.
I will assess each student’s performance against all of the assessment criteria in determining your final grade.
Academic Honesty and Integrity
Compromising your academic integrity may lead to serious consequences, including (but not limited to) one or more of the following: failure of the assignment, failure of the course, academic warning, disciplinary probation, suspension from the university, or dismissal from the university.
Students are responsible for understanding the University’s policy on academic honesty and integrity and must make use of proper citations of sources for writing papers, creating, presenting, and performing their work, taking examinations, and doing research. It is the responsibility of students to learn the procedures specific to their discipline for correctly and appropriately differentiating their own work from that of others. The full text of the policy, including adjudication procedures, is found on the university website under Policies: A to Z. Resources regarding what plagiarism is and how to avoid it can be found on the Learning Center’s website.
The New School views “academic honesty and integrity” as the duty of every member of an academic community to claim authorship for his or her own work and only for that work, and to recognize the contributions of others accurately and completely. This obligation is fundamental to the integrity of intellectual debate, and creative and academic pursuits. Academic honesty and integrity includes accurate use of quotations, as well as appropriate and explicit citation of sources in instances of paraphrasing and describing ideas, or reporting on research findings or any aspect of the work of others (including that of faculty members and other students). Academic dishonesty results from infractions of this “accurate use”. The standards of academic honesty and integrity, and citation of sources, apply to all forms of academic work, including submissions of drafts of final papers or projects. All members of the University community are expected to conduct themselves in accord with the standards of academic honesty and integrity. Please see the complete policy in the Parsons Catalog.
Intellectual Property Rights
The New School (the "university") seeks to encourage creativity and invention among its faculty members and students. In doing so, the University affirms its traditional commitment to the personal ownership by its faculty members and students of Intellectual Property Rights in works they create. The complete policy governing Intellectual Property Rights may be seen on the university website, on the Provost’s page.