An MFA Degree For Designers Who Want To Change The World

A new MFA program at the School of Visual Arts teaches students to apply design thinking as a driver for social change.


So you want to change the world? Cynics may send you off to Wall Street or a white-shoe law firm. Those with gumption will look for another way. The new Master’s of Fine Arts in Design for Social Innovation has opened its doors just for them.

“We’re adamant this not be a program where people sit in a classroom and talk about how great it’s going to be when they go out and change the world,” says program chair Cheryl Heller at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York, and a board member of PopTech. “It is helping designers go beyond self-expression, which is how most designers are taught, and how to put [design] into practice to create a change.”

Programs such as Stanford’s and Carnegie Mellon’s School of Architecture teach sustainable design principles across a range of disciplines, but SVA’s program also explicitly tries to create leaders out of designers able to work everywhere from multinational retailers to non-profits in Africa, and apply design thinking as a driver for social change. “Design has the potential to have lasting revolutionary change in the way we think about systems…and the way we understand how to improve the world,” says Heller.

Students accepted into the Fall 2012 class will start designing during their first year at SVA. Courses will be taught by a faculty of CEOs, PhDs, and other professionals from communications agencies (Purpose), product design (Method Products), or game design firms (Gaming for Change).

SVA is not entirely alone in thinking design is good for business. The University of Michigan offers an MFA/MBA program, while Stanford’s has taken a similar approach to technology, business, and human values, placing design innovation at the center of that Venn digram.

Maybe Daniel Pink’s (somewhat hyperbolic) statement in 2008 that the MFA is the new MBA still isn’t true for most of corporate America, but skills to design lasting change will take you anywhere.  


[Image: SVA]

Reach Michael J. Coren via Twitter or email.

About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment.