Thesis progress work
Our intrepid grad, Ashley Steven's generously reports from grad school at School of Visual Arts in NYC! Thanks Ashley – we love to hear what you are up to!
It's almost the end of second semester now, and I can't believe that there's only one more semester until I'm done! The second year of the MFA program is a lot different than the first year. The first year is much more of a "boot camp," where students have a project due almost every day, but the whole second year is devoted primarily to thesis.
At the end of the first year, students are encouraged to start developing thesis ideas, and are expected to explore them and conduct research over the summer in order to begin the second year of the program with a solid idea. The purpose of "Designer as Author" thesis is to create unique products of value that are responsible to the needs and wants of the society. The goal is to contribute objects of worth that integrate the best design in the smartest product. Products can range from toys, to websites, to books, to campaigns, as long as they fill a void for a particular audience.
The program is a fairly structured one in that every week we must present on specific topics such as: audience, competition, core competancy, brand platform, visual strategies, and business platform. This structure is helpful in staying focused. As designers, the urge is to just jump in and begin making things, but the entire thesis process requires students to prove why they are making what they are making, and why it's important.
The SVA program sets us up with multiple faculty members to get feedback on our projects, instead of having only one faculty advisor. We work with Jennifer Kinon (senior designer at Pentagram and SVA MFAD alum) who keeps us all on track to ensure that we are fulfilling all of the thesis requirements. We are also working with Martin Kace of Empax again this semester, who assists in the branding of our projects, and Ken Carbone, of Carbone Smolan Agency, who works with us on visual strategy and our brand platforms. And of course the co-chairs, Lita Talarico and Steve Heller, who we give a formal presentation to on our ideas in order to get approval to move forward. Having so many advisors is helpful because one person may be able to help you with one particular aspect, while someone else is helpful in something entirely different. However, it can also be challenging to hear so many different opinions about your project. In the end, it's essential for students to absorb all of the opinions, but then decide what is best for their individual project.
The process so far is a giant exercise in overcoming self-doubt. The program allows students to approach any topic, so it is very easy to continuously ask yourself if you've chosen the right one. By the end of this semester we will complete our pitch books, and begin production on our projects next semester. Everything will get unveiled in May at the SVA Theater where students deliver their pitches to the public!