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President’s Blog: NewSchool’s Northern Star - Human-Centered Design

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For thousands of years, the Northern Star has been a bright and fixed point for travelers on their journeys. A Northern Star can also be a metaphorical guide for organizations as they journey toward their own desired destination. A north star aspiration is important because it brings clarity to what can otherwise be a diverse community of opinions about the world. It brings focus to student and faculty scholarship and differentiates us from other architecture and design schools. At our convocation in October, I revealed NewSchool’s Northern Star: human-centered design. This assertion did not come superficially. Rather it has evolved out of a history of concern for the human experience and the responsibility for human welfare in the design of buildings, media options and artifacts that define our experience in the world.

There are many interpretations for the definition of human-centered design, and a vigorous discourse has begun among students at faculty within the NewSchool community. That observed, it is agreed upon that human-centered design is a problem-solving approach that starts and ends with people. Designers immerse themselves in the needs and challenges of people who will experience their project so that they gain a deep understanding and empathy. It is a creative and collaborative process that involves brainstorming and rapid, iterative prototyping to bring an innovative and successful project to life—for people.

Our focus on the human experience in all that we do comes after much vital discussion with our faculty that extends beyond my nine months as president to my time on the board of directors. Human-centered design is the primary organizing thought that pins our efforts to a deeply held value for architecture and design. We will emphasize that our students be “citizen architects and designers” who are keenly focused on the experience of those who will live, work, and worship with the result of the efforts of architects and designers.

We are so committed to this that we are creating a new organizational structure. We have clarified our design offerings by organizing the study of design into product, media, interior architecture and design, and design studies into a School of Architecture and Construction Management and the Domus Academy School of Design. We have also reconsidered how we perceive general education and are directing our efforts toward Integrative Studies. This supports the notion that general education in a design school is an opportunity for inter- and cross-disciplinary study as well as critical and
creative thought. These efforts support the pillars that underlie our curricular experience: professional practice, environmental empathy, human welfare and community engagement. These pillars are further emphasized in the scholarship of faculty gathered around four affinity groupings including: design and practice, design and strategy, design and environment, and design and health. Ultimately it is through the scholarship of faculty and students that we will be known. We wish that reputation to be built upon that which makes us
human and that which we as designers can amplify to make our humanity even more visceral.

At NewSchool, human-centered design also means designing programs centered on our students. Through our new Center for Academic and Student Success, we are investing in programs and services to enhance the learning experience for all students. This includes:

  • A Commitment to Service program that will encourage students to be citizen architects and designers who address the needs of people in our communities.
  • Our Green. By Design. initiative, which builds on our longstanding commitment to sustainability by encouraging theconscious use of resources and environmental systems.
  • A Graduate Student Council to address the specific needs of this growing population.
  • The Project Lead Initiative, which will offer a variety of opportunities to help students identify and develop their leadership skills.
  • A Faculty Advising Initiative to foster greater interaction between students and faculty to assess degree progress, as well as mentoring to prepare for professional practice. A peer advising program will complement faculty advising by connecting new and senior students.
  • The Writing Initiative recognizes that writing skills, especially in one’s discipline, can be learned through practice and that they are a tool for learning and processing information.
  • An initiative to Increase International Student Focus to improve awareness about the value of our multicultural student body, faculty and staff through activities and events.

These are ambitious programs, but guided by our mission, vision, and values, as well as our Northern Star, we can achieve them.

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