Interdisciplinary design options are scarce

For Yalies interested in designing tomorrow’s stackable electronic cars and humanoid robots, there is currently no interdisciplinary design program at Yale.

Though the art major has a graphic design concentration, it involves print and online media but does not have a 3-D component. There is a track for 3-D or product design within the architecture major, but it is grounded in the history and culture of architecture.

Design today cannot be encompassed by graphic or architectural design alone, but has become an integrated field that requires an interdisciplinary approach, seven students and two professors interviewed said. Though all seven students said they would be interested in pursuing a design program at Yale, at the administrative level it is unclear where the responsibility lies for initiating such a program; two administrators from the Yale College Dean’s Office and Provost’s Office, respectively, both said they are not the right people to answer questions.

For students interested in pursuing design as an interdisciplinary major or program, the University does not offer many options. Though creating a divisional major — an alternative for students whose academic interests cannot be met by existing majors — or a double major, which allows students to take the design classes across both majors, are options, art, architecture and engineering students interested in design said these are far from ideal.

Traditionally, design was split into two main disciplines: engineering and aesthetics. An engineer would create a prototype, and an industrial designer would enhance the product’s visual appeal, said Henry Bolanos, a lecturer in the School of Engineering and an engineer by training. Today, with design extending across fields like clothing, electronics and modes of transportation, design is an “integrated liberal arts field” that involves economics and marketing, as well as classical design, Bolanos said.

Though Yale boasts both a School of Art and a School of Engineering and Applied Science, there is little to no overlap between the schools, said Kayla Matheus ’11, an art and engineering double major , who wants to specialize in product design after college.

Because design is becoming a fundamentally interdisciplinary field, Bolanos and the students interviewed said they think Yale students, with their liberal arts educations, are ideally suited to pursue design.

“You’re starting to see more and more courses,” Bolanos said, citing his own class, “Creativity and New Product Development,” and “The Physics of the Game of Golf,” taught by Robert Grober, the director of undergraduate studies of the Applied Physics department. Bolanos’ class focuses on the process of creating and marketing a product, involving business models as well as engineering and product creation. But enrollment is limited to 15 students in each of the two sections of the class, and each year there are around a hundred students interested in taking it, Bolanos said.

Henrik Van Assen, lecturer in graphic design who teaches “Introductory” and “Advanced Graphic Design,” said one option Yale offers is a divisional major with a customized selection of classes that can prepare students to study product design after college. It has been done in the past on an individual basis, he said, drawing on classes in the School of Engineering and each of the concentrations in the art major.

Matheus first considered the divisional major as an option. But designing her own major — combining art, architecture and engineering — would not have allowed her to take higher level classes in any of the areas because it would require too many introductory classes and preclude her from taking higher level courses and immersing in the subject, she said. Instead, Matheus decided to double major in mechanical engineering and art, although she said this track is not ideal either: she is required to take “Fluid Mechanics,” which has no practical application for her interests, she said, instead of a materials science course in the School of Architecture that would relate to product development.

Students interviewed expressed a desire for more classes in the design area — art major Richard Espinosa ’10 said he would pursue classes in fashion design, furniture design and interior design if they were offered; Emmanuel Quartey’12 called the Blue Booking process for design classes “frustrating” because of the limited options.

But the biggest question, students said, is what an overarching design program would look like at Yale. And just who is responsible for the creation of such a program remains unclear.

Though Deputy Provost for the Arts Barbara Shailor said the idea of a design program sounds “interesting,” she said it does not fall under her office to work for the initiation of one.

“There are lots of bits and pieces in place already,” Shailor said. “How might this be put together into something a little more cohesive is the question. It takes more than the Provost’s Office [to answer this question].”

Shailor said the Yale College Dean’s Office, including Associate Dean for the Arts Susan Cahan, would be responsible for designing undergraduate curricula, but she also suggested that the deans of the graduate schools of art, architecture and engineering might take the initiative for a potential design program.

Cahan, for her part, said she is “not the right person to talk to” about the possibility of such a program.

Though Yale has few institutions to look to as models for a comprehensive design program, Matheus and two other students interviewed said Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, which brings together students from various areas, most closely approximates their vision.

“Unconstrained by traditional disciplines, Lab designers, engineers, artists and scientists work atelier-style in close to 30 research groups, conducting more than 300 projects that range from neuroengineering, to how children learn, to a stackable electronic car for tomorrow’s city,” writes the Web site description of the Media Lab.

Van Assen said if there is enough interest expressed by students, he hopes possibilities will increase and that the University might be able to “set something up.”

Comments

  • Local engineer

    If you desire a good engineering education, do not, repeat, do not attend Yale. Too theoretical (applied math/physics). RPI, MIT, WPI, U. Michigan, U. Illinois, Cornell, even Princeton are much better alternatives.

  • dk

    I thought the Yale idea was meant to be to develop a LIBERAL education and specialize later, taking your wide-ranging and liberal mind with you. There are other colleges better suited to a less cultured, career-oriented degree.

  • CornellianEli

    This is why I loved my Cornell undergraduate experience: “An institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” Even though I did social sciences, I loved how I had the opportunity to work with the best and brightest humanities and hard sciences scientists on interdisciplinary projects.

  • Local engineer

    @#2:

    If you gotta eat after graduation, Yale’s not the place…just sayin’

  • LawStudent2012

    @wtf — you wrote to @y10br:
    “Your comment is racist and unnecessary. I should not be afraid of police officers unless I have committed a crime. I have no problems with police officers being tough and heavy-handed on those who deserve it, like the people who were involved in the recent shootings on Crown Street. For those who don’t deserve it, I want them to lay off.”

    You’re right that no one who hasn’t committed a crime deserves the heavy hand of the police. **You’re wrong if you think only people who’ve committed crimes are or should be afraid of the police.** The point is that privileged Yale students are feeling what many urban communities of color feel all the time — the heavy hand of police when they have committed no crime. Just make sure you shout as loudly about those injustice as you do about the injustice you feel you’ve suffered. You’ll have powerful institutions and lawyers to back you up on the rare occasion that Yale students confront the police, most who suffer these constant injustices will not. Use your voice.