Hacking our Educational Spaces ||  May 2014- September 2014

Generously funded through the RISD 2050 Fund to imagine our future and stimulate the landscape of possibilities for art and design education, always recognizing RISD’s core values of critical making and critical thinking.


The traditional model for studio experimentation in design education is a format we have become accustomed to at all levels of arts education – from elementary to post graduate. While the model has its implicit strengths and critical making is undeniably important, the landscape of art and design education requires an innovative rethinking to respond to the influence of the maker and start-up movements. Berlin has always been a cornerstone, the origin of much of the hacker and maker movement, and is now a tech hub and home to hundreds of companies that fall into the category of a start-up or bootstrapped business models. There is a much-needed conversation to be had between the traditional training of design schools and the trend toward ‘hacking,’ ‘making’ and the culture of start-ups. A major question is how these grassroots communities and large institutions will interface? What are the inherent values in each structure?


It is critical that RISD and like-minded institutions take note of the development and perpetuation of these grassroots spaces and consider how they might make use of them. Particularly with the high cost of tuition and increased access to machinery and tools via membership-based maker spaces and the communities that they reach, there is lush place to consider how students of design in higher education might leverage these spaces and communities. In the new landscape of design we must also ask what the value of an esteemed academic program is over the number of alternatives in 2050.

It is no longer as viable for most young designers to look to companies to manufacture their wares and facilitate distribution. While we see some success with companies like Fab.com or Areaware producing emerging design – the number of products produced and distributed is matched tenfold with platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Etsy. What we are training at RISD is a generation of designers that must self-organize or kick start their own careers, the same way a number of maker’s spaces have. While we may take note of degrees in entrepreneurship or creative business practices – students of design should be equipped with knowledge of these tracks in the academic environment as well. We find ourselves presented a prime opportunity to forge ahead as an institution that can act as a central node and facilitate creative exchange with these alternative spaces.

In order to fully understand this shift and make recommendations for the future, I propose to research the relationship between self-organizing groups dealing with technology and design in collaborative spaces. Research will include how they have developed structures that have given way to such widely recognized products such as the Makerbot that have now filtered back into the academic setting. My field research will be sited between two of the largest maker communities and start-up hubs – New York City and Berlin – to lend a global perspective to how these spaces operate, how they interface with the business community and their potential value to the institution and vice versa.