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Design At The Edge--My Lecture Series at Parsons School of Design.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on January 11, 2009

I am a Professor of Innovation & Design at The New School in New York these days, working out of the amazing Parsons School For Design. This is in addition to blogging, videoing and writing for Business Week. I am curating the university’s core lecture series this term, starting January 26, and I shaped it to deal with Life in Beta—the social and economic forces generating continuous, cascading change, melting our business models and careers. The goal is to show how design tools, methodologies and approaches can move us forward in this uncertain environment. The course is all about innovation and transformation.

I’ve invited some of the top minds in innovation and design thinking around the world to speak. About half the 100 students are from the Parsons School of Design Strategies and the others are from all over The New School, from the liberal arts college to fashion. Here is the course outline. Some dates will change.

Design at the Edge—Redesigning Our Lives in an Era of Radical Change.
Bruce Nussbaum 2009.

This course is one curatorial view of the current state of design. It focuses on the forces of demographic, technological, cultural, economic and political change that are disrupting our social organizations and personal lives. It will examine the notion of cascading innovation—continuous change that doesn’t pause or end—and how we navigate such a chaotic environment. The course will analyze the key trends that make up cascading innovation and the tools of design and design thinking that we can use to operate and succeed in it. Above all, it will examine the sociological basis of design and offer new frameworks for 21st century life.

Through a series of talks, videos and other engagements by a roster of design stars from around the world, both inside and outside Parsons, the lecture series will push students to think widely about the forces shaping their lives and critically about how to harness the tools and methods of 21st Century Design to deal with them. The course will be shaped to provoke thinking and engagement among students as well as transfer a body of knowledge.

The lecture series will be, in part, about the students themselves, the rising Gen Y or Global Youth Culture (GYC) cohort that is perhaps the most dynamic force remaking societies around the world. It will require the students to do anthropological observations of their own group, map traits, networks and trends, and develop a social tool that would enhance their lives. 
Students will be asked to harness the free technologies around them to present reports on the state of their generation. They might even create new products/services for members of their class.

Schedule of Lectures:
#1. 1/26/09. Introduction to Design at the Edge: Forces of Change, Methods of Practice. Bruce Nussbaum, Continuum’s Harry West.
This opening talk will outline the scope of the course content and objectives. The presentation will capture the spread of social networking, the rise of Asia, the integration of bottom-of-the-pyramid village culture into global commerce, global warming, population growth, return of city-states, and above all, the rise of Global Youth Culture.

Continuum’s Harry West will present on GYC. He will analyze global Gen Y demographically, attitudinally and behaviorally. How do they differ from earlier generations Are Gen Yers different because of their generation or because of their life stage? Is Gen Y genuine?
In the course, students will be expected to produce work reflective of their generation using common digital tools and research methods.

#2. 2/2/09. Tools of ethnography. MIT’s Grant McCracken. How can students do ethnographic research on their own class? How can they create new products/services/experiences to enable their own generation? Students will be shown various interactive media tools available to them to capture and express their generation’s culture (videos, flickr, blogging, data visualization software). They’ll be asked to break up into groups of 5 and document the range of technologies on the web in order to analyze their own Gen Y class. Briefs due in 3 weeks.

#3. 2/9/09. Global Youth Culture—China. Ziba Design will present current work being done for one of China’s best known brands. Jeremy Kaye, the creative director on the project and Wibke Fleischer, manager of trend research and consume insight, will show the tools and methods of understanding Chinese youth culture—and how to translate that into designing for it.

#4. 2/23/09. The Evolution of Design—From 20th Century’s Focus on Artifact to 21st Century’s Focus on Articulation. IDEO’s Fred Dust.
To deal with a world in constant change, people are turning to a new design methodology that can more easily sort through chaos and uncertainty, design thinking. User-centric, empathetic, iterative, generative, and collaborative, the approach is being applied to problems in civic society as well as business. It is a new framework for creative work. Tim Brown will share IDEO’s experiences of evolving from a designer of products to a shaper of brands and experiences. 

In the last half hour, the groups of students will share their discoveries of free technologies on the web that they can use to analyze their Gen Y class. They will be asked to begin to develop a design brief for their class project. Tim Brown will participate in a discussion of what makes a good design brief.

#5. 3/2/09. The Rise of Design Thinking. Lecture. Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management .
The analytical tools and frameworks in design thinking are very different from the rational-efficiency model most organizations currently use. Martin will use his new book, Design Thinking, to explain how design is about empathy, iteration and integrative thinking and how this methodology can be used to solve problems in business culture and civic society.

#6. 3/9/09. The Microsociology of Social Networks. David Armano, Critical Mass creative agency. One of the defining marks of our time is the constant creation of new digital social networks with their own cultures. This massive digital culture creation is a new phenomenon, only now being studied. Some of the best work is being done in digital advertising, which needs to understand the dynamics of social networking. Academia is following. This lecture by a leading figure in analyzing social networking, and designing them, will examine the social dynamics of advertising as it strives to engage the consumer.

#7. 3/23/09. Julia Allison. A social media phenom. Brand Julia.

#8. 3/30/09. Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar.

#9. 4/6/09 Social Entrepreneurship. Lecturer: Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen Fund/ Lisa Servan, Parsons.
For-profit, non-profit organizations using design thinking are a new force in promoting economic development in poor rural villages and towns in Asia and Africa. The user-centric, sociological framework is a bottoms-up approach that is radically different from the top-down philanthropy of the past. Design methods are used to identify local needs, such as water, health, and education, find local business actors who can satisfy those needs and arrange financing. The lecture will describe the approach, the problems with measuring success in portfolios of projects and future projects.

# 10. 4/13/09 The New Field of innovation Economics. Mike Mandel, chief economist of Business Week.
Traditional economic discussions focus on taxes, budgets and markets. While these categories remain important, the shift to creativity-driven economic growth requires a new field of economics that emphasizes the factors that promote new ideas and innovation. Greater value has to be given to intangibles such as R&D, clusters, creativity education, human capital, etc. There will be a discussion on Green Growth and the public policies required to generate new forms of economic growth.
We will take time to discuss progress on student media projects on Gen Y culture.

#11. 4/20/09. John Thackara. Designing Sustainable Communities. John Thackara. Through Dott07 and City Eco Lab in Europe, Thackara has pioneered the development of collaborative, sustainable communities. A new model of personal and professional living is emerging in cities that revolves around living in a sustainable manner, using less energy. It is, in part, a return to a local, organic, collaborative way of living. It is anti-global, pro-regional. This lecture will discuss how an individual and communities can live a sustainable life. It will show what is happening in Europe in this space and suggest what might occur in the US.

#12. 4/29/09 Service Innovation. The Rise of Post-Product Innovation. Designing Organizations and Experiences. Peer Insight’s founder Jeneanne Rae and Parsons’ Lara Penin.
The field of design has evolved so that the methodology can be applied to designing business and civic organization, brands and experiences, as well as one-off products. Education, transportation, finance, entertainment—are all new frontiers for thinking.

#13. 5/4/09 Building Creative, Sustainable Lives: More Insight Into How. Ezio Manzini. Manzini is a pioneer in researching how to build creative communities and sustainable lifestyles. His latest research involves using mobile technology to foster collaboration.

#14. 5/11/09 The Rise of the Rest: Connecting to Creative Global Cultures. Native Designers Pat Pruitt and Marla Allison. Technology enables all cultures, however “remote,” to connect to the global network. People everywhere around the planet can now become global creators/consumers/players. Two native artists from Laguna Pueblo outside Santa Fe on the Rio Grand, present their paradigm-breaking work in painting and jewelry. Globalization links us all.

#15. 5/18/09 Presentation of Student Work. What Have We Learned? Team of Parsons’ profs examines presentations.

That’s it. Please let me know what you think. I want the 100 students in the class to engage in important design and innovation conversations going on in the blogosphere—so tell me what are the 12 most important blogs in design/innovation.

And what web sites, books, blogs, articles, etc. should I assign for homework for each of the topics?



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Reader Comments

Ralf Beuker

January 11, 2009 09:22 PM

Bruce here some resources on service design:

@The Expansion of Design Thinking From Product to Brand Experience:

Hope you'll find them helpful!

Paul Cox

January 12, 2009 12:17 AM

I have a suggestion for your class, and that is to study the enhanced role that software has in defining and supporting the innovative organization. Software design is critical in making the transition from bureaucratic management and innovative organizations.

I would also highlight the blog that I write for innovation in oil and gas located at


January 12, 2009 02:44 AM


Here are three short movie links that I recommend for your course. (to break the ice, and set the tone)

The first one is about harvesting the creative juices, delivered by a “creative juice farmer” with over 350 years of family know-how. (I promise it will bring down the house)

The second will give the students a little insight on what they are up against. (the challenge to communicate with left-brain people)

The third one: ”Design the unexpected welcome” a brilliant visualization on design where Content-Information Architecture-Graphic Design are merging into a seamless work of art…. While they are at it, they can visit Marcel Wander’s company MOOOI for constant inspiration.

Good luck,


January 12, 2009 08:52 AM


You may want to check out this website
it covers sustainability and design.

Sustainable development is the channel for "civic renewal, greater justice, more equity, and more constructive ownership in America's future"

If any of your students would like to contribute let me know and I will work something out.

All the best


January 12, 2009 12:11 PM

Bruce, very nice. Any chance these sessions might be podcast, etc., so that a greater audience might benefit? Thanks!


January 13, 2009 02:15 AM

Bruce...Nice variety of weekly speaking topics. However, you're approaching this a bit too much like a journalist I think.

GenY learns best from applied creativity and not lecture. At the end of the semester if they do not have something up on the internet that can demonstrate this applied creativity, then they will get very little from the series. Perhaps at minimum, each student set up a blog to document their progress is an idea.

Merely identifying resources on the web is a rather shallow approach to learning. The design and development of a "social tool" will take interactions beyond the web interface of resources to identify real problems in society first.

Remember...its easy and intuitive to design for oneself and ones own culture, the real challenge of the future is to identify problems in other cultures and then design successful solutions for people other than yourself.

To students taking Bruce's him to identify the mistakes his generation has made, and how he sees your generation learning from those mistakes.

Liz D.

January 13, 2009 04:54 AM

Bruce, This looks like a fantastic opportunity for Gen Y students to get the global picture along with the exciting design issues that will be presented by your guests.

You might be assuming though that your students are aware of the global forces at work here in the USA. I'm afraid that may not be the case, even at the higher ed. level. I would suggest a brief overview of globalization and its impact on their lives and their global peers.

Naomi Klein's work comes to mind.

And a basic primer on globalization from Yale.

All the best!

paula Welén (SE)

January 13, 2009 10:08 AM

Hi Bruce, please feel free to invite your students to participate in our "Learn to live in Beta" discussion page on Facebook. They can exchange ideas with scientists, economists, designers and artists about the what impact living life in beta will have on design, innovation, life and business. Here's the link:

Paula Welén
Hybrid State

Hans Kaspar Hugentobler, ID/IIT Alumni, Switzerland

January 13, 2009 08:58 PM


while I think this course is impressive at first sight, I doubt that you students will get more than the thinking of current US design practice. While this is still better than anything below that practice, I think this program lacks diversity – an essential ingredient towards creating something new that serves the people and is also sustainable.

sorry, no links, just a thought.

Karin Hibma :: Cronan ::

January 13, 2009 10:22 PM

Wonderful class, Bruce, and great suggestions and comments. Here's a one for #9.Social Entrepreneurship, and overall about innovation and transformation.

Dr. Paul Polak, founder of IDE, D-Rev and the new Windhorse, is an absolutely inspiring speaker and very dynamic when it comes to interaction with students. David Kelly brought him into early Stanford D-school programs, Amy Smith does programs with him at MIT, and I believe he's spoken at Parsons.

Jesse Scanlon just wrote about him in BW today:

In his engaging 2008 book “Out of Poverty, What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail", Paul wrote about the "Design for the Other 90%" revolution. The Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt organized an exhibition and produced a "D-Rev" book. Your students and you won't want to wait to start changing the world!


January 14, 2009 03:13 PM

I disagree with Bourgogne - good lectures, well delivered, are excellent learning opportunities. My philosophy is that students should leave a lecture asking more questions than they came in with. That way discussion takes place. Encouraging them to go online and "share" in private isn't as effective as encouraging them to go get a coffee and talk about what they just heard, what they disagree with, what they want to find out more about.

They may be GenY but they're still learners, and while different generations have different tendencies, it's wrong to assume they're all Facebooking and Twittering (I still have to explain Twitter to my students, and few of them blog - it's not as widespread as you think!)

The subjects offered here match the ones in my own lecture programme. Making them interactive and provoking a response is always good.

I like that you've got Thackara for a UK perspective but - no disrespect to him - there are many other people over here who could talk about cutting edge design research ( for example, plug plug!)

Steve G.

January 17, 2009 07:15 PM


These discussions sound like great opportunities for design thinkers already in college. Could I bring my son who's seriously into design to attend some of these lectures? I would be willing to pay a fee to expose him to real world design discussions.

Steve Genova
Lexington, MA

Jinal Shah

January 20, 2009 06:34 PM

You make me want to sign up for your class.

John Solomon

March 8, 2009 04:12 PM

any chance you could post some of the material from the class? thanks.

Mark Hurst

April 2, 2009 03:05 AM

You might also point your students to Gel Videos - all about creativity, innovation and experience design -

Post a comment



Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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