That Parson’s Life


Our editor-in-chief, Nitish Shah in an exclusive chat with David E. Van Zandt, President of Parson’s New School, New York

How did you choose Mumbai as a base for the Parsons School in India?
We only want to be in places that have very deep cultural histories, that have some design activity in them. Cities like Paris, Shanghai and possibly Beirut are some examples of this. The other important thing is finding entrepreneurial partners; people who are real go-getters. Universities all over the world are interested but they are all pretty conservative. They want us to sign their MOU’s and they put it up on their website but further action is seldom taken.Executive Director Siddharth Shahani here really wanted to create something new and that is what interested us further.

What changes have you seen in the school since its inception three years ago?
The size of the institution and the amount of students has gone through a tremendous change. I first came here in Jan 2012 and there were like 35-40 students and now there are around 400 students. Also, the institutional facilities have also grown. The other important change has been getting the right faculty here. We now have an excellent Dean, who is coming from Arizona State University, Mukesh Patel. Our New York faculty will come also over periodically. We also review the entire curriculum and all the syllabi that are used here.

What qualities are you looking for in a student at ISDI? 
I think a student who’s really thinking creatively and conceptually. So often it is easy to focus so much on the technique and the execution of something, that you can forget how important the ideas are. So as we change day to day we want students who are really thinking ahead even if they don’t have all the tools at hand to do it, that they are thinking of new ideas and ways to shape the industry. When we are looking at applications, we are hoping to find that spark in a student of really wanting to expand in that way.

What is your application process for Parsons?
Well, apart from the portfolio and the usual international examination requirements, we also ask for another piece called the Parson’s Challenge, where the student has to think of a common theme or an idea, create three visual pieces and then write about how those ideas are connecting. It’s in that moment where we get to see someone who’s really engaging in the space between the writing and the research and trying to put that forward in a visual sense.

Is this Challenge also applicable to ISDI students here?
Theirs is different. Their application criterions are slightly different. But you got to figure it out, whether it is a liberal arts student or a design student, you have got to find out if they have that spark. There are a lot of really good high school students out there, but only a percentage of them are what we are looking for.

What type of employers do you usually have for placements?
Retail companies, design shops, fashion or otherwise design companies and consumer goods companies looking for design students usually make up the mix at our career expos. So it’s a broad range. You see, design has become much more universal, much broader. It is not just making pretty things, and also it’s not just about technology. Every product, every idea has a human interface aspect to it. You have to relate. Aesthetics and functionality are the two aspects of good design.
Your iPhone is always a good example. The iPhone does not have the latest technology necessarily. That’s not how it made itself. How it made itself was its user interface. It was so easy and almost intuitive to use. Even Samsung is now doing very well in that area. They are a good example now. They have a design group that is a 1000 strong. They don’t work for any specific design line products Samsung owns, they work across the board for Samsung, they are a resource of all the, this is a group that works to Student Opinion make them more functional and more aesthetically attractive.

Could you give us an example of how creativity and innovation can help bring a positive change in this world?
Every year we run something called ‘The New Challenge’ for our students where we create teams to pick at social problems. It could be about kids on the street dealing with law enforcement, it could be disaster relief. The challenge is about finding a design solution to these problems and some of the projects that have come out of this have come out to be very viable products. It’s like social innovation. The winners usually get a small amount of money to launch their ideas continuing to after they graduate. But there are a lot of areas of social innovation where they could be profitable businesses too but they are also making a difference in the society. Social innovation is very different from social entrepreneurship, because it’s mainly about designing solutions in comparison to just setting up a non-profit or anything. It’s designing solutions to very specific social problems in one form or another.

What would be your message for the Indian youth?
I think India’s future is very bright in the young people specifically mainly because it is an expanding economy and there is going to be so much opportunity for young people if they get on the right side of the curve. India’s got a lot of problems but I think to be a young person in India at the time is much more attractive than being a young person in Japan, where their economy is just fading. There is so much opportunity here, and we have seen it already to some extent. But my message to the young people of India coming of age now would be that they should take advantage of this. It will be of great importance and benefit in your futures.

“Design has become much more universal, much broader. It is not just making pretty things, and also it’s not just about technology. Every product, every idea has a human interface aspect to it. You have to relate. Aesthetics and functionality are the two aspects of good design.”

Student Opinion

Niharika Mukhi, award-winning student at ISDI talks about her experience at the famed school. She is currently pursuing a diploma in interior design and aspires for a career in Bollywood set design.

Why did you choose ISDI over Parson’s?
ISDI is an amazing opportunity which came my way when I was completely clueless about what I wanted to do. Being its first batch, I won’t deny that ‘Parsons Mumbai’ is what first made me apply for the institution. But the exposure ISDI has given us is fabulous. I already have my set carpenters and plumbers that I go to. I source materials from all corners of the city and use crafts such as inlay and wood carving which is possible only in a country like ours. ISDI is the perfect blend of having university experience, infrastructure and exposure as well as keeping you grounded to the society that you belong to and the people you design for.

Do you see yourself pursuing a Masters at Parsons, New York?
I definitely see myself pursuing my Masters at Parsons New York. I feel like ISDI has enabled me to move forward in terms of giving me more confidence in what I want to pursue and achieve. Most of us tend to be absolutely confused after the twelfth grade when we have an array of options and opportunities.


Volume 5 Issue 5


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here