Having just completed the Parsons Product Design thesis program, I can't help but reflect:
Called "A Good Life," the program is conceived - ostensibly - as a partnership between regional not-for-profits and thesis students. Pedagogically, the emphasis is less on finding an NFP as it is on finding oneself.
The process begins with the thesis coordinator's asking students to identify their passion and a problem. "Who is your user?"
It occurs to me that this very natural, seldom questioned methodology is a bit problematic. The very nature of our discipline seems to be pessimistic. Without denying the power of design to make lives better, I still feel compelled to ask if we might rather design a glass for the water that's there, if you catch my meaning. Why are we inclined to see people's lives as half empty?
The method of instruction propagated by the Product Design department at Parsons encourages (intimates?) the following line of thought...
1] You are not like me, therefore something is wrong with you;
2] You cannot be happy the way you are, and you don't know how to redress this fact;
3] I do (because I read a magazine article).
Granted, my model is a little cynical, but I'm trying to be polemic here. As designers, it's easy to feel good about ourselves when we've shaped the very problem our products answer.
The question I leave open is this: can we design for the half-full?
(I think so.)