Recognizing design’s integral role in the development of technologies reshaping the built environment and how we live and work, Cornell has established the multicollege and transdisciplinary Department of Design Tech.
The new department seeks to bridge and enhance design and technology disciplines and departments across the university, complementing and building upon strengths in the design arts, design science, design engineering and design professions.
The College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) will administer the Department of Design Tech in partnership with the College of Human Ecology (CHE), Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, Cornell Engineering and Cornell Tech in New York City.
The department is the product of more than two years of discussions by the deans of those colleges and a faculty task force that also includes representatives from the College of Arts and Sciences and Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. They were charged by Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff’s Radical Collaboration initiative – which identified Design + Technology as one of 10 strategic areas – to assess how best to strengthen and expand design education and research in emerging technologies at Cornell.
“The relationship between design and technology has never been more important to society,” Kotlikoff said. “The Department of Design Tech will foster collaborations across disciplines and campuses that promise to advance design education and research at Cornell and beyond.”
J. Meejin Yoon, B.Arch. ’95, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of AAP and lead dean for Design Tech, said the collaborating colleges recognized that each could benefit from, and contribute to, an integrated vision for design and technology that moved beyond disciplinary barriers.
Partnering with Yoon are Rachel Dunifon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of CHE; Kavita Bala, inaugural dean of Cornell Bowers CIS; Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering; and Greg Morrisett, the Jack and Rilla Neafsey Dean and Vice Provost of Cornell Tech.
“Synergizing advancements in design and technology is not only imperative to design education at Cornell, but critical for preparing the next generation of designers, engineers, scientists, technologists and creatives to take on some of the most complex challenges of our time,” Yoon said. “Design Tech will pose, develop and answer questions with applied design and technology that can define new models for transdisciplinary design and thought.”
Design Tech’s inaugural chair is Jenny Sabin, the Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Professor in Architecture. Sabin co-chaired the 12-member Design + Technology faculty task force with Wendy Ju, associate professor at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech.
From additive manufacturing to artificial intelligence, Sabin said, we are seeing a contemporary paradigm shift and fusion across scales of the digital, physical and biological. In that context, she said, design and technology increasingly rely on each other to innovate.
Examples of Cornell research at the intersection of design and technology, Sabin said, include designing for human behavior in the context of autonomous vehicles; origami-inspired robots; additive manufacturing in space; 3D printing of programmable and sometimes living architectural materials; and the development of wearable interfaces responsive to changes in biodata.
“Design Tech will not only bridge our fields and faculty, but fill gaps in emerging, high-demand areas such as product design, interaction design, materials design and digital media design,” Sabin said. “At Cornell, we are uniquely positioned to be pioneers in this burgeoning space given our expertise in design, robotics, nanotech and materials science, computer science and beyond.”
The department’s first degree offering, pending approval from New York state, will be an interdisciplinary master’s in design technology anticipated for the 2024-25 academic year. Straddling the Ithaca campus and Cornell Tech, the two-year program will build upon AAP’s existing master’s in Matter Design Computation and incorporate lessons learned from “Design and Making Across Disciplines,” a four-year collaboration with Cornell Tech piloting transdisciplinary, studio-based teaching models that intersect with design tech research. Additional degrees and undergraduate courses may be proposed.
During a planning year ahead, a faculty steering committee drawn from the Design + Technology task force will work to launch the department and formalize the new master’s program.
The Radical Collaboration initiative will facilitate hiring by the partner colleges of core faculty members in design, science and engineering who will co-teach courses and engage in collaborative research.
In addition to Sabin and Ju, Design Tech’s inaugural faculty will include Heeju Park, associate professor in the Department of Human Centered Design (CHE); Timur Dogan, associate professor of architecture (AAP); François Guimbretière, professor of information science (Cornell Bowers CIS); and Uli Wiesner, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (Cornell Engineering).
“It’s extremely exciting to realize this new model that is truly transdisciplinary and collaborative with support from the university’s leadership and five colleges that are all aligned,” Sabin said. “We’re grateful to be a part of it.”