Open Letter to Design Students Everywhere: Observatory: Design Observer

Jessica Helfand

Open Letter to Design Students Everywhere

My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned to myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go even further: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the claims that shackle the spirit. —Igor Stravinsky, The Poetics of Music

June, which so famously heralds the beginning of summer, also marks the conclusion of the academic year — and with it, calls and emails from students trying to make sense of what to do, where to go, how to reconcile the various components of their education that lead to greater self-knowledge, better work, more challenges, and maybe, just maybe, an eventual opportunity to begin paying back those student loans.

And so, they come to see me. I look, carefully. I listen, hard, to see what, if anything, I have to offer them. I am aware, extremely aware, of the generational gap that divides us (perhaps one of the few benefits of my getting older) and I try to remain vigilant about that distance in time and space, resisting any comparison from their orbit to my own, now comparatively antidilluvian education. And yet they are — like I was, and all students are — overwhelmed by the embarassment of riches framed by the astounding prospect of two to three years of uninterrupted study, a period culminating, for many, in the development of a thesis.

While the definition of a thesis varies from school to school, one thing remains startlingly undisputed: how can you possibly narrow your focus when the world is truly your oyster?

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