Li Edelkoort introduces hybrid design to Parsons

Li Edelkoort introduces hybrid design to Parsons "to loosen things up"

The education system is "obsolete" and fails to reflect the way creative people work, according to trend forecaster Li Edelkoort, who is introducing a new department of Hybrid Design Studies at Parsons School of Design in New York (+ interview).

Edelkoort has been appointed dean of the school's new Hybrid Design Studies department, which will encourage inter-disciplinary collaboration.

"Our goal is to mix several disciplines, not just fashion and design, but also performance art, visual arts, music, film, journalism, architecture and social sciences," Edelkoort told Dezeen.

The Paris-based forecaster added that the current system of education, where creative people learn about just one discipline, "seems to be obsolete."

"One often ends up doing many other things in life," she said. "I believe that it's not helping people to develop one full-scale vocational study but that it is interesting to develop what is buried within them."

"With a longer lifespan people will live several lives and have several vocations, learning different disciplines," added Edelkoort, who earlier this year declared "the end of fashion as we know it".

Edelkoort will oversee a new freshman course in hybrid design at Parsons, which is part of The New School university.

"If it becomes very popular, it could become a faculty and then you would have a hybrid diploma," she said.

Her fledgling department will also include a new masters course in textiles, which will adopt a hybrid approach.

"We will merge technical fibres with natural fibres and twist them into futuristic yarns within all sorts of disciplines such as the handmade, industrial and fusions between these two productions," Edelkoort said.

"We will invite art students, design students, architecture students and fashion students to work together on the future of textiles, which I believe will become very important."

Speaking to Dezeen recently, New York designer Dror Benshetrit agreed that creative education should become less specialised.

"Many, many, many years ago creative people used to do more than just one thing," he said. "Education fragmented the arts into a lot of different specialised professions. And I see that changing back."

Edelkoort's comments come a week after cross-disciplinary designer Thomas Heatherwick argued that there is no difference between the approach to designing a building and an object.

"Whether something is a Christmas card or a masterplan for a site that's eight miles long, we've found it's exactly the same process that you're going through," Heatherwick said.

Edelkoort's freshman course in hybrid design and her new textiles masters will both start in September at the Manhattan school.

"The New School and Parsons School of Design are thrilled to welcome Lidewij Edelkoort to our university," said New School provost Tim Marshall. "Her intuitive thinking and ability to identify emerging social-cultural patterns and directions will help us develop curriculum for the creative economy of the future."


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Edelkoort said she was launching the department to explore how education could better reflect the changing way people think and work.

"It's to loosen things up, to explore where are the frontiers and to question if they need to be there," she said. "We need to adapt to this new meandering, more amalgamated, more improvised creativity."

Born in the Netherlands in 1950, Edelkoort advises fashion companies and consumer brands around the world. In 2003, Time magazine named her one of the 25 most influential people in fashion.

She was director of Design Academy Eindhoven from 1998 to 2008 and in 2011 she helped found School of Form in Poznan, Poland.

Portrait of Li Edelkoort by Thirza Schaap.

Read the transcript from our interview with Li Edelkoort:


Marcus Fairs: Tell me what you're doing at Parsons.

Li Edelkoort: Well it's still premature since I'm going to start only this autumn. I will divide my time between my own forecasting work and work in education and was headhunted by The New School to become dean of Hybrid Design Studies. An experiment where our goal is to mix several disciplines, not just fashion and design, but also performance art, visual arts, music, film, journalism, architecture and social sciences.

Marcus Fairs: And why is there a need for that now? Why should all these disciplines come together?

Li Edelkoort: I believe that the really great things happening in culture today are already a mixture of several visionary and aesthetic movements together with technological knowledge. There is a lot of superposition of skills. The design circus of Maarten Baas, the design documentary Bullfish by Brynjar Siguröarson and the animated and scripted operas of William Kentridge are early examples.

The idea of performance together with visual representation, with clothes, with music, seems to become very interesting today. I feel that all disciplines want to cross their own borders. And I think in a creative university it's interesting that there is one place where people can actually do that and make it happen, working together.

Marcus Fairs: There has been a lot of talk recently about the systems of education where you study to be an architect, or a solicitor or whatever is outdated and ridiculous. Do you agree with that?

Li Edelkoort: Yes, it seems to be obsolete, because one often ends up doing many other things in life. Personally I am already a good example. With a longer lifespan people will live several lives and have several vocations, learning different disciplines.

So, in fact, once you know how to sing, you can also sing creatively, and give shape to the singing; sort of design yourself out of the problems you have imposed on yourself, and then suddenly you are able to explore many other directions, going from singing to writing, to fashion or beyond.

So, I believe that it's not helping people to develop one full-scale vocational study but that it is interesting to develop what is buried within them. And so, I think we can make it happen while young people are still studying.

Marcus Fairs: So people will come out of this course with a qualification in what? Everything?

Li Edelkoort: So far it's just only a freshman year, which I am planning together with the university and which I'm in the process of creating and scripting.

Furthermore, we are going to start a very important master in textiles and here we will merge technical fibres with natural fibres and twist them into futuristic yarns within all sorts of disciplines such as the handmade, industrial and fusions between these two productions.

So, it will be another hybrid where we will invite art students, design students, architecture students and fashion students to work together on the future of textile, which I believe will become very important.

And possibly the masters will be between the two cities of Paris and New York, another hybrid construct! It will be very enticing to hop around the planet and learn about textile.

Marcus Fairs: And then after the freshman year the students can choose a discipline?

Li Edelkoort: They can choose, but who knows? If it becomes very popular, it could become a faculty and then you would have a hybrid diploma. But we are not there yet, that's far into the future. Yet already the textiles master is going to be completely hybrid in nature.

Marcus Fairs: What's the reason for doing this? Is it to improve education? Or the workforce?

Li Edelkoort: It's to loosen things up, to explore where are the frontiers and to question if they need to be there. Or should we just embrace that we are all in constant flux and transformation I think that our brain is expanding very quickly and we are definitely moving away from the bi-polar system of thought to a more meandering way of reflection. Because of evolution but, also, because of all smart systems teaching us. So we need to adapt to this new meandering, more amalgamated, more improvised creativity. Learning should also address that.

Marcus Fairs: So this is a first step to experiment with how learning could respond to the way that people are actually living, working and thinking today?

Li Edelkoort: And how we will grow into the 21st century. Well it's just an experiment. But it's very exciting for me.