Julia Lindpaintner
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MFA Thesis

A blog documenting my journey creating a Master's thesis towards an MFA from the School of Visual Arts' Products of Design program.

I'll let you in on my confusing set of interests

This is a work in progress—but then, everything is. This thesis MadLib* is sort of all over the place, but hopefully it will make a bit more sense given what I have said about where I am and what I'm doing. I'm looking forward to updating it and seeing its evolution over the course of the next year. 

*This is not really a MadLib. It's simply a framework with fill-in-the-blanks to help my think about what I want to explore through my thesis. 

For my thesis, I’m looking at the territory around the structural, textural, and human dimensions of community, morality, and progress, and the role of the individual in these. These topics have particular resonance for me because I am fascinated by the way that groups of people come together and create culture, norms, and expectations in various contexts. Examples of these contexts include the workplace, the justice system, homes, and any place that people gather. Having recently served on a grand jury, I experienced the way that environments and protocols systematically perpetuate power dynamics. Living in a community of like-minded individuals working to operationalize a kind of post-capitalist lifestyle, I'm observing the balance and interplay between structure and spontaneity in creating culture and community, and seeing the way that consistent individual commitment creates exponential abundance. Finally, I frequently think about the conflicted feelings that many of my friends and I have felt in the workplace due to organizational intransigence, and wonder what small adjustments could be made to remedy this sense of disillusionment.

One of the questions I plan to investigate is: How do the environments and systems we design inform our behavior? I suspect a lot of the design work will be around behavioral principles, morality and ethics, and organizational models. I’m not clear about outcomes, but I’m looking at putting together a suite of design offerings that create value around building community, strengthening organizations, and defining new ways for the individual to see her/his role within.

I'm not sure who the leading thinkers in the field are (because I'm not sure what field I'm looking at), but one of the people influencing my thinking on these topics is Zeynep Ton, a professor of operations at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of The Good Jobs Strategy. A couple other books that are informing my understanding of behavioral science are: The Honest Truth about Dishonesty and Nudge. I was also inspired by a TED talk given by Dan Ariely that dealt with what truly makes us feel good about our work and another by Tom Hulme that dealt with allowing design to be informed by natural human behavior.

I can foresee strategic partnerships with the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University, Google People Operations, the Embassy Network, or the City of New York as a way to explore the way that organizations can measure, understand, and shape the way that people interact and communicate.

The social value of this thesis is likely to be in questioning assumptions about power, ownership, and hierarchy. The sustainability and economic value of this thesis is likely to be around conserving and managing resources—both human and material.

I’ve got a blog where I will write weekly on the topic, posting articles, YouTube videos, musings, and research findings, and I'm in touch with Dan Ariely and Zeynep Ton as potential subject matter experts.

Strategically, I’m interested in the thesis as a way to explore the intersection of human behavior, organizational psychology, and design, and to find some real-world environments in which to test my theories and products. I plan to leverage the work as part of my body of work that explores ways to make more of our world win-win.