Marisa LaFalce
In College of Human Ecology, Human Centered Design

An immersive journey to a forest canopy in a one-of-a-kind virtual reality space was just one of the memorable moments for the 19 students majoring in design and environmental analysis (DEA) on their visit to Manhattan last month. The students traveled with Nooshin Ahmadi, lecturer in the Department of Human Centered Design (HCD), visiting several design firms as part of her Design Portfolio and Communication class.

“DEA is a multidisciplinary major,” said Ahmadi. “Our graduates go on to work in a range of disciplines, and the firms that we visited in New York reflect that breadth.”

Graduates of the DEA program pursue careers in interior, product, experience and digital user interface design, as well as design strategy.

In her course, which is required for DEA majors, Ahmadi teaches students how to use principles of visual communication and graphic design to clarify, distill and translate complex designs, data and ideas as they put together portfolios of their work. Portfolios are a foundation of the industry, and the course bridges the transition from academia to business.

“It was helpful to meet the people working in these big firms like Gensler and Perkins+Will,” said Sehar Mapara ’24, who plans to work as an interior designer after graduation. “It allowed me to understand their philosophy, culture and their approach to design projects. Now I will be better prepared to tailor my portfolio to firms’ different styles.”

A design student explores the wooden architectural models on display at SHoP Architects.
JJ Ignotz Photography

A design student explores the wooden architectural models on display at SHoP Architects.

The class made six stops over the two days, beginning with a tour of Pennsylvania Station, which is undergoing a major renovation. It’s the busiest transportation facility in the Western Hemisphere, and students learned about the design thinking behind creating interiors for a commercial commuter hub.

They also visited 2x4, a firm that develops brand strategy, content and design systems, scaling design from branding to store fronts for companies including Prada.

Thursday evening, they joined fellow students, faculty and DEA alumni for a gathering at the Gensler New York headquarters. The global architecture, design and planning firm is sought after for its leadership in interior design and design strategy, and it employs many DEA alumni.

“We want to provide opportunities for our students to gain experience in and have exposure to New York City as a global design hub,” said Yasser Gowayed, Lau Family Professor and chair of HCD. “Each fall we offer two experiences where students across all of our majors can visit the city to meet with alumni and industry partners. Additionally in April, students can present their juried design work in our own NYC Fashion and Design Expo.”

On Friday, the students began their day at Perkins+Will, a global design practice before heading to Spotify, where they discussed user-centered design strategy, and the architecture and interior firm SHoP Architects. At each location, Cornell alumni spoke about the company, their position there and the career path that led them to that role.

“Seeing the firms and companies in real-time and interacting with them was exciting,” said Maggie Meister ’24, who aspires to work in design strategy for social justice. “At the alumni event, every person emphasized that there is no linear path to being a designer; it is always changing and evolving. That was both comforting and affirming.”