Faculty Profile: Kakee Scott, Strategic Design & Management


The BBA in Strategic Design and Management educates students in the entrepreneurial and strategic aspects of design and in design aspects of business. Project-based studio and seminar courses integrate business, design, and liberal arts education, promoting interdisciplinary learning through wide-ranging research and collaborative work. We sat down with Interim Program Director Kakee Scott to learn more about the BBA and her own work.


What is your background, your area of interest or focus of study?

My work has always been focused in design and sustainability, but I’m particularly interested in how designers influence levels of consumption in the ordinary activities of everyday life, as a consequence of normalized ways of living and using designed things. As an instructor at Parsons, I often remember I first ‘discovered’ the concept of sustainability in my final year as an undergrad student at Wesleyan University. At that time, it was not a common term, so I remember needing to explain it to almost everyone who asked what I wanted to do after graduation. That was thirteen years ago. Since then, ‘sustainability’ has become such a commonplace word that it’s almost meaningless for many people, and so the explaining continues. Sustainability efforts have gone through many booms and busts over the past few years- leading to many redefinitions and reorganizations. Whereas once the mainstream of ‘sustainable design’ was oriented toward changing and optimizing technology, and working to reform corporate practices, today it is becoming much more bound up with social justice, public policy and economic transformation. As global environmental, economic and political crises are coming to a head simultaneously, it’s becoming more difficult to ignore the connections between them.


How do you describe Strategic Design & Management to someone unfamiliar with the field?

The quickest way I’ve found to explain studies of design and management is to say that students learn how to manage the business of design and the design of business, through innovation and management techniques based in design. This last idea has been popularized as ‘design thinking’. The addition of ‘strategic’ to the title of the program is indicative of a major development in understanding about design in processes of large scale, radical innovation – within organizations, institutions, and economies. Strategic design is often characterized by a negotiation between long-term, systemic change, built on abstract visions of the future, and immediate, actionable concepts based on concrete considerations of form, function, service, marketing, etc.


This implementation of strategic design as integral to design management is incredibly relevant today considering the seismic changes happening in how economic and ecological systems function on the global scale. Anyone who thinks design management can work in a mode of business-as-usual isn’t paying attention to what is happening in the world. Parsons Strategic Design and Management students are incredibly fortunate to attend a program that is preparing them for this changing world.


What are your plans for BBA projects?

Right now, the students in my Economics and Ethics of Sustainable Designs classes have been working with our gallery committee, including masters students in the History of Decorative Arts and Design, to develop content for an exhibit in our gallery October 16th. The exhibit ‘Some Things in Common’ links the excitement around digital fabrication, DIY and open design with economic and social inquiries into the nature of the commons. This fits both our efforts to foster collaborations between students in different programs and between undergraduates with graduates, as well as our educational goals to help students reflect on the significance of these trends.

We are also working with Jeanne Granger, one of the founders of La Reserve des Arts (the Paris equivalent to Materials for the Arts in New York) to set up an internship program for our students. We are working with a global network based in Paris to put our students in direct contact with local businesses working with alternative business models that promote sustainability while responding to the pressures and opportunities of the current economic climate. Our Dean, Susan Taylor-Leduc, has been arranging a collaboration with the EPV association [Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant] to arrange special internships for SDM students to work with highly skilled Parisian artisans and to identify new strategic opportunities and approaches for these businesses as they face challenges due to the expansion and contraction of globalized industrial systems.

So far this fall students have visited Paris Design Week and Expo Wave (an exhibition exploring collective ingenuity, pictured below), and attended a lecture for Fashion Tech Week at NUMA on how technology can enable more sustainable fashion. We are constantly making great new contacts in Paris and there are some exciting things on the horizon. Keep checking back and stay tuned to our social media channels (InstagramFacebookTwitter) as it all unfolds!


How did you end up at Parsons and Parsons Paris?

I started working at Parsons in 2010 when I was introduced to Cameron Tonkinwise and Lara Penin, who were starting courses and projects at Parsons that were very much in line with ways of thinking about sustainability that I had picked up during my time in the Netherlands. I had worked on a study for the EU Living Lab project, for my masters thesis in Industrial Ecology, in which I explored methods for innovation in ordinary practices, specifically bathing. I brought a lot of ideas from this time into my teaching in the Environmental Studies program at Parsons, and now into my teaching in Strategic Design and Management. For a few years, I taught a course called ‘Sustainable Everyday Practices’, where students applied a living lab approach to strategic design. In a nutshell, ‘living lab’ is an iterative design and implementation approach that incorporates more traditional form and function work with social innovation processes – a design approach that is sensitive to how new designs and ways of living co-evolve.

My shift into the Strategic Design and Management program and Parsons Paris was almost accidental – serendipitous, in fact – thanks to meeting some of the Parsons Paris team at a conference in Dublin. It was a shift that made perfect sense, though, since strategic design has been central to my teaching as well as my PhD research, which formulates a strategic design approach for efforts in new economics, working within the ImaginationLancaster group in the UK.

For many reasons, my work in sustainability keeps bringing me back to Europe, which is lovely, but it also means living a trans-Atlantic existence that wrecks my ecological footprint, of course.


How did your experience teaching at Parsons Paris differ from Parsons New York?

In New York, there is so much dynamism on campus, and so many different projects and programs, that it is both invigorating and, at times, almost overwhelming because you simply can’t keep track of everything. In Paris, we work on a much smaller scale, which means a closer community of faculty and students, but we also have a lot of dynamism within that smaller scale because we make connections and collaborate between programs very directly. At my desk, I work five feet from program directors of Fashion, Art Media and Technology, Undergraduate Education, Art and Design History and Theory, so the interaction is not only easy, but necessary since we are running this campus collaboratively as an interdisciplinary team. The Dean and Administrative Director are both right next door and available to speak at a moment’s notice. I regularly meet part-time faculty from all the programs and can witness first-hand what and how they are teaching. Similarly, the students get to know each other and work across disciplines in a very fluid way.


You helped organize the TRANSFORM Symposium between Paris, New York, and in collaboration with the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

Before I came to Paris, I was working with the DESIS Lab (Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability) in New York on a project to connect certain discourses within consumption studies, science and technology studies and new economics with efforts for social innovation and sustainability in design. There has been some great work in this area in recent years that is, in our view, essential to the advancement of sustainability approaches, but that hasn’t been getting the attention it deserves. The TRANSFORM Symposium was the last of three events we held this past year to bring some attention and collective cohesion to this work. The first two events were held within conferences, but the Transform symposium was organized at Parsons in both New York and Paris. The participants at each campus came from a number of universities on both sides of the Atlantic, and collaborated in one workshop using a very advanced interactive video-conferencing system that Parsons has set up linking the two campuses. The name refers to the transformation of design practices as variants in ‘form’, or ways of doing design, and in terms of the changing ways designers work with material ‘forms’. The outcome of the symposium is a set of drafts and a publishing plan which we are implementing this fall, and we hope to release a first edition of published works before the end of the year. We also had some interest in continuing the program into future events, since the topic is one of ongoing interest.


Learn more about the BBA Strategic Design & Management on the Parsons Paris website.