Explode the Code: How Design + Technology Grads Are Rocking Our World

A screen grab from SpellTower, a game recently designed by Parsons alumnus Zach Gage.

In a recent cover story in the New York Times Magazine, a reporter uncovered the world of addictive, mobile games. He placed one Parsons alumnus at the center of it all: Zach Gage. Gage is one of a group of young visionaries practicing at the intersection of art, design and technology who have emerged from the Parsons MFA Design and Technology program over the past decade. Together they are reinventing the way we interact with and understand the very technologies that are shaping our lives.

When asked by the Times reporter about young design geniuses, who were most likely to invent the next blockbuster game, Frank Lantz, one of the leading voices in the field, named only Gage. A self-described game nerd,, Gage graduated from Parsons in 2010 and has become a central figure in the burgeoning New York independent game scene. This scene has been fueled by the explosive growth of mobile games, which have had a profound impact on the game design industry and have enabled independent game designers to reach mass audiences. One of his newest and most successful games, SpellTower, earned Gage enough income in its first two months on the market to support him for two years. In the Times article, Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of the mobile game company Zynga, said that game mechanics will be the most valuable skill in the new economy.,

I have always been interested in making games,, said Gage in a recent interview. When I was growing up, my mom would not let me buy them, so I would make them myself. When I thought about going to graduate school, I was looking at Parsons and ITP [the Interactive Technology Program at NYU]. Both programs were doing the kind of things I wanted to do, but ITP was focused more on creating things than talking about them. At Parsons, I learned how to talk about what I was doing, how to get into my mind and figure out the process. Before, I thought my work should stand on its own, but studying at Parsons has transformed the way I think about my work.,

Gage is part of a community of artists and designers who have emerged from the MFA Design and Technology program and have been active with organizations such as the Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in Chelsea. At Eyebeam, Gage met alumnus and faculty member Zach Lieberman, who was a fellow at the center. Lieberman is one of the creators of Open Frameworks, an open-source computer programming tool kit that enables designers with minimal programming skills to create games and other new media projects. It is one of the tools used by a new generation of creative coders, , programmers who take an instinctive, hacking approach to their work,, says Gage, who develops his games on this platform.

Lieberman has attracted a great deal of attention for his work, which includes new media installations, performances, and online projects, many of which investigate the body and motion. One of his most successful projects is Eyewriter, a tool he created in collaboration with fellow Parsons alumni and other designers that enables people to draw on a computer screen or projection using just their eyes. It was developed for the legendary LA graffiti writer, publisher, and activist Tony Quan, who has ALS, a disease that has left him almost completely paralyzed except for his eyes. This summer, Lieberman will participate in a cultural festival tied to the 2012 Olympics in London in which he and a group of New York’based artists will create an installation at Hadrian’s Wall, a Roman ruin in the English countryside.

Another member of this group of creative coders, is Evan Roth, a Design and Technology graduate who was one of Lieberman’s collaborators on Eyewriter. Now based in Paris, Roth has built a career developing creative projects that subvert our perspective of technology and the Internet. He has even collaborated with the musician Jay-Z on a music video, a project that came about at the recommendation of a former classmate at Parsons. Roth has just been recognized by Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, with a National Design Award in the Interaction Design category. He was recognized for blurring the distinctions between technology, design and art,, one of the hallmarks of the Design and Technology program. Roth will receive this honor at a gala at the White House in October 2012.

Roth, Lieberman, and Gage are just a few of the graduates of the Design and Technology program who are expanding the boundaries of the field and leading the way for other artists and designers seeking to experiment and to launch successful careers. To learn more about the program, visit the Parsons website.