Foundation-Year Program

The three Experimental and Foundation Studies (EFS) studios—Drawing, Design and Spatial Dynamics—are built around assignments and critiques that encourage students to think deductively and intuitively, and examine the potential of materials as they take projects from concept to completion.

Faculty members lead group critiques—both during the process and at the end of each project—with peer dialogue playing a critical role in advancing student work.

EFS curriculum

All first-year students are assigned to a section of approximately 20 students who attend the three studio classes together throughout fall semester. Groups are reconstituted going into spring semester so that students work with a different mix of peers during the last half of the year.

During Wintersession—an intensive, five-week session between fall and spring semesters—EFS students are encouraged to select an on-campus course related to their intended major or to select another Liberal Arts or studio course of interest, choosing from classes in all disciplines and available to upperclass and graduate students.

View the curriculum

Learning outcomes

Students completing the first year studio programs will be able to:

  • approach art and design with a sustained focus and a rigorous methodology that includes the ability to construct a question for inquiry.
  • demonstrate the ability to critically analyze their studio work and the work of others within personal, theoretical, cultural, social and historical contexts.
  • discuss and implement formal design terms and concepts, and understand the complexity of debate inherent in their application.
  • recognize that their sensibilities influence their creative processes and that these are important aspects to consider in their choice of a fine art or design discipline.


At RISD students pursue drawing as both a powerful way to investigate the world and an essential activity intrinsic to art and design practice. As a primary mode of inquiry, drawing is central to forming questions and creating knowledge across disciplines.

Instructors encourage students to work responsively and self-critically to embrace the unpredictable intersection of process, idea and media that drawing affords. The studio becomes a laboratory of varied and challenging activities in which to investigate materiality, imagined situations, idea generation and the translation of the observable world. Formal and intellectual risks are encouraged during a sustained engagement with mark-making, perception, abstraction, performance, space and time.

As students learn to trust the drawing process, they better value its potential and accept struggle as positive and necessary to gaining confidence in their own sensibilities.


In Design students explore how to organize visual and other sensory elements in order to understand perceptual attributes and convey meaningful messages through objects, spaces and experiences.

Assignments emphasize the critical and experimental utilization of core design principles and allow for inquiries into scientific, social, cultural, historical, philosophical, technological and political topics. Instructors guide students through progressive investigations in which the act of seeing is amplified by the study of the physiological and cognitive factors that generate perception.

As students demonstrate their understanding of composition, color, narrative, motion, systems and cultural signifiers, they are able to communicate more effectively through design.

Spatial Dynamics

This studio-based inquiry into physical, spatial and temporal phenomena considers force—the consequence of energy— and its effect on structure. In Spatial Dynamics the structures of physical, spatial and temporal phenomena are studied through additive, subtractive, transformative, iterative and ephemeral processes, both analogue and digital.

In referencing the histories and theories of art and design, many assignments include areas of inquiry involving disciplines such as the sciences, music, dance, film and theater. Most encourage students to make preliminary sketches and diagrams as part of a process that entails research, planning and experimentation.