Cognitive Futures 4

Speculative Design and Critical design:

Critical Design = Questioning underlying assumptions. Critiquing the technology industry and market-driven limitations. General social theory, politics, and ideology.

Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby ‘Speculative Everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming’ (Dunne, A. & Raby, F., Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2013, pp. 33-45)

Q: What do they mean by the positive use of negativity?

‘To be human is to refuse to accept the given and given.’ (p.33) This is the first statement of this chapter, it causes instant personal reflection. There is a realisation that even from childhood we are constantly questioning and imagining new possibilities.

We can used design to change the status quo. 

Conceptual design should form a sort of ‘social usefulness’, to ‘…question, critique, and challenge the way technologies enter out lives and the limitations they place on people through their narrow definition of what it means to be human.’ (p.34) A narrow view of what design should and can be, limits what it will be. By looking stage ahead and following a narrow path we miss the possibilities which are just out of view.

Critical design is capable of solving any problem. […] Critical design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions.’ (p.34) This form of design is questioning the well know box that design is put into. We have accepted that everyone is different, yet there is little wiggle room for design to adapt to those personal differences. Good design for one person might not be good the the other. Unlike ‘affirmative design’, critical design is purposely about breaking the ‘rules’,looking passed the social norms of design; questioning and ‘highlighting the weaknesses within existing normality.’ (p.35)

Critical thinking:‘not taking things for granted, being skeptical, and always questioning what is given.’ (p.35)

‘All good design is critical.’ ‘Critical design is critical thought translated into materiality.’ ‘…Thinking through design rather than through words.’ (p.35)

Critical design is positive, because ultimately because there is a belief that ‘change is possible, that things can get better,’ (p.35)

‘It is by buying things that they become real.’ (p.37) In a market driven society, it is the consumer with the power. Critical shoppers […] could prevent certain material realities taking shape and encourage others to flourish.’ (p.37)  If no none buys the product then it won’t be made anymore, and things will stay as they were. If ‘citizens refuse to consume’ then design can’t evolve and change. Citizens have the power because there is a sense of entitlement, as they say “the costumers always right”.

Critical design ‘helps us become more discerning costumers [we should] encourage people to demand more from industry and society as critical consumers.’ (p.37)

Dark Design: ‘Design is assumed only to make things nice; it is as if all designers have taken an unspoken Hippocratic oath to never make anything ugly or think a negative thought.’ (p.38) This prevents design from addressing human problems, the negative parts of life that we all struggle with. Critical deign does deal with these ‘dark’ or negative themes, but not just for the sake of it. The hope is that by defusing/dealing with these problems we can begin to challenge them, to develop new way of improving/coping with them; or at least ‘form a cautionary tale.’

Humour can take three forms in design:

  1. Satire = the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
  2. Parody = an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect.
  3. Pastiche = an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period

Satire is the goal…’  This is because the hummer should help the viewer ‘experience a dilemma: is it serious or not? For critical design to to be successful viewers need to make up their own mind’ (p.40) Humour helps our imagination. Our ability to consider different, unexplored options without immediately dismissing them.

‘Critical design might borrow heavily from art’s  methods and approaches but that is it. We expect art to be shocking and extreme. Critical design needs to be closer to the everyday; thats where its power to disturb lies.’ There bus be a balance between ‘shocking’ and ‘nice’. ‘…if its too weird, it will be dismissed as art, and if its too normal, it will be effortlessly assimilated.’ (p.43) Design can be more disturbing than art because it us unexpected, and is to close to everyday life.

Critical design should/aims to…

  • focus on ‘the hear-and-now and yet-to-exist.’
  • ‘…question prevailing values and their underlying assumptions..’
  • ‘…unlock peoples imaginations…’
  • be ‘generating alternatives’ (p.44)
  • ‘challenge how people think about everyday life.’ (p.45)

Task: “A Cautionary Tale …” – What if we designed ‘for’ them? Positive use of Negativity … what things would exist? As a group choose a negative thing, research your topic, design an object(s) that promotes that negative thing.



Author: Crisiant Williams

I am a Fine Art student, studying at Cardiff School of Art and Design.

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