Criticality Brief

Today we were set our new project called Criticality, which for the first time contains two briefs. The first brief our class already knew about, which is to create an editorial piece using and hopefully showcasing our dissertation. For this brief we will need to consider format and substrate, and to use grid structures mixed with typography hierarchy. This project will not only show our aesthetic judgment but our software skills when designing a multi-page document. The second is a little more complicated. For the Criticality brief, we will decide our own context, aims, methods and outcomes. However, the project needs to a critical design. “This brief will be about finding problems, rather than solving them. It is about challenging presumptions, rather than affirming them. It is about awareness, rather than nescience.” (Theo) Our tutor stated in our briefing that he is less interested in the look of the outcome but rather the thinking behind it. After having a long introduction to the topic, I left feeling slightly confused about what we needed to design for. I knew I needed to relook at the introduction powerpoint a few more times for me to fully understand.

So What is Critical Design?

In the introduction powerpoint my tutor quotes Dune & Raby who say:

“Critical Design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life.

It is more of an attitude than anything else, a position rather than a method. There are many people doing this who have never heard of the term critical design and who have their own way of describing what they do. Naming it Critical Design is simply a useful way of making this activity more visible and subject to discussion and debate.

Its opposite is affirmative design: design that reinforces the status quo.” (Dune & Raby)

From this, I understand that Critical Design is work that questions the audience rather than answers them. It plays on the static quo and challenges that. I think Critical Design it created to involve the audience in thinking outside of what is considered to be regular. It’s a really thought provoking topic that leaves the audience wondering.

Dunne & Raby, who these quotes are from, use critical design in their work and have done for years. Anthony Raby first used the term ‘Critical Design’ in his book Hertzian Tales first published in 1999. They say on their website that they “use design as a medium to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about the social, cultural and ethical implications of existing and emerging technologies.” (Dune & Raby)

Above are some noted differences between Affirmative Design and Critical Design, which Dune & Raby show on their website. For example Critical Design is finding a problem rather than solving it, or questioning something rather than answering it. When deigning for this project I will be sure to come back to this list and refer to it, making sure I am creating a critical piece of design.

A fascinating example of Critical Design is this piece by Dune & Raby called Designs For Fragile Personalities in Anxious Times created 2004/05.

They state that “in the field of design, users and consumers are usually characterised in narrow and stereotypical ways resulting in a world of manufactured objects that reflects an impoverished view of what it means to be human.” (Dune & Raby) In this project Dune & Raby wanted to explore and develop design that would embody an understanding of the consumer as a complex existential being. For this project in particular they took a real anxiety such as the fear of alien abduction or nuclear annihilation, and designed an object that would humour their owner. Instead of ignoring these consumers, Dune & Raby accommodated them. The outcome is an example of a unique way to design for real consumers rather than a simplified version. “They explore how psychological realism can be applied to designed objects. ” (Dune & Raby) I think this piece is a very interesting example for Critical Design. It ticks of many of the aspects that are involved within critical design for example asking questions (why is this lady sat inside this odd piece of furniture?), it is in service of society (perhaps a small percentage of society but it doesn’t benefit shareholders) and also satire (for obvious reasons). It ticks plenty other aspects which is why I think it is a great piece of Critical Design.


Sources Used:

(accessed 27th Jan 2020)

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