Dunne and Raby: Manifesto #39

Critical Design FAQ

What is Critical Design?
Critical Design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions about the role products play in everyday life. Its opposite is affirmative design: design that reinforces the status quo.

What is it for?
To make us think. But also raising awareness, exposing assumptions, provoking action, sparking debate, even entertaining in an intellectual sort of way, like literature or film.

Why is it happening now?
The world today is incredibly complex, our social relations, desires, fantasies, hopes and fears are very different from the beginning of the 20th century.

What role does humour play?
Humour is important but often misused. Satire is the goal. Often only parody and pastiche are achieved. They borrow from existing formats signalling too clearly that it is ironic. The viewer should experience dilemma. Is it serious or not? Real or not?

Biggest misconceptions?
That it is:
negative, anti-everything.
only commentary and cannot change anything
not concerned with aesthetics
against mass-production
not real

But isn’t it art?
We expect art to be shocking, extreme. Critical Design is closer to the everyday, that’s where its power to disturb comes from. Too weird, it’s dismissed as art. Too normal, it’s effortlessly assimilated. It suggests the everyday could be different. That things could change.

Isn’t it a bit dark?
Yes, but not for the sake of it. Dark, complex emotions are ignored in design, most areas of culture accept people are complex, contradictory, even neurotic, not design, we view people as obedient, predictable users and consumers.

Originally published in ICON magazine
Issue 404 | 2007


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