Contextual Enquiry for Critical Researcher

Bardzell et al talk about challenges involved in creating and deploying projects based on critical theory. Paper describes two interesting case studies- significant screwdriver and whispering wall. Usually, critical designers showcase their creations in art galleries or museums. This was the first time I read a case study of actual interaction of users with the critical products placed in their environment like other consumer products. This raises crucial questions such as role of critical researchers, how should one frame questions so that users do not feel discomfort, significance of iteration in the design process etc. Here, the dynamic between researcher and user is different than traditional interaction design or HCI researcher. Observing the environment, or merely questioning the user about the experience of using the product or understanding process can not be enough. To understand if the user felt baffled, provoked, questioned by the product and if the user now thinks differently or is more aware of social, political and technological futures is critical. It would be interesting to read more about this topic, to understand how exactly contextual enquiry methods would adapt to critical research.


“They Posit the designer as a critically and materially engaged practitioner- a sort of ‘applied conceptual artist'” [1]

Redefining critical designers as ‘applied conceptual artist’ is powerful. Since, the emphasis is given on getting the point across, the material used is the medium and not the objective, the process followed in not significant. The creator and the creation both take backseat, the meaning of the creation, the conversational space created by the creation holds utmost importance.

[1] Ramia Mazé and Johan Redström. 2007. Difficult forms: critical practices of design and research in Proceedings of IASDR, 2007


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