Unless Provoked

One theme I enjoyed reading about among the writings was the place of critical design in juxtaposition to commercial products. As I’ve understood from previous readings, critical design is defined by its provocative nature and, as Mazé and Redström reference Dunne and Raby, the ability to “establish an intellectual stance of its own”. Bardzell, Bardzell, Forlizzi, Zimmerman and Antanitis described the shortcomings in their critical design experiments as due in part to their lack of provocative nature.

When considering what critical design is, the line seems to be drawn at preferable futures, as Revell describes in the Candy’s futures cone. The Microsoft futures example is one that illustrates the concept nicely, with the corporate-produced videos showing no signs of normalcy, but rather a world where everything is perfect. This capitalist, commercialist approach to designed futures is not critical at all, as Revell points out. Critical design takes places when meaning and effect are the main goals rather than the formation of a product for sale.

My favorite point from Revell was in his description on the importance of normalcy: “Bad design relies on fireworks and spectacle to create engagement. Good design uses the normal to build a relationship”. If we should avoid the future of design as capitalist profession that Dunne and Raby talk about, designers must avoid producing purely for profit and planned obsolescence. We should instead create substance and discourse with our work. We must use what is familiar to the humans we engage with every day and transform it into provocation and meaning.

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One thought on “Unless Provoked

  1. I think this is really well said! I think the provocative component of critical design is key here. But when I was reading the writings, I had issues really understanding to what degree critical designers need to be provocative with their work? Does critical design have spectrum of products that range in risqué-ness? Or do all works need to be quite impractically provocative for it to be truly critical and effective? At the end of your response you elude to the idea that we can integrate this ingredient of provocativeness into our future work as designers regardless of whether we are critical designers per say, but that it is our responsibility in a sense to inspire provocation with our work. And I totally agree. But if the community of critical designers feel if that is enough? Can we make provocative products that evoke a sense of reflection while still producing a device that is practical and useful in every day life? Or is it more of an all or nothing situation?

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