How effective is Critical Engineering/Design really?

Although I agree that Critical Engineering/Design are valuable tools to challenge the norms, structures and trajectories of society I’m going to play devil’s advocate. I wonder how much impact it has outside the inner circle of critical engineers and designers. It’s true that projects such as, the transparent grenade, Newstweek, Artvertiser, and Happylife, get some public attention. They’re picked up by blogs, tweeted, retweeted and shared. They might even get a segment on a popular news channel. But everyone has their 15 minutes of fame. Is critical engineering/design just preaching to the choir?

Within the environment of design academia we spend a lot of time reading, evaluating, analyzing and over analyzing these projects. We don’t however spend much time looking into what impact, if any, they’ve had on the general public. In our corner, we’re very aware of the societal problems critical engineering/design works to expose. In speaking with people who are not directly studying these topics however, I’ve found they’ve been generally unconcerned or unaware. The direction that consumer electronics are trending in also reflects this lack of attention or concern. Even within security, corporations and governments continue to be exposed by whistle blowers but laws keep getting passed and products continue to be bought. Are the current tactics of critical design and engineering working or is the interested audience too small?

Julian and Danja pair their critical engineering pieces with workshops that give tools to help viewers productively react to their new paranoia. I think this is a step in the right direction, but I wonder if the effect is still too small. Most of their pieces exist within a gallery and their talks on a campus, such as ours. This is the home of the already aware and interested audience. Does critical engineering need to find new tactics to engage a larger pubic audience or, is it too young of a field to evaluate its impacts yet?


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