There are a range of diverse perspectives in contemporary design that counter traditional views on what design is and what it should be about - f.ex. 'critical', 'conceptual', 'speculative', 'relational', 'radical', '(h)activist', etc., design. Perhaps this is not surprising - design today must redefine the premises and purposes of the discipline beyond its Industrial Age inception and logics, f.ex. mass-production, market consumption, economies of scale, corporate protectionism, etc. Further, today, designers are operating in the academy, the art world, the public realm and the developing world, claiming a place for design in relation to a range of 'other' people, practices, values and futures than those traditionally served by design. One way of exploring these changing definitions and claims of design is to ask how critical design practices operate? To explore this, I pose the question "Critical of What?" and suggest 2 lenses on the question (based on Mazé, 2009; Mazé and Redström, 2009):
--- Criticality "outside in" - To query their own practice or discipline, designers have been drawing on techniques and theories from other disciplines. What does it do for designers to engage with techniques from, f.ex., art or science fiction? What theories are useful for querying design practice/discipline - originally, critical design looked to the Frankfurt School, but there are also discussions of science and technology studies, gender and cultural studies, political theory, etc? What are the limits - when does design become art or academics (and does it risk being 'bad art' and 'poor theory')?
--- Criticality "inside out" - Designers have been using design skills, materials and methods to mount a critique of phenomena outside design, f.ex. objects and graphics, design games and charettes, to visualize/materialize ethical and political issues in public, industrial and community settings. If traditional design claimed 'problem solving' and 'making things better', what claims can be made for critical design practices? What does design add to the ethical-political discourse about such issues?
Ericson, M. and Mazé, R. (eds.) (forthcoming 2011) DESIGN ACT - Socially and Politically Engaged Design. Berlin: Sternberg.
Mazé, Ramia (2007) Occupying Time: Design, Time, and the Form of Interaction. (PhD thesis) Axl Books, Stockholm, Sweden.
Mazé, R. (2009) Critical of What? / Kritiska mot vad? In: Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice - The Reader, edited by Ericson et al., 378-397. Berlin: Sternberg.
Mazé, R. and Redström, J. (2009) Difficult Forms: Critical practices of design and research. Research Design Journal, 1 (1): 28-39.