Tag Archives: critical design

Last couple of weeks of my research for the Final Major Project has been dedicated to understanding what ‘transhumanism’ is and how it blurs the line between being a human or a robot (possibly). My friend Loven, introduced me to the movie Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and boy did I love it! Essentially not the regular Manga or an icecream-popcorn movie, it talks about cyborgs being controlled by the human soul capable of choosing to kill itself as well as those around it. Quite a deep movie this. Also raises valid points about how evolution could proceed given our dependance on technology.

When machines learn to feel, who decides what is human… 



Relational design practice touted as the third phase in modern design history, is contextual and conditional design. Relational design deals with design’s effects, extending beyond the form of the design object to its meanings and cultural symbolism. It seeks systematic methodologies, as a way of countering the excessive subjectivity of most design decision-making. Relational design values experiential and participatory nature of design and often blurs the distinctions between production and consumption.
In Andrew Blauvelt’s words
“We might chart the movement of these three phases of design, in linguistic terms, as moving from syntax to semantics to pragmatics. This outward expansion of ideas moves (…) from the formal logic of the designed object, to the symbolic or cultural logic of the meanings such forms evoke, and finally to the programmatic logic of both design’s production and the sites of its consumption — the messy reality of its ultimate context.”

‘Addicted Products’, a project by Simone Rebaudengo, TU Delft / Haque Design Research raises questions about what our relationships might look like with products of tomorrow. The winning entry, Best in Category – Engaging and Best in Show at Interaction Awards 2014 stemmed from the question what if the smart household objects of the future aren’t just smart, but also potentially emotional? What if, connected to and benchmarked against their peers, their relationships with each other start to inform their relationships with us?
Brad (the toaster), the central character to the narrative is concerned with performance or use and not in some natural intended functionality. If he’s not being used as much as his ‘friends’, Brad gets upset. He seeks your attention, begging you to make some toast or at least to give him a reassuring pat. Ignoring him for long could result in him packing up in search for potential owners and find a new home. Brad has no single owner and is governed by social sharing and network culture. Addicted Products is thus a great critique on how immediate human desires and algorithmic efficiency could shape better design experiences. While the internet of things advocates effortless efficiency, devices misunderstanding each other or intervening into our wasteful or harmful habits creates a new narrative.


Of all the social design projects, this one makes quite the impact!
Donor Cable Project – brainchild of Y&R Moscow partnered with NAR Mobile is a bracelet that can be used to donate power from one smartphone to another. A bracelet was provided on purchase of a new android phone at all NAR mobile outlets. Inside the bracelet, a simple message that drove the idea home ‘Donate energy to save a phone, and donate blood to save a life.’

Situating the project in Azerbaijan, which has the world’s highest number of children born with the blood disorder thalassemia, a hereditary disease primarily found among Mediterranean cultures. The illness requires extensive blood transfusions for babies, and hospitals often lack the needed amount of donated blood. The project is said to have driven blood donation up by 335%

What is interesting is that at the core of the project, it’s not just the cable but the advent of a new habit: battery donation. It could create a community around new way of charging a phone – charge donation. And to connect it with the blood donation, translates the idea in a real life social situation. Critical design has always been about the creation of alternative visions. Designs that cause reflections. Donor Cable forces reflection among the users of the device and aims to provoke other ways of being. It is a model that proposes the change in ethnography of the area. A powerful project that could alter culture and behavioral practices of mobile phone using community.



Thanks to films like Wolf of Wall Street, Margin Call and the infamous Wall Street, a mental picture of bankers have been etched into our brains. Smart, suave, handsome, tailored suits, slim tie, sleek hair but slightly mean-looking eyes. He lives the fast life, doesn’t like working out but has a mean body to match his mean machine. His girlfriend is a few years younger. He reads The Wall Street Journal and The Economist, subscribes to The Daily Deal and hopes to be on The Forbes one day.



Senior Associate M&A [Merger and Acquisitions] banker at a ‘bulge bracket’ bank.
Ivy league education in Financial Mathematics. Aged between 25-35 years. Draws an annual income in six figures with last quarter’s bonus being $675,000. Lives in a flat-share with fellow associates now but has put money down on a Sloane Square apartment.


Works 18 hours a day. 6 days a week. An Excel wizard. On most days is working from 9:00 AM to 3:00 AM. Survives on Starbucks and $35 dinners. Working most weekends. If not working in the office [face-time], 60% of the time is devoted to traveling or ‘baby sitting’. Absolutely no social life. No time for friends. Racket-ball or pro-fighting with the Director or MD sometimes after work. When some
‘me-time’ does come along, maximize it. The need to feel in those few moments that one is still alive!

“It is an endurance game, in part.”

[ Working on a project to produce speculative and critical design solutions grounded in the experiences of a particular user group, ‘global travelers’. This is just the beginning of fleshing
out the identified user group. ]


It’s been a week of reading about Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby! I have to say they have left me
more confused than convinced at the end of it all. In an attempt to understand their design
principle I answered a few questions (for myself).

What is Critical Design? How does it affect Interactions?

– Design that does more than just solve a problem or make the world a better place
– Design based on critical content
– Critical Design is NOT art
– Critical Design is a tool to engage one in a conversation
– Design which makes the invisible visible
– Critical design is about mixing criticism with optimism
A world of industrially manufactured objects dictate what it means to be human in our consumer society. Would a change in the society bring about a change in our behavior? If so, then it most definitely will have an effect on our interactions with the objects.

What is Design Fiction? What has it got to do with Interaction Design?

Design fiction is essentially a term  to analyze the emerging parallels of present and future to test new ideas in design. It is design to inspire. The preface to a chapter yet unwritten. It’s design’s way of asking ‘What will you prize most in the future?’ Design Fiction is as dependent on interaction design as is the latter, on it. Fiction as a result of speculative design has a direct effect on how things will be perceived. Perception and communication are key to interaction.

So then, what is Interaction Design?

Interaction Design to me is a point where object behavior meets human behavior. A point where they stop to exist as individuals and become simultaneous, almost symbiotic. It is no more what technology can do for design but what design can do for technology. Interaction Design today is about making technology more meaningful and relevant to our lives. Products have taken a backseat. It’s about behavioral studies. Design can bridge the gap between consumer satisfaction and be a mirror to user needs. Interaction Design today is about humanizing objects.

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While looking up design principles of Dunne and Raby, I came across these two very interesting talks by Paola Antonelli, design curator for MoMA.
Even though I do not quite agree with her on design being treated as art, she highlights a critical aspect of design methodology – Synthesis. My first brush with that word was in biology, photosynthesis, which essentially is conversion of light energy to chemical energy in plants.
Dictionary meaning of the world ‘synthesis’ says its a combination of components/elements to
form a connected whole.


I think that is a powerful phrase and readily recognizable with designers.
Design as a medium to bridge the gap between culture and people, behaviors and objects.
Design as an instruction and not as a prescription.

In the second video she specifically talks of Dunne + Raby’s work in the field of Design for Debate. Designing not to solve a problem but to question an answer.

All along in my undergraduate studies and up until now, I’ve always looked at design as a problem solving tool.
There is a problem. Identify it. Address it. Design for it.
So when along came Dunne + Ruby with the idea of design as a tool to question and not answer, my foundations were a little shaken.

Design as a provocateur?

Their work to me borders on the fine line between satire and parody.
Having said that, it walks a fine line between being a ‘design’ and being a ‘piece of art’. What differentiates the two, in my opinion, is the work’s ability to relate to everyday functionality. Design as an inherent part of life.
The Statistical Clock from the series “Do you want to replace the existing normal?” is my favorite piece. For as long as I can remember, the morning news has been a ritual and elemental in my growing up. If you didn’t start the day with a brush through the newspaper, it seemed incomplete. Back in the days politics and business formed the main content of such a publication or broadcast but increasingly news of murder, rape, accidents, death have been crowding the first page/headlines.
How many of us want to start the day on a morose note?

It is then only but ironic that the same newspaper report about ‘Happiness Quotient’!

Thought provoking indeed.