I am going to tie Carroll’s reading and his account of criticism in with my capstone project for this post. My capstone project is an investigation into Problem Framing as part of the process of designing. Currently, I am analyzing, and yes critiquing, different HCI domains like Ubicomp, mobile, HCI4d, and Critical design to try to suss out how academics who publish in this area go about their problem framing. Namely, I want to try to connect the process of problem framing with Carroll’s account of criticism as an activity that exposes value to an audience.

So far I have noticed trends in Problem Framing like relying on expert opinions in certain domains, designing for particular demographics by following specialized constraints and assumptions, and, overall, the focusing on exposing the true nature and subtleties  of some affliction people are experiencing. In short, seemingly most of the design processes I read can be characterized by designers who identify some pain point, inequality, or lack of comfort X (taken from some other demographic or culture) and then try to solve for these ‘situations’.

These designers try then to design for these ‘situations’ by a similar process Carroll laid out in his first chapter namely the description, elucidation, contextualization, classification, interpretation, and/or analysis of the situation so as to lead to insights as how to solve the ‘situation’ or problem. Where I think there can be a contribution made to Problem Framing is that, instead of being problem-focused, what if designers focused on using Critical Evaluation to find value in certain “situations” and to then use their power of criticism to foster new understandings and manifestations of this value in terms of designs.

I understand Carroll’s account of criticism to be the following: “…criticism is primarily committed to the discovery and illumination of what is valuable in artworks.” (p.46) More, this type of evaluations is based on reason. Carroll goes on to explain that the other activities involved in producing a critique are hierarchically subservient to evaluation, that is they play a special role in providing good reasons and justifications by which the evaluation can be made.  Carroll’s main contribution is fore-fronting the importance of evaluation as part of the critique process. Indeed, Carroll claims that the evaluation is the end product of criticism in that “criticism is strong criticism insofar as it renders its evaluation intelligible to audiences in such a way that they are guided to the discovery of value on their own.” (p.45) If I am planning on using this framework as something, in someway, is related to problem framing I need to answer a few questions that came up while I was reading Carroll.

First, what type of evaluation, as the primary activity of critique, would be appropriate for trying to understand problem framing? Carroll gives a few accounts of evaluation: political, ideological, artistic, negative, or positive. Each one of these types of evaluation has different motivations. Carroll talks about motivations for evaluation in his discussion of the ‘lack-of-general-criteria’ argument. In that, without general criteria by which an evaluation of an artwork could occur, “something else” must take the place of reason as a basis for evaluation.

“Historically, some of the leading candidates for that “something else” have been emotion, subjectivity, or political motivations (either politics in the large sense, as in the case of classism, racism, or sexism, or politics in the sense of interpersonal power relationships).” (p.30)

Earlier in the introduction Carroll identifies the outcomes of some of these candidates in that they “frequently pave the way for negative evaluations of candidates in terms of sexism, classism, logo-centrism, etc.” (p.5) What struck me with this characterization is the admittance that evaluating in these terms often produces negative evaluations. “This design is too Western” “This design is patriarchal” “This design inflates the capitalistic ideal” are all examples of the negative type of evaluation designs can received when evaluated using any of the candidate motivations laid out by Carroll. While these evaluations are important, and often apt, they firmly voice problem framing in terms of the current status quo, even if it is the negation of the status quo. In this way, these candidate motivations for evaluation of design framing excludes alternative future thinking.

Carroll draws a distinction between negative evaluation and something I call “value-finding” evaluation. Carroll sees the project of negative criticism as:

“Indeed, a constant diet of negative criticism–relentlessly pointing our the bad and the ugly in artwork–would be so impoverished that I suspect it could not be sustained for very long. For it is the promise of contact with what is valuable that we ultimately hope for from criticism.” (p.47)

Drawing out the value in design opportunities or spaces rather than characterizing them in negative terms is analogous to Carroll’s account of negative and value-finding evaluation of an artwork. Because evaluative criticism, which is based on reason, can help find value in a design space, it can be supportive of designers who wish to provide for alternative futures the kind of which do not depend on existing problems.

I haven’t fully flushed out the place of reason and its relation to how I want to propose Criticism as a tool for problem framing, but I do want to engage with Carroll’s account that emotions need not compromise critical evaluation. He goes into his account on pages 30 and 31 if you want to check it out, but I offer no summary of his argument other than its ok for some emotional aspect of evaluation to exist in concert with any reasoning aspect. This is paramount for critiquing a design space. Since we design for value and for people, affect is a necessary part of whatever experience we design for. In this way, Carroll’s account of critical evaluation neatly accounts for the type of evaluation needed in design work. More, since Carroll’s account of evaluation hinges upon value-finding and value-illuminating, his type of evaluation maps nicely to the sort of relationship design has with ethical values. In this way, criticism in design can do important work in value-finding and value-illuminating specifically in an ethical realm.

There is a ton more I could write, but as this is already a 1,000 word blog post, and most of you probably wont even get this far I am going to stop. But, I want to make a list of other things that need to be considered:

-The relation between the critic, criticism, and the audience in design criticism. Who are these parties, what is their relation?

-What types of values are to be found for identifying and illuminating in designs?

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