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Many ideas came to my mind today at class… Here there are two of them.

* I think that art might be a form of control… how can the artist create art that really leverages society? It you’re educated on criticism and to do critique, you may get critical about your role as a designer and about your work… Therefore, you won’t be able to ignore the degree of “commodified dreams” that your work might represent, your work environment might represent, and your work context (micro-world/business world) might represent.


* When students start learning about design, they go easily à la “Dieter Rams” way. I believe that as “older” as you get, and as better “knower” as you get (regarding Design), you may observe that design is a) richer and b) there’s no right or wrong design.



This is Liam Bannon of Bannon & Bødker fame from Foundations.

So, er, don’t fuck up!

It is not the point of this class to be experts on typography or Hong Kong cinema–but to be critical in your design thinking.

I included these two writings as things for you to read as writers, for you to model your own critical practices on.

Things to note as writers:

  • What is the structure of a critical piece?
  • What conclusions are drawn?
  • What are the central claims being made?
  • Who is the audience for these articles, and how are they supposed to use these articles?
  • How does this contrast with scientific writing, e.g., the writeup of an empirical study?

Things to note as critical thinkers:

  • What sorts of evaluations are made? What values and dis-values are identified? (Also: descriptions, classifications, elucidations, etc.)
  • What sorts of details are pointed to as evidence?
  • What kind of background, contextual, historical, and other scholarly information is available to the critics, and how do they leverage it?

I was really intrigued by our art vs design conversation in class that I’m started to wonder if this is a great topic for a final paper. Art vs Critical Design, Art Function vs Design Function. I’m drawn into aesthetics and trying to find exactly what it is I want to talk about. Would love any suggestions or conversations around this.

Here are a few notes I took during class I thought were interesting.

Call attention to ordinary objects
-make us think about or see beauty in everyday objects
-respect everyday objects

-What is art, what is design?
-Is critical design not art?
-What creates the difference between critical design and art?
-non-instrumental value vs instrumental value

The other night I stumbled onto artist Stephanie Syjuco and was really taken back by one of her projects,  “Modern Ruins (Popular Cannibals)” 

“Syjuco takes beloved archetypes of modernist furniture and reproduces them dump-style to explore a range of ideas related to production, consumption, class, and economies. These works continue her investigation of copies and counterfeits, while also examining Modernism’s promise of utopian progress and the reality of that vision today.”

Here is a photo of the semi-completed work.


What I find interesting is the idea of counterfeit being art. Do what degree is counterfeit art? Could these crafted pieces be place by the real items but hold more meaning?

We spent a lot of Tuesday’s class talking about what art is and what art is not. Also discussed was why certain objects were art and why others were not art. I want to talk here about the role of the object in what we call art. Here ‘object’ means the object with which we engage when we participate/consume art including paintings, movies, music, sculpture etc… First, I want to dismiss the idea that an object has to be pleasing or pretty to be considered art. Objects we consider to be art range from pleasant to repulsive, affirming to challenging, and offensive to pleasing. When we try to identify unifying physical or structural characteristics of objects of art we begin to realize that the body of work is so diverse as to render any project of identifying unifying physical or structural characteristics of objects of art impossible. Instead, I like to think about objects of art in a similar way Seel:

“Objects of art are a medium for an experience that takes place as a process of an understanding that is not oriented towards a result of an understood. .. . Understanding art is more about an otherwise impossible meeting with otherwise impossible possibilities of perceiving ourselves” -Seel

When we were answering the question “Why is the Brillo Box art?”, it took 10 or so comments to get to a comment about the inherent qualities of the Brillo box. The vast majority of  our commentary was about the way the Brillo box made us think, or feel, wether it be confusion, anger, laughter, etc… We struggled equally while trying to figure out why TBBBR was design and not art. I don’t have an answer for that; Dunne and Raby claim its necessarily design and not art. Here, the intention of the artist is brought into question. I think intention in art is a great topic, along with the correlative topic of consumer agency, but Ill save that for another blog post soon.

What does this have to do with design then? Most of us will be making digital objects, wether they be websites, apps, or some other interface. Does the object matter more in design than it does in art? Are designed objects more intentional in their purpose?

Looking over my notes from last week, I found the Plumber vs. Designer comparison we discussed to be interesting, particularly as it related to Cross’ excerpt we read. One concept that I took away from the discussion was that when comparing the skills and contributions of a designer (which could be argued are typically  less tangible) to those of a plumber (who’s core contributions are more self-evident), there is a notion of exceptional versus utilitarian purpose. From a business perspective, the apparent role of the designer is someone who has a specific set of skills (i.e. a specialization) that are then applied to a particular problem. To be sure, the plumber has the same sort of specialization, albeit in a different field. But that makes the plumber no less vital, particularly when there is a problem to be solved. So why is the profession of plumber classified in a utilitarian sense (along with HVAC workers, electricians, and masons etc.), while the designer is seemingly placed on a separate pedestal?

I believe some answer can be found can be found in the reification of design as a practice. Cross describes designers’ reliance on “intuition” and “intuitive approach” as the separation between designers, and those who’s decisions are not primarily influenced by intuitive judgment (e.g. engineers) (Cross, p9).  Drawing attention to this intuition, Cross essentially goes on to reify the design process as a type of exclusive, deeper insight, with designers

…ready, in many ways, to notice particular coincidences in the rhythm of events which other people, because they are less aware and less open to their experience, fail to notice. These designers are able to recognise opportunities in the way coincidences offer prospects and risks for attaining some desirable goal or grand scheme of things. They identify favourable conjectures and become deeply involved, applying their utmost efforts, sometimes “quite forgetting” other people and/ or things only peripherally involved…(Cross, p13)

This is problematic because it sets an expectation for those who hire designers: namely, that their ability to think differently comes at a price of being difficult to work with. And on the other end of the table, designers themselves believe that their abilities, being so hard to make tangible and quantifiable, must be grounded in a sense of extra-sensory insight, their process shrouded by seemingly organic intuition. Both of these perspectives are muddled in the reality of the situation:  designers often follow an unorthodox process that inspires their ideas, but they are ultimately grounded in pragmatic problem solving, and stakeholders are open to innovation, but are most receptive when connections can clearly be made from process to solution. In short, reification of design is a two-way street, and both designers and stakeholders are responsible for expectation-setting to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.

We started to talk about this idea last week in class, and Jeff asked me if I thought reifying design was a problem, to which I reservedly said “no”. Thing was I didn’t really understand how Reification is a fallacy. So I did some research: Apparently some philosophy dude named Alfred North Whitehead came up with something called the “The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness”. I think this is what reification is, but here it is explained through metaphysics.

My understanding on how the reification of Design Thinking is a fallacy, is that is turns an abstract idea or way of thinking (One possible way of understanding Design Thinking) into something which is concrete, either a physical object or something akin to a faculty of our mind like a logical capacity. If one is to reify Design Thinking, then it becomes a capacity, or some form of cognition, that is inherently separate from our other cognitive forms or processes. When I unpack it this way, I start becoming uncomfortable with reifying Design Thinking partly because I think the dichotomy of some logical/creative capacity make more sense without having this third, Design Thinking, capacity added.

Now, if reifying design thinking is committing a fallacy, then I have to reject Cross’ notion that there is an inherent capacity in all humans called Design Thinking. This would leave only Big D Design Thinking as something that exists, thereby removing any possible comparison between the two.


I’ve gone way too quickly here and would like retreat if someone quoted me on this ( hehe), but this is some of my preliminary thinking on the idea of reification and Design Thinking.

Dunn and Raby’s chapter Beyond Radical Design reminded me a lot of a German film titled Goodbye Lenin.  The film focuses around the main character’s mother, who was a staunch supporter of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).  When she witnesses her son, the main character, protesting in support of the reunification of Germany, she collapses and goes into a coma.  While in this coma, East Germany reunites with the west and the Soviet Union collapses.  Her family is told that any form of stress could kill her instantly when is recovers and is allowed to return home.  As a result, her son and daughter have to create two worlds, one that is the GDR inside their apartment, where she is staying, and then live in the modern world, which has become a capitalistic state.  Dunn and Raby state on page nine of the chapter, “…we need more pluralism in design, not of style but of ideology and value.”   The family of the woman had to learn to live a pluralistic life in order to protect their mother and a lot of the people I have watched this film with criticize it for saying that it promotes not telling the truth, even when the truth could hurt another person.  The film never, explicitly, states whether the maker thought capitalism or socialism was the superior ideology, but it shows the trouble those who have lived through government regimes have and how they must find a way to live a pluralistic life, one that design must account for.  Even though we today have more and more examples of capitalism in the world, there are several different flavors to choose from.

A lot of this movie focuses on consumer demand.  The mother requests a specific brand of pickles at one point, a brand that was only available in the GDR and is no longer available.  On pages eight and nine of the chapter, Dunn and Raby use the fall of the Berlin wall as their example to say market-led capitalism has won out and we no longer have other social or political possibilities and in some respects, this can be seen as true.  There is a whole website dedicated Ostologie (eastern nostalgia that probably would not exist if it were not for the demand of those who want to relive a different time.  But at the same time, is Dunn and Raby’s statement true, that market-led capitalism is it and that we have no alternatives?  Can we live a hybrid life of multiple values?  There is a reason why I included the website above.  While the selling of niche products is an example of capitalism, what is it they are selling?  Could they be selling an ideology different from capitalism at the same time?  Pluralism is very subtle, but it does exist in design currently.  Today, it is all about wealth and if the designer intends to make money, they must design in a fashion that offends the least amount of people.  In the case of the family in Goodbye Lenin, it was not money, but their mother’s life

But with this, it has come at a cost.  When designs are created that are less socially aware, people lose sight of what is actually happening around them.  They just take it as it is and do not think about alternatives, cause an alternative does not exist in their eyes, like the mother in the film.  Dunn and Raby use the 80s as the turning point, where design became less provocative, and commercialism took over.  It has been a slow change since moving back to more radical designs, ones that push specific ideologies — that we can no longer take what we have been taught or seen through our entire lives as the only correct way if we want to push forward to the best future possible.  Social networking, crowd sourcing, among others has contributed towards finding alternatives, it just depends on how well people are able to see the future it intends to create in a positive light.

This is the correct template for the final paper. To use any other template requires explicit prior permission and will only be granted for folks outside of School of Informatics and Computing.

Note that it is portrait. It is not landscape. Papers submitted in the ACM landscape template will be returned without a grade.

Edit: Note that Shaowen’s “Feminist HCI” paper and Shaowen and my “What is ‘Critical’ about Critical Design?” paper both use the required ACM format, so your paper should look like them!

Some of you may have seen Rayne’s post expressing how difficult it is to write the paper for this class. You should read it. But you should also read Gary’s response to her, because he totally nailed it. In fact, I’m just going to quote it.

you are not trying to prove anything to anyone. An attempt to do so would be misguided. This is not the role of a masters program and I don’t think it’s the intent of this paper/project. Rather, what you write should take the reader on a journey with the intent of posing interesting questions and ideas. You have your own unique way of seeing the world. You can find connections, pairing ideas, in a way that is specific to you. This is what you really want to show people through your writing.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

But how do you do that?

So, what I try to do is — breath and be myself. I am not trying to prove anything to anyone. But, perhaps what I can do is share some observations and maybe help others to make connections. These days, for myself, I like to try to share things in ways like… “Look at this interesting thing. Here are some of my thoughts on it. Maybe it would be useful in this way and/or in this context.” A paper written with the intent of proving something can usually be re-framed in this way and I think the results are often more productive.