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I am sort of confused about this paper so here are my thoughts

The author, creator, designer etc: I feel this is a paper written for HCI people or for people who attend ubicomp conferences. It seems like the author is trying to make a case for ubicomp and a potential use for ubicomp. He is proposing a new way of thinking about the use of ubicomp and design it-self.

The main reason I say he is proposing a new way of thinking about design itself is because he says “the design of spore 1.1 evokes political issues without resolving them.”  It isn’t really producing solutions but exposing current states. Which is similar to all the arguments we had towards why Warhol is art!

The work itself

The design of the system identifies the factors at play and establishes their relationships and possible consequences, but it leaves open the space of interpretation and contest. 

DiSalvo’s explanation on what spore 1.1 does would be my definition of critical design. Again he is strongly interested in highlighting existing relationships and leaving it open for debate. The interesting difference is in the notion of “connectedness“. Compared to Blood bag radio the designs DiSalvo talks about have a lot more working parts. The combination of several seemingly independent objects linked together creates something new and brings out something political in nature. The key emphasis the DiSalvo makes is that when the pieces come together, they form something with a completely new meaning which is more than a sum of its parts.

“As devices of articulation, the products of ubicomp join together, by design multiple elements in a manner that transforms the identity and meaning of those elements and results in a new object-an articulated collective.”

I seriously can’t see the difference between this and critical design. If we compare this to Dunne and Raby’s blood bag radio, I don’t see a lot of difference. Sure BBR has  less working parts, but when you look at the materiality of the items, the individual parts and their actual use, it is very different from the way it reads when you look at BBR holistically. For example; the bag looks like a bear. If you really think about it, a blood bag can infact look like a bear. Especially in the context of a children’s hospital. But the moment you attach the energy context to it, that the blood is from a pet, it changes the way you look at the bag. Now, it is a vision of the future. It exposes the energy crisis and potentially how far we are willing to go get energy for our radios.

From this point, things get a little blurry for me since he just seems to be interested in merging words! I will post more about this later, but does my summary make sense? Am I understanding this correctly or has this completely flown over my head?

What are your thoughts on this paper?

Just stumbled across this really interesting design yesterday, and thought I would share:


This design implies all sorts of really interesting lenses for critique: the hacking and reappropriation of commercial artifacts, commodification of government, civil liberties in a modern-day on-demand society, and even the notion that receipts are ridiculously wasteful (as anyone who has ever filled a prescription at CVS is no doubt aware).


Bonus: DRM Chair, a piece of furniture that self-destructs after 8 uses (listen for the clicks in the background!)


This post is full of SPOILERS and should not be read by those who have NOT seen the Lego Movie.

The basic argument I am going to make is that The new Lego Movie is a critical design. It is a critical design that makes you think about the ways Hollywood makes children’s movies. Specifically about how Hollywood interprets children’s toys, comics and stories and re-appropriates them into stories for adults. Now this in itself is not necessarily bad, but the movie points out other unexplored avenues and that maybe its time for hollywood to break out of its habits.

A Given collection of Designs (unit of analysis)

In this section, I am going to argue the similarities in story structure and treatment of material and compare it to the Lego movie. My claim is that Lego movie is critical because it points out the flaws in the way Hollywood treats childrens titles. The Transformers movies, The batman movies, Avengers, Harry Potter, etc in my opinion are all part of the same collection. They are either toys, comics or childrens stories being transformed into adult movies. But there itself is the critique that lego movie tries to make. Will Ferrell (Mr Business) wants to see order and organization in his legos and, claims that he is doing it in a way that makes sense for adults. Mr Business’ view on organization is critical because the adult perspective on childrens products is being challenged. A common critique we hear about movies like Harry potter, Transformers etc is that they were not as good as their original source material. Is it possible it is true because a certain adult perspective has been added on to it? A perspective that takes away the creativity and inspirational qualities of the original source? We see this question being raised several times during the movie: the master builders not following instructions, the existence of cloud cuckoo land, metal beard and ultimately Will Ferrell’s son reminding him that it is a child’s toy and that the game itself is meant for 8-14 year olds.

More later! Any thoughts ?

I thought I would take a design I saw recently and run it through the Critical Design matrix we talked about yesterday. This is largely incomplete, as I want to get these ideas out of my head while they are still fresh…I may revisit it later.

Design: Durr



Durr as a design is a part of the time and timekeeping space. It could also have secondary links to the quantified self and personal tracking spaces as well, similar to fitness trackers.


Durr’s primary purpose is to measure time, albeit in an unconventional way: in 5-minute increments, rather than as a concrete hour-and-minute format.


The functionality of the design is extremely limited; its only function is to vibrate every 5 minutes.


In line with its functionality, the interactivity consists of a single button on the side of the device, which turns the vibrations on and off.


Durr takes the shape of a traditional watch, and is housed in a round casing with a leather strap to be worn around the wrist.


From the product page:

The chassis and fastening mechanism of Durr are sintered in polyamide and hand-dyed by us. The strap is laser-cut Norwegian vegetanned leather, and we program and hand-solder the electronics with RoHS-compliant (lead-free) components on ENIG-plated circuit boards.

See also their beautiful documentation of their design and assembly process here.

Changing perspectives

The designers of Durr made it with the intent of reshaping and reframing how its users perceive time. Rather than reporting the exact time on the face of the device itself, Durr instead challenges its users to think more actively about how they measure the passage of time by reporting it (in the form of vibrations) at a fixed interval. One recent review of the device was particularly revealing in this regard:

Towards the end of CES week I attended a funeral that was conducted almost entirely in Greek — a language I don’t speak — and permeated with incense and all manner of Orthodox chanting. I was there to pay my respects and say goodbye, but a combination of faint-inducing incense and general sleep deprivation had turned this gesture into a battle to maintain consciousness. Once again, Durr quietly vibrated away, letting me know that each six hours that passed had in fact been just five minutes.

Proposals for change

Durr’s call-to-action is as subtle as its form of notification; the device itself is not forcing the user to forgo the use of a traditional clock (which can be found just about anywhere else in addition to your wrist), but rather defamiliarizing the most readily accessible means of measuring the passage of time. The moment you glance at your wrist to check the time, you realize that there is no face for you to check, and are then reminded of the fact that you’re actively participating in the device’s constraint it has set for you. Durr seems to suggest a rethinking of what qualifies as the passage of time, and how it can be quantified.

Enhancing appreciation

How one chooses to interpret or utilize the vibrations appears to shape how much value people attribute to this device. Some anecdotal accounts of the device in use suggest increase productivity, as people measure the number of vibration “events” that it takes to complete a task. From a material perspective, some have criticised it as being nothing more than “an egg timer on a strap,” and not worth the high asking price (€90, around $120). Another lens through which this device could be examined is the circumstances of its manufacture: the run of 50 initial devices was largely done as an experiment on the part of the designers, each of them hand assembled. The location of the studio where they were made is also a factor; Oslo, Norway is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live and work, and shipping internationally from such a location factors into the cost of the product itself.


It seems to me that one of the core messages of Durr is to encourage people to be more reflective about how they spend their day: how long responding to that email really takes, how much time it really takes to drive into work in the morning, how long one really is waiting on hold for customer service, and so on. This sort of static quantification can be good or bad, calling attention to the speed (or lack thereof) with which time passes as we go about our daily activities. The fact that the vibrations are insistent, not stopping for any reason (unless they are muted using the single button) is also instructive: it points to the relentless march of time itself, towards a rather bleak and macabre realization that each vibration demarcates another five minutes of your life that is lost to you, closer to the end of your life. But beyond that rather grim conclusion, Durr is a passive observer; it doesn’t attempt to overly influence or sway its users one way or the other. From its rather passive physical design using pleasing, natural colors (with names like Cooked Salmon and Fjord Blue) and materials to the designers almost indifferent intentions for the initial trial run of devices, Durr seems to suggest that time is a river, and it is merely a gently bobbing vessel to remind you of the current.


In my opinion Jeff, I feel like we should have read this paper at the very start. You go into details that made me have countless ‘Aha!’ moments when recalling all of our class discussions. Really, I love how you make things so simple! I didn’t have to go back and force myself to create subheadings because you nicely formatted the paper to contain a main header and a subheader. Wish most of the authors we’ve read this semester could take some notes, it would make my life 10 times easier! The structure of the paper, I’d say is Grade A. It’s something that I can definitely follow. Simply, it’s ‘what is it, what it is not, what are the components, what are examples’. Short, sweet, simple.

“The critical sensibility, at its most basic, is simply about not taking things for granted, to question and look beneath the surface.”

In essence, I can confess that I’ve never really looked at critical designs beneath the surface, mainly because I didn’t know what to look for. When I read the ‘Reading Critical Designs’ paper, I looked back at this paper and realized the definition of ‘critical sensibility’ before I could read this line (I’m reading both papers at the same time). I will definitely applaud you for referencing this paper back to the ‘Reading Critical Designs’ paper over and over again in this paper. It tells me that you are very confident in your findings and see the information you have constructed as valuable and not many writers that I have seen does that (at least in some papers that I have read). Reading both papers side by side, I feel like I’m getting a holistic picture of critical design.

The big thumbs up that I want to give you is for the ‘Critiquing the Critical Design’. That section is definitely needed, especially since I look at a critical design and think to myself, “You’re kidding me right?” In fact, you put it in words the best yourself when you said,

“Without a richer vocabulary for making judgments in a rational
and consensus-driven way, critical design risks being
a cult of personality and a stick to hit people with, rather
than a self- and critically-reflexive professional stance.”

Critical designs definitely need to define ways of critiquing itself. Critical designs, in my opinion are very broad just because there are a large array of cultural and social issues that it could cover . But like good ol’ Marx said, “…the point of critical theory is not to describe the world but to change it.” How can you change it if the field itself does not have a defined meaning as to what it is? The only critique I think I have is that I wish that you would have used the Teddy Bear Blood Bag Radio here just because it represents a good way of how it looks to change the world. The other examples, though critical designs, in my opinion doesn’t have as strong of a disposition for change that TBBBR, though extreme, does. However, this is just a small suggestion from an opinionated person.

Again Jeff, I’m going to say that I wish this reading had been done earlier. We’ve talked a lot about critical design this semester, but we’ve never gotten down to the nitty-gritty about how it is done and why people should care. Also, sometimes when I personally see a critical design, I try to read it as is just because I’m a person that takes everything as it is and doesn’t try to look deep into my soul and figure out what the deep meaning is. Critical designs are a big issue for me because when I see it, I try to interpret it in the eyes of the user, but the design itself could have so much meaning, it hurts my head. When you set up the values for grading the design as ‘critical’–identify, situate, and isolate–I started reflecting back on all of the critical designs that we looked at this semester. Now that I see them, I can appreciate them as critical designs rather than designs for release into the market.

When you incorporated the Porcupine dress and broke down as to why it is a critical design, I really appreciated it. At the start of the semester, I saw it and thought, ‘Eww, why the heck would any sane woman want to buy this?’ Now that I’ve read your paper ‘What is Critical About Critical Design?’ I can actually sit back and contemplate. I no longer see it as a fashion statement, but I see it as a critical design that is trying to tell me something. Even with Teddy Bear Blood Bag Radio, I at first thought that is was a way to start turning into sadists, but from a critical standpoint, it’s like ‘Ooohh!!’. Knowing what it is and knowing how to read it let’s me have great insights about why it’s made rather than what it is. I absolutely loved the breakdown for the Teddy Bear Blood Bag Radio that you give around the end of the paper. You expressed points that on the surface I would have never thought of like ‘Using alternate energy sources is presented as something for children to do; it is not just an ‘adult’ problem.’ This statement could be up for debate, but for the most part, I definitely agree, especially when I don’t see it without the critical standpoint.

Overall, I will agree with your central point in this paper: critical designs needs some kind of structure or form of being able to read into the critical designs. Critical designs need to defamiliarize us with what we see as shocking designs for the market world and introduce us to the critical world instead. Not only does it need to introduce us to this concept, it needs to explain to us what the central argument is for designer who made it for the audience. There are points of TBBBR that I never would have thought of because I used to think that it only brought up one central point instead of have various points to take its shape and form. I, as the audience and a designer, need to learn to be able to read into and receive the message and not let the market obstruct my view of what is being said to me.

(Disclaimer, this is a Midnight rant:)

There was a sentence in the Reading Critical Designs paper that says:

“What sorts of categorizations, associations, questions, insights, norms, judgments, etc,. should be part of a critical designer’s hermeneutical toolkit? (pdf p 3)

Did anyone else feel uncomfortable with this phrasing of the critical designer? It seems to me that as designers, we should always be striving to do critical design, and non critical design. Why make the distinction? I don’t think this is the same as calling myself an interaction designer vs an experience designer. All design is political in a way, it makes a stance, whether it is to maintain the status quo, or propose new futures, expand boundaries, create tensions, make us think, for efficiency sake, for pleasure, etc etc.  So shouldn’t we be always doing critical design out of morals in order to better serve our users and ourselves (I really like that in this paper they say design “our futures”).

(I will think about this more later)

[I feel like a disclaimer should be put here. 
This argument is not fully thought out and may contain errors, fallacies, etc. 
At the very least this is an interesting gaming thing.]

TPP is a game of Pokemon Red/Blue for the Gameboy that is being played on the Twitch.TV steaming website. Through the chat, viewers control the character’s movements throughout the game world affecting everything from the path he walks to the choices made in battle. As of posting the game has been going for 6 days and 19 hours. Tens of thousands of people are viewing the game at any given time and a segment of that number are actually playing it. I’m not sure how many unique viewers are giving commands, but I’ll guess it’s at least in the thousands.

At the beginning of the game, the character’s actions were controlled in a first-come-first-serve basis. The chat entries were handled as they came. For a while this worked until the character got stuck in a maze room that is difficult enough to navigate regardless. Since then the creator has updated the game (I think, specifically, around day 3) to include two control modes: anarchy and democracy. In anarchy mode, the control system is as it was in the beginning. In democracy mode, a majority of votes is required to move the character after a given time period.

In either case, the game is pretty chaotic. Most of all in anarchy mode where one misstep, one person who decides to troll the game, can decide to ruin hours of progress with a simple command like “down” leading the character off a ledge that will take another day to get back on top off.

I think this is a critical design, whether the creator intended it or not. I think this design is speaking to the gaming community, a group of people who are often the perpetrators of chaos in the gaming world. TPP can be seen as a metaphor for the effect the gaming community has on developers.  The massive number of people participating on this game, only a few of whom are contributing to the argument, is representative of the gaming communities reactions to the release of a new game. While some are content or are happy with the game as it is, there is a vocal group which is not happy and is actively attempting to derail the experience.

TPP brings to light the effects of those who want so badly for their voice to be heard. The trolls and haters that plague the community have an alive and active voice and the effect on the people who make the games is evident.

So I talked about this a bit in class today, and I wanted to carry on this thought.

I think Critical Design can be a very powerful tool. Even in the corporate setting… Especially in the corporate setting. I think there is a lesson we can all take away from PRInCiPleS, in that it is a method for presenting design rationale to people who were not part of the process. I think Critical Design can play a similar role and present alternative directions that can be explored. I hate this word with a passion, but critical design can be a tool for “innovation”.

To me most major corporations wait for other companies to innovate. This is not exhaustive, but in my last company, they constantly talked about innovating and coming up with new ideas, but what that translates to is…”lets build a mobile app!” Infact,  if you think about computing and that windows has existed for a decade now and yet, the interface has been the same. I know there are good arguments for that, but at the same time our computing tech has sort of stagnated. The speed and memory has increased, but our interaction has remained the same. Just Point and Click. It wasn’t until the iPod touch did we start to see a new way of interacting. This is where I think Critical Design can be useful. It’s end result is not to make something sellable, but it can be used to pitch alternate areas that a company could possibly explore. Maybe even invest in.

I think the big issue that I can think of right now is that a lot of companies will not have the infrastructure to support critical design. There will have to be change in cultural beliefs for Critical Design to be more useful. More on this later.

Personally, this reading was very difficult to get through. It wasn’t that it was confusing, it was just that to me, it didn’t grab my interest. To me, it seemed as if the author had a lot of good points, but the flow of the reading was just really somewhat choppy. But this is just me.

I understand his notion of using art in order to grab audience’s attention towards a detail not seen or thought of. However, as I said almost countless times in most of the critiques of readings, the word needs to be clearly defined.  What does he mean by ‘art’? Does he mean by way of thinking of a problem in another direction as art does most times? Does he mean using art to create something physical for users to see rather than just being conceptual? Is it by way of problem framing? Or is it just by the standards of the Showroom? Does he mean as a whole (which I doubt since he disclaimed designing as an art rather than for pointing out a problem). What part of art does he want design to take root at? Even though I saw examples such as with Dunne and Raby where he praised them for doing critical design from an artistic standpoint, however he still failed to dissect the big ‘why’ for going for critical design.  We understand why it is that Dunne and Raby love critical design, but my question is what is the author’s reason for advocating for art so strongly? The only quote that I felt came close to answering this question is:

“It links research to historically important artistic
movements like Russian constructivism, surrealism,
and pop art. It also links research to Beat literature, architecture,
and music.”

I personally had to stare at this quote for a good 3 minutes before moving on. To me, this is a weak disposition. The author should have included examples of how design when taking this route will be beneficial. This looks pretty on paper, but until the author introduces cold hard facts, that’s all it will be. Pretty words.

One thing that I would applaud the author for the section that says ‘How not to be an artist’. Here he draws a line between what we consider art vs. design. I completely agree with his method of doing this. When one advocates something, it is easy to drift from the original discourse or what the author was trying to say in the first place. He’s telling us to think like an artist, not be an artist. Here, I think he means creating something that is for show rather than something that a person thinks and contemplates on, but again, to avoid confusion and assumptions, he could have easily said, “What I mean by art is…”

Okay reading, but my attention span was going all over the place overall.