Critical Design & Designed Activism Seminar

I’m currently putting together a series of short workshops based around my Masters’ thesis in Critical, Adversarial and Political Design. These are approaches for designing artifacts and experiences which raise questions rather than solve perceived problems. Adversarial Design, in particular, is concerned with creating spaces where antagonistic viewpoints can coexist and be redesigned for mutual benefit. I believe that these approaches can provide a way of producing more specific commentaries on our current world and will develop a participatory process for responding to our concerns.

My initial plan would be to present a casual seminar and discussion about these design approaches and how they overlap with forms of considered art and activism.

In the seminar I intend to cover:

  •   Critical & Adversarial Design: History & examples of work
  •   Exploration of why these approaches are interesting
  •   My own work in these areas
  •   Participatory Design
  •   Discussion


In the workshops I would like to explore:

  •   Generating ideas
  •   Prototyping concepts
  •   Co-Design
  •   Design thinking
  •   Future directions
  •   …and more


Agenda & Outcomes:

  •   To develop a process for generating critical responses and reactions. A means for artists and creators to quantify and focus their message
  •   To develop an environment for participatory design within A4’s exceptional knowledge base
  •   Create potential for a responsive art/design collective
  •   Share knowledge on creating ideas and concepts, and how to quickly prototype them


Anyone and everyone is suited to these approaches; all you need is an open mind and a sense of adventure. The seminar will hopefully draw some of you into the idea of exploring these processes further and will help me get an idea of how to move forward with the workshops. All are welcome and the broader the skill-base/crazy-base, the better.

All who are interested, at least in the seminar, send me an email here:


I can then send on some examples of the work that will feature in the talk and get the process moving. The talk will most likely be on a mid-week evening for about an hour. Let me know if you have any preferences and I will create an event page.

Camera Restricta: More disobedient technology

Camera Restricta by Phillipp Schmitt is a 3D printed augmented smartphone which stops the user from taking photographs of an area that has had too many pictures taken of it already.

Having seen the huge clusters of geotagged photographs surrounding tourist hotspots, it’s refreshing to think of a visual recording device which forces the user to seek out the road less travelled to find places which haven’t been digitally ‘appreciated’ so much. Perhaps it would also make the user reflect on why they have such a need to record and share all of their experiences and to, maybe, just be in the space and not feel obliged to record.

The next iteration could be a camera app which uses facial recognition to force the user to stop taking pictures of the same faces; restricting selfies and making the photographer seek out new subjects (and/or friends). Knowing that the camera could reject a face, would make pictures more thoughtful and meaningful.


Antenna: Personalising Police Violence

Here’s another interesting prototype. Antenna by Dmitry Morozov.

A police truncheon that texts the officer’s mother every time it is used.

Simple: arduino, piezo and GSM shield.


Addicted products: The story of Brad the Toaster

Well, we’ve all bought products only to underuse and eventually forget about them. Like the proverbial gym membership which starts off as a life-changing adventure and ends up leaving us with a general sense of guilt and waste, only to be washed away by the next investment.

This Addicted Product, by Simone Rebaudengo and Haque Design, is a toaster which needs to be kept busy and useful or it may move on to a more deserving person.

This project looks at a future where individuals need to earn and appreciate their products and to be open to time-sharing technology. A real and speculative piece which uses the Internet of Things and Twitter to give personality and communication to our devices and raise issues of sustainability and waste.

The Golden Institute: Sascha Pohflepp

golden_instituteThe Golden Institute is an example of the kind of parallel reality design that I am currently exploring. It takes a point during the 1980 presidential election contest between Carter and Reagan and imagines an alternate future where the more ‘renewable energy’-friendly Carter triumphed.

This process really grabs my interest in that the designer can imagine another, better world and design for that reality. The designs may work in both our current and the alternate reality, but they just seem to function better in this other world. They are used more efficiently and more seriously. For me, this serves to more clearly illustrate better realities in the mind of the observer. Thus, he/she can make the leap to imagining a better world and of how to get there.

A facet of my own Masters project,, is an imaginary design agency in an alternate reality which also embraces ubiquitous technology, but with a more critical and human centred outlook.

Paper: What is “Critical” About Critical Design?

Critical DesignHere’s a link to an interesting paper which is taking a good hard look at Dunne & Raby’s interpretation of Critical Design.

The authors, Jeffrey Bardzell and Shaowen Bardzell, see these methods as being important to contemporary HCI research and are striving to define its qualities and apply them to recent designs. While most of the paper is devoted to specifying and reformulating Critical Design, not so much effort is put into applying this to practise, with only two short examples.

On the other hand, they make excellent points about the differences between art and design, especially in a critical and activist sense, and also show how design may infiltrate more reliably.

Nevertheless, it does explore and create some interesting tools and perspectives to help me in my current mission/obsession in reevaluating every design I see…

Frankfurt School


Utopian Thinking: Art Shostak