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.

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.


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


Million Dollar Blocks: Political Design


Million Dollar Blocks was a project by Spatial Information Design Labs at Columbia University. Using data from the US criminal justice system, they approached data visualisation in a much more thoughtful and effective way.

Where others’ instinct was to create heat maps of high crime areas, so the more privileged could avoid them, or misdirect finance towards gentrification; the folk at SIDL visualised in a much more effective way.

Million Dollar Blocks visualised the specific people who had been incarcerated and highlighted the blocks and areas where they came from.

“The United States currently has more than 2 million people locked up in jails and prisons. A disproportionate number of them come from a very few neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities. In many places the concentration is so dense that states are spending in excess of a million dollars a year to incarcerate the residents of single city blocks. When these people are released and reenter their communities, roughly forty percent do not stay more than three years before they are reincarcerated.”

With this mapping, you could see how much each block was costing the taxpayer and it quickly became obvious where taxes could be spent with much more effectiveness.

An excellent example of Political Design over Design for Politics.

URL: Million Dollar Blocks
BOOK: Adversarial Design by Carl DiSalvo


Researching Design Methodologies: Critical, Adversarial, etc.


Welcome to the new YANB 2015. I ran this domain as a new media art blog for one year back in 2005, and then forgot about it. Now that I’m partly through a Masters in Interactive Media at the University of Limerick, I’ve decided to resurrect the site as my design research blog.

It won’t be a straight design blog. I’m exploring areas like:

Speculative Design
Critical Design
Design Fiction
Design Futures
Radical Design
Interrogative Design
Design for Debate
Adversarial Design
Discursive Design
Political Design

So, I’m going to use this site to write about and explore any interesting design and art that I stumble across in my research. A notebook for me, and a collection for you.