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.

Hey QT: Music For An Imaginary Product

DrinkQTI often write music for imaginary futures. Mind you, my current imaginary future seems to be some dystopian rockabilly desert-scape…

Here’s an artist/product that I’ve recently stumbled across, thanks to the Cool Freaks Wikipedia Club. It holds an interest for me in that the project has similarities and parallels to Speculative Design and video prototyping.

QT seems to be an alias for multiple people (performance artist, musician, vocalist) and lands in a crossover between wide-eyed sparkle-pop, futurism and product placement.

I appreciate that it is the sound of last Summer, but some of this whole project’s values and characteristics have stuck in my head. After a little digging, it seems that the energy drink which is being pushed (both directly and quite abstractly) does exist, but in a limited form.

Fronted by artist Hayden Dunham, produced by SOPHIE and pulled together under the interesting PC Music record label. Each facet is a kind of a misdirection for the greater good.

On first investigation, I saw that Ms. Dunham’s wikipedia page listed her as a performance artist. This fact had me wondering what the connection with an energy drink might be, and if there was some interesting and critical angle.

After listening to the song, my first question was as to why this Texan artist was singing in a pitched-up London accent? The whole thing started to separate into layers and jarred with me in the same way that new methods often do before they become normalised. I’m learning to appreciate this uncanny valley sensation as a pointer towards interesting things.

We have a performance artist miming to a song, produced by a member of a new collective label, which has an M.O. of presenting new artists as if they are already famous, and promoting an EDM-friendly energy drink which may, or may not, exist. What’s not to like? Well, the music isn’t my cup of tea, but the concept is certainly interesting. It all reminds me a little of the KLF’s The Manual or their fake Kalevala label in Finland. Not quite the Yes Men’s level of disruption and appropriation, but something to consider in a cultural context, nevertheless.

Although details about this collaboration are obviously blurred, I’m intrigued to find out how it all came together and where it will go in the future…

Vice article on PC Music

Dazed Article

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