Critical Design as critique of the design status quo



Design Education Strategy


  • good citizenship, eco-sensitivity, ethics


Contemporary design practice (and theory) is growing up. There is evidence to support the emergence of a new breed of designer who is able to reflect on her or his role in society, and to be critical of what they make and what the resultant consequences of that may be.

Design is often used as a vehicle to criticise and comment on issues, highlight problems and shortcomings in society, and present views and perspectives. This suggests that design is at a distance and impartial, but the truth is otherwise. Design is ideological and an expression of the values mediated by the designer and commissioned by others. This is the status quo: affirmative design. When design steps away from this position and critiques itself, critical design is the result.

Presenting alternative perspectives and reflecting on the role of design is its purpose. This paper will address this emerging phenomenon that originated in product design, and the discourse extant to the work of Dunne and Raby. By identifying the characteristics of critical design and visualising the pathways, processes and consequences that distinguish it from affirmative design, the paper will argue that design practices, other than product design, can be scrutinised according to this model.

Furthermore the virtues of the designer’s authorial voice will be extolled as reflexive of this and necessary to establishing a culture of design critique, and to positioning critical design as an integral, important and necessary part of design discourse.  

DEFSA conferences

DEFSA promotes relevant research with the focus on design + education through its biennial conferences, to promote professionalism, accountability and ethics in the education of young designers. Our next conference is a hybrid event. See above for details.

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