Criticality: Launch brief

Yesterday, Theo gave a long talk introducing the 3 week Criticality project. The presentation he gave was very similar to the constellation module Critical Practice in Art and Design that Theo taught in first year, which I had attended, so I was very familiar with most of the ideas, examples of work and the themes that he talked about. Theo gave an insight into what he’s achieved throughout his design career, which was really interesting and inspirational. He showed us a list of just some of the different role names his practices have come under, such as; artist, designer, Design consultant, product designer, interaction, UX designer, UI designer, graphic designer, information architect, author, critic, illustrator, artist, poet, photographer, cross-stitcher, film director, company director, editor, salesperson, teacher, manager, trustee, and many, many other roles. This reinforces that Theo’s work is not Art or Design, but a combination of the two.

He also discussed what it means to be ‘critical’ and what it means to be ‘affirmative’. I learnt that to be critical is to design for debate, for designs/art to be thought-provoking and engaging, whereas to be affirmative is to design for production, to have a standard view on things.

The following quote by Dunne & Raby explains what it means to be critical to these people:

Critical Design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life.

It is more of an attitude than anything else, a position rather than a method. There are many people doing this who have never heard of the term critical design and who have their own way of describing what they do. Naming it Critical Design is simply a useful way of making this activity more visible and subject to discussion and debate.

Its opposite is affirmative design: design that reinforces the status quo. – Dunne & Raby

After this, he talked about the term ‘zeitgeist’ which translates from German to, time (zeit) and spirit (geist). This term can be used in any subject area across the school, as it simply means using things – this could be materials, ideologies or behaviours from the past. Artefacts that exemplify a certain era, such as the link between neon colours and the 90’s, peace, love and the hippie style to the 60’s. It’s expected that in many centuries to come, our generation will be remembered for its plastic usage and disposal. In short, zeitgeist is our understanding of something due to our exposure to it.

Theo also highlighted the importance of conceptualism within this project. It makes a viewer think carefully about a message someone or something is trying to communicate. A great example of conceptualism is Banksy. In October 2018, the Girl and Balloon was auctioned and sold for £860,000. As soon as the piece sold, the frame began to shred the painting, stopping halfway down.  Banksy was trying to communicate the message that art shouldn’t be something people should buy to put up on their walls in their home for no real reason, and that it’s in fact about creating art for enjoyment and satisfaction. Banksy’s only way of rejecting the establishment is to sabotages their attempt to profit from his artwork. Conceptualist artists and designers’ aim is to change the way others see the world, and the process of this is amazing.

Theo then showed some critical design work from previous students which was really useful to help contextualise initial thoughts and ideas going forward for the project.

For example, this project Like Fatigue by Thea Hickman-Riding is really interesting as it shows a phone screen in full colour and a greyscale background. This implies that the phone user is focusing solely on the likes on the phone and is unaware of their surroundings. If you look closely, you can see reasons as to why each person liked the user’s post on each “like” notification such as “liked your photo for attention” and “liked your photo because you paid for it” etc.

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