Critical Design Cycle: summary of Roger Ibars and Lisa Ma‘s presentations

For the opening of the cycle 進化 – “Jinhuà,from image to science, from science to design” we had the pleasure to have with us two international designers who have distinguished themselves by their personal approach to critical and speculative design: Roger Ibars y Lisa Ma.

Roger Ibars’ presentation

Roger Ibars presented the main differences between traditional design (which he referred to as ‘affirmative design’) and critical and speculative design:

  • affirmative design creates proposals that define the interpretation of the design that the user should make and also frame the corresponding values
  • critical and speculative design uses less-restrictive proposals and aims to provoke debate and controversy in order to explore new ways of thinking about what could become a reality: new technologies, possible future applications of science, etc.
  • the strategy and techniques used in each case are quite different: whereas affirmative design approaches the user through the methods it popularizes, such as Design Thinking (people, prototypes, shadowing, etc.), critical and speculative design generates original and controversial objects (cultural probes, ‘placebo’ objects, etc.)

Roger shared with the audience a diagram with the different aspects of both types of design:

Interests and approximations of Critical Design (click on the image to enlarge)

Recalling the words of Anthony Dunne, affirmative design tries to reach the ‘happy ending’ between the designed object and the user. On the other hand, critical and speculative design looks for an ‘unhappy ending’, provoking friction and discussion.

Moreover, the appealing side of critical design does not end in the generation of controversy: from the debate it creates, new aspects of the object are explored (which otherwise would most likely not have arisen). It has a clear contribution for social debate.

Therefore, the Critical Design approach is useful to explore controversial and ambiguous issues, as the ones we have chosen for our cycle, internal contamination.

Here you can find the first video (of three) of Roger Ibars’ presentation. You can watch the rest of his presentation on La Mandarina de Newton Youtube channel.

Lisa Ma’s presentation

Lisa Ma has devoted herself to work with ‘fringe’ communities by means of critical and speculative design. One of her aims is to preclude the over-exploitation of these communities by the big brands. This is what happens, for example, when the design departments of fashion companies use these underfavoured communities to search for new ideas on how to dress or how they create music. These insights are then used to develop new products and services for mainstream communities of consumers, the wealthy and integrated ones. In other words, the benefits of exploiting the fringe communities end up being beneficial to others and, thus, the original communities do not get a clear advantage from their contribution.

Lisa Ma showed us several creative projects in which two or more fringe communities eventually ended developing services and activities for all the groups involved.

She introduced us to some of her own, really original, projects:

-Association of Feline Association: it takes as its point of departure the, apparently, interaction with cats (many of them with toxoplasmosis) to improve some feminine characteristics. The result is that ‘beauty addicts’ get in touch with the ‘cat ladies’ (women that take care of a considerable number of cats).

- Heathrow Heritage: communities of passengers that have to spend too many hours at the Heathrow airport get in touch with the community of activists against this airport. The result are touristic tours around Heathrow that include, for example, places related with Shakespeare.

- Farmification: it is a project with a community of chinese workers of a joystick factory (who come mainly from a farming background) that aims to offer them the opportunity to work part-time creating their own farm plots in the factory premises or in adjoining land plots.

Here you can find the first video (of three) of Lisa Ma’s presentation. You can watch the rest of her presentation on La Mandarina de Newton Youtube channel.

After the session with Miquel Porta, we will start a process of Critical and Speculative Design with which we aim to develop a design object from the topic ‘Internal Contamination’.


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