Criteria: A Conference on Critical Design

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Criteria. a conference on critical design

May 20, 2017 Sursock Museum

Friedrich von Borries World Design: A Political Theory of Design Biography

Prof. Dr. Friedrich von Borries, born 1974, is an architect and since 2009 Professor for Design Theory at the Hamburg University of Fine Art. He studied architecture at the Berlin University of the Arts, the ISA St. Luc Bruxelles and the Technical University Karlsruhe, where he received a Ph.D. in 2004. He also worked as a research assistant and lecturer at the Berlin Technical University (2001-2003) and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation (2002-2005) and was research fellow at the ETH Zurich (2007-2008) and the MIT, Massachusetts. In 2007, he became a visiting professor for Urban Research at the Nuremberg Academy of Fine Arts. From 2003 to 2009 he run the office raumtaktik in Berlin together with Matthias Böttger. He also was the general commissioner and curator of the German Contribution to the XI. Venice Architectural Biennal (2008). His Berlin-based office “Projektbüro Friedrich von Borries” operates between the blurring boundaries of urban planning, architecture, design and art. The focus of his work is the relation of design practice and socio-political development. “As scientists we try to comprehend the world. As designers we try to change this world. That is why we deal with such questions that determine our contemporary situation by designing and researching the matters on hand: global economic inequality, environmental destruction and climate change, technologies of surveillance and security policies.”

Björn Franke Between Abstract Worlds and Concrete Theories Abstract

For many, design is the production of useful artefacts. Designing can however also provide a basis for exploration, speculation or critique. This lecture develops this conception further by providing a theoretical framework for conceiving designing and design objects as a mode of and media for philosophical inquiry. Thereby, design is regarded as a material philosophy that explores and reflects philosophical issues by situating them in the concrete and particular reality of human life rather than in a generalised and abstract realm.


Björn Franke is a design practitioner and theorist. He is Senior Lecturer in Design History and Theory at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and the Zurich University of the Arts, having previously studied design at the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and the Royal College of Art. Franke has been awarded fellowships at the Akademie Schloss Solitude as well as the Artist Residency Schloss Balmoral. His work has been published and featured in exhibitions internationally, most recently at the MUDAC Lausanne in Switzerland and the Triennale di Milano Design Museum in Italy.

Oliver Baron What a Beautiful ParaSITE! Looking at Critical Design Through Philosophical Spectacles Abstract

When it comes to criticism, design, unlike fine art, can’t move towards total negativity. By losing any connection to function, design would not be design anymore. But if so, what shall those of us who believe in the unique strength of our profession but do not want to contribute to the driving forces of our society, consumerism and control, do? In this situation, “Critical Design” might be the most intelligent method to take action we have developed so far. As I will examine in my talk, this assumption seems to be true also from the perspective of a philosophical school of thought that had its heyday 50 years ago, but still might provide interesting insights for our purpose: that of “Critical Theory.” By analysing an object by Michael Rakowitz named “paraSite” with concepts of T. W. Adorno, I would like to honour the approach of a “provocative technology” which has an immediate function for a specific user group, but also triggers a self-reflection for an audience. Thereby I will develop terms and criteria to judge design concepts in general. My talk will end with a brief application of these criteria on the participatory design approach as well as on selected social design projects.


After a doctoral dissertation in cultural sciences and 10 years experience as an executive designer and board member in leading design agencies, serving clients like Audi, Siemens or Infineon, Oliver started to work as a professor for “Design and Economy” at Köln International School of Design (KISD) in 2010. He is regularly conducting international projects (e.g. Cape Town, Hong Kong, Hanoi) and is giving talks in the field of design theory worldwide (e.g. in Tokyo, Mumbai, Glasgow). Oliver is responsible for the “Master of European Design” program (MEDES) at KISD, as well as for the publisher of the institute, the KISDedition. His research focus lies in the field of Management Studies, Aesthetics and Critical Theory. Recent book publication: Design und Okonomie, Paderborn: UTB 2015. Upcoming: Die Kunst der Unternehmensfuhrung im Zeitalter der Algorithmen (The Art of Executive Management in the Age of Algorythms).

Toke Riis Ebbesen Useless Critical Design Abstract According to Raby, critical design creates artefacts in order to “challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions, and givens about the role products play in everyday life” (Raby, 2008, 94). Conceived basically as “useless,” the value of critical design “ultimately lies in its ability to evaluate: articulate, refuse, critique, spark, turn, transgress, formulate, transform, etc.” (Rosenbak, 5.15). However, circulating mainly in “art galleries, conference halls and academic publications” (Blythe, Yauner & Rodgers, 2015), useless critical design artefacts have been criticized for never entering everyday life (Bardzell & Bardzell, 2013). Despise attempts to broaden its reach, it has been argued that most critical design instead “reflects the fears, anxieties, desires, imaginaries, and ultimately, politics of an intellectual, liberal progressive white middle class” (Ansari & Hunt, 2015, 4). Removed from practical use, critical design may then become another echo chamber for designers, where they can safely repeat the slogans of design modernism without changing the world. The aim of this presentation will be to return to critical design in the light of the concept of use, and thus to critically examine what the use of critical design can be. Biography Toke Riis Ebbesen is an assistant professor in Design Studies at the cross-disciplinary research unit SDU Design at University of Southern Denmark. Trained as a design historian, a former editor, project manager and publisher in the IT and publishing businesses, his research interests span from digital design, design on social media and book design, to semiotics and design hybrids.

Amelie Goldfuss Fantastic Devices: Design Fiction as Stimulant for Thought Abstract

Design fiction has made it into museums and galleries. It’s supposed to act as a stimulant for thought instead of satisfying practical needs and has done its job considerably well. But how can we bring fiction back from the gallery into everyday life? And how are we getting from fiction to action? I’m going to present fictional devices that are meant to be planted in real homes. Do we perceive such devices differently in different settings and over different periods of time? How close do we need (or want) to get to both, objects and people? Can these devices act as tools for design research as well as objects for thought? In short: What can design do and where can it go from here?


After studying industrial design, communication design and book art in Halle and Florence, Amelie worked for Studio Marije Vogelzang in the Netherlands. During her studies she developed a strong interest in design fiction and critical design. She has co-organized several events concerning internet culture and surveillance and is planning to continue work in this field. She is interested in the potential of the unfinished and in how fiction shapes reality. By creating objects that clearly belong in the realm of the imaginary but are then put in a real everyday environment she aims to learn about people’s needs, wishes, opinions and feelings about existing or future technologies and their impact on everybody’s life.

Daniel Jasper Critical Design: As a Matter of Course Abstract

Former head of the Design program at Cranbrook Academy, Kathryn McCoy said ‘Design is not a neutral, value-free process; however, we have trained a profession that feels political or social concerns are either extraneous to our work or inappropriate.’ McCoy described a sort of tacit knowledge (and knowledge production) that became codified within the Western academy after World War II in which formal design production typically results in concrete statements couched in positive terms, which celebrate consumerism, consumer products and the munificent culture that produced them. Theorist Guy Debord characterized the psycho-philosophical underpinnings of this mediated environment in the following terms, ‘Everything that appears is good; whatever is good will appear.’ In this regard design (graphic, product, apparel) acts as the process by which this self-congratulatory monologue is made flesh, expressed physically in the form of what seem to be ideologically inert objects. As design educators, practitioners and scholars in a historically incurious profession one might be forgiven for asking is this all there is? Is client-based practice the only prescribed outcome for our intellectual and creative endeavors and those of our students? In addition to critical thinking and critical writing, is there room for critical design in design research, pedagogy and practice?


Daniel Jasper is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. His research combines a critical analysis of consumer society as it relates to design with political activism and an emphasis on the “everyday” experience. Jasper’s designs have been featured in numerous books on critical practices in contemporary Graphic Design. His work has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally most recently in an exhibition entitled Got the Message? 50 Years of Political Posters at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Australia. He received an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University in 1999.

Daisy Alexandra Ginsberg Better Abstract

Designers often advocate that design makes things better. In promising a better future, they are not alone: engineers, marketers, politicians and scientists also invoke the imaginary of better, creating dreams that have very material effects. In some of these visions, “better” will be delivered by science and technology; in others, the consumption of designed things will better us or the world. “Better” itself has become a contemporary version of progress, shed of some of its philosophical baggage. But it is not a universal good or a verified measure: better is imbued with politics and values. And better will not be delivered equally, if at all. “What is better?” and “Who gets to decide?” are questions with great implications for the way we live and hope to live. This talk explores how critical design can be used to address these questions, while considering critical design’s complicated relationship to bettering, as a critical yet optimistic practice. Drawing on my experiences working with the visionaries of synthetic biology — a new approach to genetic engineering — I consider how critical design and its position of critical optimism can usefully question better, and open up the possibility for alternatives.


Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg develops experimental approaches to imagine alternative values around design, science and technology. Daisy explores aesthetics and ethics with collaborators around the world, including scientists, engineers, artists, designers, social scientists, museums and industry. Lead author of Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature (MIT Press, 2014), her PhD research, Better, in Design Interactions at London’s Royal College of Art (expected 2017), looks into the powerful social imaginary of “better” and its influence on our lives. Daisy received the London Design Medal for Emerging Talent 2012, and her work has been twice nominated for Designs of The Year (2011, 2015).

Jana Traboulsi A Design Manifesto: A Critique of Graphic Design Education Abstract

This paper proposes a critical look at the state of graphic design and visual communication in Lebanon today. These fields have witnessed a boom in the last twenty years in the country, with the opening of numerous schools and university programs, but also the flourishing of advertising agencies and design studios. The time has come to stop and think critically of how this field has and can affect the society it grows in and is a product of. As a practitioner in the fields of design and illustration mainly, but also as an academic, I will base myself on my professional experience to propose a series of concerns about design thinking as a social, cultural and political act.


Jana Traboulsi is an illustrator and graphic designer. For the past twelve years, she has been teaching while maintaining an active practice, collaborating with social and cultural institutions, combining both her practices in publications mainly. She is the co-founder of Sigil art collective, and art director of Snoubar Bayrout publishing house, Bidayat magazine and Dawawine cultural center. As an illustrator, her work includes editorial illustrations and comics for magazines and newspapers in Lebanon and abroad. She has published over 10 illustrated books including 3 in children literature. Her work has been exhibited locally and internationally.

Karma Dabaghi The Agency of Discursive Design Exists in the Industrial Abstract

It is my position that product designers need to deepen their understanding of Discursive Design, an approach focused on articulating criticism of the status quo and help it step out of the gallery. By extending the agency of this approach beyond the intellectual realm of the elite and into the much larger world of the industrial institutions that create and control economies, designers will show new possibilities to the producers of products, reshape their mentalities, and help them act more responsibly. As opposed to the commercial product, I advocate for the twenty-first-century Activist Discursive Object. This object acts as a catalyzer for change that rejects the old-fashioned model of an individual designer aspiring to create the perfect aesthetic, in favor of a collaborative team-based multidisciplinary practice where comprehensive solutions are offered for the global commons.


Product designer and architect Karma Dabaghi earned her Master of Design in Designed Objects from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago after completing a B.Arch from McGill University in Montreal. Karma taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she developed and ran a number of studio-based and lecture classes between 2009 and 2016. She also led multiple Design Thinking workshops and helped build the Executive Design Thinking Program for Professionals for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Outside of academia, she worked with a start-up company imagining design solutions for various projects and in architectural firms of different scales. Her design work has included collaborations with international commercial design companies such as Bruce Mau Design, where she contributed to a research project dedicated to imagining the future of Chicago’s Burnham Plan for the next century. Her collaborative work with DuPont and Danese Milano was featured in Intramuros and Core77, resulting in exhibitions at Neocon, Chicago and at FuoriSalone, Milan.

Davin Browner Conaty Filippo Sanzeni Minwoo Kim Artificial Intelligence and Future Agency Abstract

Can transparent systems, applied to pervasive artificial intelligence, make for safer future social environments? Design is a need in emerging contexts regarding new technologies, such as artificial intelligence. We think there needs to be a further shift in emphasis focused towards designing in relation to the distinct relationship between language, interactions, systems and agency embodied in these new technologies. Design shouldn’t just show people how to use technology but also show how it is using them. As designers, we should be creating new hybrid affordances and visual cues to make this dynamic relationship explicit. We have explored scenarios in which personal autonomy and agency are overridden by an artificial intelligence system. So how should we respond to this new limiting factor over free will? Should we cede some of autonomous control in favour of heteronomous control? What are the ethical implications of this? We think that in order to start public debate and discussion we need to define objects and systems not as static products but as open, evolving, and dynamic sets of relations between different technologies. Alexa or Google Home feel physically singular but these products are part of an ecosystem of relations, which works as real world computational control over human behaviour. Further, we want to emphasise that these are mostly silent and intangible computations, which need to be explicitly designed and controlled with these considerations in mind.


Davin holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy with minors in English Literature as well as Sociology. His final thesis was in the philosophy of language, linguistics and ethics. His other areas of research were artificial intelligence and neurophilosophy, metaphysics, experimental methods in philosophy and ethnography. He is from Dublin and is a working sound/experience designer and is working on a number of ongoing research topics. Filippo took a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication Design from Politecnico di Milano. Two of his designs were featured during 2015’s Expo in Milano, showcased in the Design District in via Durando 8. He completed a dissertation on phenomenology and emotion in Interaction Design in his final year. He holds a black belt in karate and was twice Italian champion. Some of his most innovative work is in DIY and he is currently working on various sound-systems, including a modular synthesizer. Minwoo holds a Master of Engineering in Interior Design and two Bachelor Degrees in Architecture, specialising in Interior Architecture and Design and Computer Science. He graduated with a final theses about Hybrid Adaptive Interfaces, Prefabrication Design and Augmented Reality Technology. He was a visiting lecturer in Soongsil University, Korea between 2013 and 2014, having classes in Basic Architectural Design: Fractals in Nature, Media Production and Practice and Digital Fabrication. He has extensive experiences as a researcher in the Department of Media.

Bernd Hopfengärtner Life is Good for Now: Fictional Scenes in Future Constellation Abstract

Let’s say, in the coming years, Switzerland has managed to fully realize the right of informational self determination devising a functional infrastructure to protect it. Every citizen would have total control of their personal data, granting or denying access to anyone else. Huge data collections would be accumulated but with people’s knowledge and consent. The power of data analysis to improve medical treatment, uncover hidden relationships or design more efficient systems could be fully harnessed, without having to worry about its dark sides. This hypothetical future allows to refocus from the dangers of data abuse to the logic of data analysis. How would it condition the way we think about ourselves, our relationships, how we tell stories? In my work, I’m interested in the wayward little scenes that emerge when the big scenarios come alive. Little scenes, partial and open that do not aim to solve problems or design solutions but explore and rig out small spaces in the realm of the thinkable.


Bernd Hopfengärtner is a designer who observes scientific concepts and ideas, current technical developments and cultural phenomena. His interest lies in the interdependencies of these fields and the spaces of possibility spanning between them. His work is about designing these spaces by creating tangible and more or less concrete artifacts: stories, videos and objects. By imagining the possible, the speculative, the non-existent, Art and Design can contribute to a broader discourse in a way that is not accessible by purely analytical means. Bernd is interested in Design as an interdisciplinary intermediary, placed in-between natural science, engineering, cultural and media theory and everyday-life. He holds a BFA from the Bauhaus-University in Weimar and an MA(RCA) from the Royal College of Art in London. His work was exhibited, among others, at the Wellcome Trust in London, the MoMA in New York and the National Museum of China in Beijing. Parallel to his own artistic and design practice he worked as lecturer at several art schools and universities, most recently at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne. He lives in Berlin.

Paco Mejias Tanzil Shafique Welcome to Bordertown: A Prefab Solution of Border Walls for Social Encounters Abstract

Rather than a line that divides, the border must be reconceptualized as a place of social enrichment with the other, an osmotic frontier for a cultural and emotional exchange. What is the role of critical design in this? We will present the theoretical idea behind the design and illustrate it by means of sample-prefabricated modules for border walls, which can be mass produced and exported all over the world wherever there is border conflict. The pieces will have the required condition for a border—it will separate people from both sides (only physically)—but it will encourage all kind of non-material exchange (services, information and emotions) through curious juxtapositions of the programs. This idea has been explored by projecting artifacts (drawings of the prefab wall solutions) coalesced into a catalogue of the different pieces. Ordering from this catalogue, a border could be assembled as the context demands and yet perversely negate its role to separate people. We welcome you to Bordertown, the seed of a new city where mutual curiosity and understanding will be able to overcome political, social or economic barriers. The actual value and meaning of work within a knowledge economy.


Tanzil Shafique is a Design Research Specialist working at the Dean’s office at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. Paco Mejias is an Associate Professor of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, an outreach Center of the same school. Both are founders and co-directors of Estudio Abierto/Open Studio, a collaborative think-and-do tank, operating at the intersection of architecture and urbanism.

The MENA Design Research Center, in conjunction with Beirut Design Week and in collaboration with the Sursock Museum, is proud to host Criteria: A Conference on Critical Design. This twoday event will explore the theories and practices of critical design, an emerging field dedicated to challenging the industrial underpinnings of design and questioning its continued relevance in our quickly changing world. The Criteria panels will bring forward conversations about the theoretical orientations of critical design and its educational applications, as well as critical design as praxis and prototype. The event as a whole aims to connect critical design to other critical turns in the arts, humanities, and social sciences and to distill the value of critical design to this year’s Beirut Design Week theme, Is Design a Need?

10:00 AM to 11:00 AM

Registration Sursock Museum Auditorium Level - 2

11:00 AM to 11:30 AM

Welcome To Criteria Opening Speech

11:30 AM to 1:30 PM

CRITERIA I: EXPLORING THEORY Friedrich Von Borries | Toke Riis Ebbesen Oliver Baron | Karma Dabaghi | Franke Björn

1:30 PM to 2:30 PM

Lunch Break

2:30 PM to 4:30 PM

Criteria 2: Critical Learning Jana Traboulsi | Promila Roychoudhury Antonio Cesare Iadarola | Daniel Jasper

4:30 PM to 5:00 PM

Coffee Break

5:00 PM to 6:30 PM

Criteria 3: Prototyping Interventions Bernd Hopfengärtner | Daisy Alexandra Ginsberg Amelie Goldfuss | Paco Mejias | Filippo Sanzeni

6:30 PM to 7:30 PM

Criteria Closing Remarks

Criteria. A Conference on Critical Design

The MENA Design Research Center is pleased to host an interdisciplinary conference that focuses on the value of critical theory to design, arts, social sciences, and media. The conference aims to encourage interdisciplinary engagement that brings together academics and practitioners to share knowledge on how critical theory encourages social change by challenging assumptions about the status quo. The conference seeks to understand how the relatively new field of Critical Design positions the design discipline within a larger constellation of critically-oriented research. As Dunne, Raby, and others have shown, critical design, as opposed to affirmative design, asserts that design ought “to raise issues, to ask questions and to challenge assumptions”1 rather than only emphasizing problem-solving and production. Critical Design uncovers the “values, ideologies, and behavioral norms” that design processes often obscure.2 In the same vein as the Frankfurt School-inspired critical theory that preceded it, critical design is a research orientation dedicated to transgressing and undermining social conformity, passivity, and other values of capitalist ideology, in hopes of bringing about social emancipation.3 We are surrounded by products that give us an illusion of choice and encourage passivity. But “industrial design’s position at the heart of consumer culture could be subverted for more socially beneficial ends by providing a unique aesthetic medium that engages the user’s imagination.”​2 With increasing social and environmental challenges, the future seems unnerving; however, instead of taking critical and opposing stances, many tend to conform and retreat into self-constructed consumerist realities. Social media helps create the illusion that humanity is passionately united under similar causes and struggles, but in reality most have accepted these world challenges as norms. What roles can designers play in such circumstances? Designers are taught and expected to use their skills to create products and experiences that shape the opinions, values, emotions, and behaviors of their users. With what tools and methods do critical designers need to be equipped in order to become agents of change? How can designers disrupt the value that systems and generations of products have created since industrialization and shed light on contemporary social issues to which we have become oblivious?

For example, in 2010, a group of Lebanese students showcased a range of products that critiqued aspects of Lebanese society at the Salone del Mobile in Milan. These products included ​Union – a radio that allows users to listen to all six main political party stations simultaneously; ​INcognito – a dome-shaped umbrella that addresses the physical impositions​ of the burka; and D ​ ust in the Wind – a product that critiques the illegality of Dunne, A. (2006). ​Hertzian Tales: Electronic Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design. MIT Press. 2 Dunne, A., and Raby, F. (2001). ​Design Noir: ​ The Secret Life of Electronic Objects. Birkhäuser. 3 Barthes, R. (2000). ​Mythologies. London: Vintage.


cremation in Lebanon. The exhibition was named ‘Design in Times of Crisis’. Although these students may not have been aware of critical design, their projects nevertheless epitomized the drives and motivations of this new, emerging field. Therefore, critical design needs to be located within an epistemological network of critically-oriented research, especially with a focus on local context. The conference is set to take place on the 20th May 2017 during the sixth annual Beirut Design Week. MENA Design Research Center welcomes proposals for presentations, papers, workshops, or artefacts from media, design, and social sciences students, scholars, and practitioners.

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