Week 5: Design Noir by Fiona Raby & Anthony Dunne

In the section “Design is ideological” in ,Dunne & Raby’s Design Noir they make the assertion that design must not only be a process of material production (a function of industry as a means to create a product), but a process which embodies reflection and criticism. According to D&R all design is ideological (as opposed to neutral) and is a process informed by perspectives and values.  They create two categories for which design can be characterized in two ways: affirmative and critical. 

These practices differ in that affirmative design reinforces expectation and the status quo, while Critical design treats the status quo as merely a possibility from which to create not only new or improved objects but (hopefully) well developed alternative values and experiences, or at the very least creating dialogue beyond the preexisting social, technical, and economic expectations. D&R seem to be ultimately emphasizing that design has a capacity to create new experiences, and should not be limited to reinforcing already existing ones. 


Experimental Design

"Experimental" Design


Critical Design

"Critical" Design

Critical Design is a means to ask questions, to create dialogue and debate amongst not only designers but industry and the public as well. D&R frequently characterize their own work and work they designate as critical design as “Design For Debate”, a mantra many of their students and contemporaries invoke frequently. D&R differentiate this practice from “experimental design”, which they characterize as extending a medium in the name of progress and aesthetic novelty, whereas critical design attempts to push the limits of the lived experience.


D&R address the current state of design in the context of global capitalism, industry, and mass consumerism. They explain that design is stifled by these forces and serves on their values; thus critical design will be ignored, not produced or distributed, and treated as suspicious or unreal. In other words, professional designers seem to be currently limited to the practice of affirmative design. D&R explain that critical design, which they champions as (un)popular design, is necessary for the practice of design or else the “design profession is destined to loose all intellectual credibility and be viewed simply as an agent of capitalism.” Ultimately the importance of this idea is that D&R want to invoke a shift from emphasis of the object to emphasis on the experience the object can offer.

Noam Toran’s short film Desire Management (of which this clip is only one segment of) helps us envision a world inhabited by (Un)popular design.

(Un)popular design

(Un)popular design


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