Week 18: Critical Design

by wangtianchen

It is a new methodology and new value in design!

It changes in the way people think and behave!

What is it?

In this week, I read a very interesting article about a new phenomenon tagged as “Critical Design” and watched one video “Speculative Everything” by Anthony Dunne. As I understand Critical design and Speculative design, there are the same method, take a critical theory based approach to design. This kind of design uses speculative design proposals to challenge assumptions, conceptions about the role of objects play in everyday life.

So Critical design is social commentary through designing. Calling it design rather than art leads viewers to believe that the design exists, or could really exist in the real world. Because of this, the response from the viewer is stronger, and their level of engagement can be greater. Critical design exists to throw up questions, often about ethical implications of current issues. Critical Design focuses on studying the impact and possible consequences of new technologies and policies,of worldwide social and environmental trends, as well as outlining new goals and areas of interest for designers. [1]


How it is different from conventional approaches to design?

Dunne and Raby’s work, as their title suggests, is as close to science fiction as it is to conventional design in attempting to envisage new worlds and often shocking scenarios. But what it is not about is attempting to precipitate a particular future. Critical design does not aim to “nudge” us towards a particular model; rather, it is about thinking through the implications of what just might happen.

The relationship between critical and conventional design might be likened to the difference between conceptual art and sculpture. The former is more about the idea than the artwork; its aim is to provoke. The latter is about the artwork itself, its beauty, its execution, its take on representation or abstraction. [2]


Any good examples?

There are lots of good examples of critical design. I am going to take an example of a piece of critical design, “The honeycomb Vase” by Tomas Gabzdil Libertiny in 2005.


Tomas Gabzdil Libertiny, 1979


“Honeycomb Vase” (picture from Google Images)

Description: The project was conceived in 2005 as part of Tomáš Libertíny’s graduation project. The series of vases were completely “made by bees”. After 4 months of learning from beekeepers the inner workings of nature, Libertíny invited new colonies of bees to participate on his designs. The result was now iconic edition of vases. The project extended into other works under the “made by bees” concept. In 2008, one of the vases was acquired by MoMA after being featured in Design and The Elastic Mind exhibition. [3]

tomas gabzdil 21

Edition 3/7 | Collection Museum Of Modern Arts
Photo Raoul Kramer (8×10″ Instant Polaroid)

The_Honeycomb_Vase_red_number_4 The_Honeycomb_Vase_red_number_4_detail

Red Edition 4/7 | Private Collection
Photo René van der Hulst

The material comes from flowers as a by-product of bees and in the form of a vase ends up serving flowers on their last journey. It took 40,000 bees and one week to make a single vase. Not meaning it as a euphamism, we called this process “slow prototyping”.


It takes 40,000 bees a week to make each vase, each of which is completely different.




[1] Smith, L. (2012). Critical Design. Retrieved February 01, 2015 from https://liorsmith.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/critical-design/#more-1410

[2] Heathcote, E. (2014). “Speculative Everything” by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. Retrieved February 01, 2015 from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/d9a0f03c-7e9f-11e3-8642-00144feabdc0.html

[3] Libertiny. (2013).  The honeycomb Vase. Retrieved February 01, 2015 from http://www.studiolibertiny.com/work/#/the-honeycomb-vase-yellow/