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Speculative and Critical Design for Designers

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Written by
Helen Carney
Published date
06 May 2016
Tobias Revell, Course Leader of BA (Hons) Information and Interface Design, Course Tutor on BA (Hons) Interaction Design Arts and Co-Founder of Strange Telemetry reports on the latest Speculative and Critical Design Summer School.

The new and emerging field of Speculative and Critical Design is most often seen in art galleries, graduation shows and on design blogs. Every summer, the design press reports on a range of weird and wonderful artifacts and videos from other worlds that seem designed to fulfil avant garde aesthetic demands rather than any design function or solve any problems.

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Strange Telemetry used speculative designs to provoke qualitative research amongst members of the public in a project about the future of ageing.

For educators like myself, Speculative and Critical Design provides a great set of tools for helping students to think about their designs in new contexts, beyond their direct experience. It enhances their ability to empathise with potential users and to design meaningful and rigorous products.

In the last few years, Speculative and Critical Design and its cousins in design fiction, experiential futures and critical engineering are becoming key tools of applied design practices across research and development, policy and innovation.

This July, Ben Stopher and myself are running a Speculative and Critical Design Summer School at London College of Communication to help professionals and researchers find ways to apply the skills and tools of speculative and critical practice to their own projects.

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Uninvited Guests is a design research project by Superflux looking at ways in which the Internet of Things might affect the lives of those not considered in the narratives of innovation.

London-based design studio Superflux have been using speculative and critical techniques in tandem with design ethnography to conduct research projects like Uninvited Guests which examines an alternative use case for Internet of Things products. This project, commissioned by ThingTank, aims to broaden the conversation with design and technology institutions and companies about what the potentials for the Internet of Things are. Superflux founder Anab Jain is one of our guest tutors and has been responsible for taking her incredible skills and experience to clients like Sony, the NHS, Microsoft and Nokia.

Nicolas Nova is another guest tutor and founder of Near Future Laboratory, one of the leading practices in the field. Their work has involved everything from developing wholesome social media and data visualisation apps by using design fiction in prototyping to fictional newspapers, product catalogues and instruction booklets aimed to help stimulate debate around new technologies.

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The To Be Designed catalogue was a collaborative project by Near Future Laboratory developing a fictional consumer catalogue of technologies from the future.

My research company Strange Telemetry has been pioneering the use of speculative and critical design in policy-making, working with the Government Office for Science conducting public consultancy on the future of ageing, and now involved with the Department for Transport on the future of rail.

These projects have been helping to reveal data on the changes affecting our society and how government reacts in a way that other design thinking techniques are incapable of doing. By presenting the public with tangible visions that they can get to grips with and debate rather than data and graphs, we helped to stimulate conversation and feedback that feeds back into policy.

It’s an exciting time as Speculative and Critical Design spreads into other fields. It’s proving itself to be a useful and sometimes key tool in digital and policy fields and the Summer School is a great opportunity to get a hands-on experience of the techniques and to see how it applies to your field.

Read more about LCC’s Summer Schools for professionals and book your place