Critical Reading 01

Session summary

When using a text as part of a research project it’s important to be able to judge the origins and context of the text. Especially now that texts are so easily published and spread, the quality of texts available is wildly variable. Who wrote this? And what makes him or her an authority on the subject? And what agenda is being pushed?

I believe that I generally have a decent ‘bull-shit radar’, and I tend to quickly become a bit adversarial when I come across strong statements…

But although this may  be helpful most of the time there is no method to it, and it’s also not very helpful in developing my understanding on any subject. And of course we are all inherently biased even when we think we are not. So in that regard reading these texts together was a really good reminder of the inherent bias we all carry around. Adopting a more methodical approach to critical reading can be

“My city is the city where 2000 people died in the first two days of a massive heat-wave last week, among the first wave of casualties to global climate change, and where thousands of citizens mobilized and shouldered the responsibilities of supplying overcrowded hospitals and clinics with water, ice, and medicines when the government failed to act and the clergy was still exhorting people to keep fasting in the heat.”

Ahmed Ansari sketches a dramatic image of urgency. People are suffering. Today. And in the mean time the white privileged design professional is entertaining himself with frivolous provocations and showing very little understanding of today’s world. Or this is at least what Ansari states.

And it’s not hard to see where he is coming from. It reminds me of the image of a daydreaming child, looking up into the sky, imagining space travel while oblivious to the traffic around him. Some problems are more urgent then others, and it’s a good idea to plug the holes in the boat before setting a course for the horizon.

And I cannot help but feel Ansari is talking directly to me: the white privileged designer who has never had to worry about the roof over his head. So it makes sense then that organizations like WhatDesignCanDo sets up competitions to invite designers to engage with these urgent challenges, such as the refugee crisis.

But of this “Refugee Challenge” organized by WDCD Ruben Pater says it is “…absurd to suggest that design can come up with solutions for a crisis that is political and socio-economic at heart.” Which also makes sense. Developing better refugee shelters is not likely going to bring peace to the Middle East.

Or, as Dunne and Raby put it:

“Clearly, the world is not in a good shape and there is plenty of scope for making things better, but using design to solve problems is not always possible, especially when we are facing such an extreme and complex situation.”

Obviously there are are contrasting philosophies here, and emotions can run a bit hot even. Especially when topics are as polarizing as the refugee crisis.

But I’m going to take a slightly unexciting position here. These approaches are not mutually exclusive. There is a need for designers to work on todays urgent challenges, responding to the world around us with direct solutions or comments. But if we dismiss any project that is a bit more speculative or fictional as provocations that reflect the fears, anxieties, desires, imaginaries, and ultimately, politics of an intellectual, liberal progressive white middle class that believes in the promise and purity of technological progress” (Ahmed Ansari) that also disqualifies most art, music and a lot of other things.

























My point of view on the subject of social design, in response to the articles we read:

First of all ‘design’ is a word that is used in different ways – and it seems to me we are not always speaking about the same thing in this debate.

As people have different types of personalities, talents and skillsets there are a range of very different types of designers. Some designers are really good at solving small day-to-day problems. Other designers are really good at bringing people together. Other designers are more interested in looking beyond short term challenges and want to bring future problems to our attention. All these approaches are valid


nd I don’t think it would be productive to have all designers work on the same subjects, with the same philosopies. I




When Lucas Verweij states “back then design was still an adjective, not a verb”, this is factually untrue (  but also it’s not a very productive statement.