In this week’s reading, we were provided two viewpoints to examine critique of speculative and critical design, both of which clearly see value in the practice, but have reservations about how the discipline is practiced, communicated to the public, and semantically categorized. Cameron Tonkenwise, in his piece Just Design: Being Dogmatic about Defining Speculative Critical Design Future Fiction, offers a more reactive, humorous, almost off-the-cuff reaction to the academically-driven navel-gazing tendency of speculative and critical design practice. Tonkenwise’s piece suggests that the assertion that these branches of design are nebulous and hard to define only serves to isolate and obfuscate them further into the annals of academia and ‘design for designers’. Tonkenwise additionally raises the point that this segmentation of methodologies—design versus critical design—is artificial, and designating them as other than traditional design practice is a misnomer. Is his words: “Thinking that these need to be added to design reinforces the mistaken belief that design is just an instrumental technical task—styling.” Tonkenwise delineates all the areas of speculative and critical design, as he see’s them, in a straightforward but somewhat lengthy taxonomy that makes a compelling case for how these intents or ways of futuring—arguably the primary role of designers—should manifest is all design processes, regardless of their self-defined ‘criticality’ or ‘speculation’.
Malpass’s paper: Between Wit and Reason, shares many of the same intentions, primarily a concern with speculative and critical design becoming “overly self-reflexive and introverted, sustained, practiced, and exchanged in a close community.” However, the Malpass piece offers a more concise and explicitly supported taxonomy of speculative, critical, and associative practice, that endorses the work as a discipline of its own, but clarifies its intent and value under the three aforementioned categories. Admittedly, this classification felt cleaner and more useful than the landscape Tonkenwise presented, perhaps in part because of the use of specific projects as examples to reinforce the categorization. Additionally, Malpass’s paper further unpacks each of the three categories by describing which ‘satirical mechanisms’ each employs, which serves to help both audiences and practitioners understand the forces at play in these design artifacts. Ambiguity, which also is used to differentiate the three practices, helps articulate what creates the sense of tension we feel when examining associative, speculative, or critical design objects and therefore more accurately discuss the implications of the artifact as a mode of conversation.
Though the papers serve different audiences—Tonkenwise calling out to designers to question the criticality and speculative elements of their own work and to critical designers to ask why they are rooted in art-house obscurity—Malpass delivering a more overarching framework for creating a better shared understanding of the practice between audience and practitioners—both authors shed light on the breaking points of the flavor of speculative / critical design that has been popularized by Dunne & Raby, and push the conversation forward though a confrontational but evaluative tone.