Guest Lecture – Cameron Tonkenwise

I found Tonkenwise’s guest lecture to be particularly insightful, contributing to my understanding of the history of SCD and the context it was born out of, as well as providing a philosophical grounding for the purpose of debating SCD in academia, and contributing a few salient examples of SCD practice that transcend the ‘DNR’ brand in meaningful ways.

Firstly, framing SCD as emerging from the desire for a ‘research practice’ within design studies makes sense; diegetic prototyping as a method for exploring experimental outcomes of design are a way of learning by making, a intuitive designerly process. It affords a sort of academic progress to be made into unexplored regions of design practice without encroaching on the more quantitive (and well established) disciplines of HCI and human factors research.

Additionally, relating the academic critique to the Hegelian concept of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis provides a rational for the (arguably quite harsh) critique he’s written of SCD practice, particularly of the ‘DNR’ brand. I was also pleasantly surprised that he rebutted against the post-modernist notion of ‘the death of the author’ as a veil to hide from real debate because I personally see a lot of legitimacy in the ‘death of the author’ argument, but in the context of SCD, it evades all criticality and removes the designer from the conversation. This is counterintuitive because if the intent of the creation of the artifacts is to spark debate, the creators of the artifacts should be equally willing to participate in the debate they generate.

I also liked his critique of the well known ‘arc of futures’ diagram by asking why the ‘preferable’ cone intersected with probable and plausible. This simple choice in diagramming implicitly assumes that what we prefer cannot deviate too far from what is expected, lest it be out in the crazy realms of design fiction or the ‘possible’ futures. Additionally, its orientation suggests ‘progress’ as being defined through the same ‘up and to the right’ visual convention that dominates capitalist techno-culture,  asking why the ‘future beam’ is not pointing backwards, or straight down, or exist in three-dimensional spherical space?

Finally, Tonkenwise’s examples of the SCD practice of Thomas Thwaites—both the goat man project and the toaster built by hand—provide compelling examples of a practice that does not subscribe to the glamorous DNR brand, does not hide from the implications of the design, but poses interesting questions through design artifacts in a way that is engaging but not just the creation of ironic eye-candy.

written by Kaleb Crawford


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