Could Critical Design become Mainstream?


This essay will follow an investigation to find the answer to the title question, this question was chosen because of the interest in knowing if there were different aspects of society that stop and permit forms of design based upon the phycological questions that could be posed. This essay will explore capitalism and how it effects the working class which is connected to the difficulties with exploring a form of design with a culture that seem to want to forget about the things in which that form of design wants to publicize to start a conversation.


This essay deals with questioning culture and how the differences in cultures may lead to accepting more truthful forms of design when compared. This essay will first reflect upon what Critical Design is, what values it holds and what importance it has upon society in the 21st century. It will then go on to question whether capitalism has played a role in this form of design not becoming more mainstream. Throughout this essay, it is hoped that a better understanding of Critical Design is made and an answer to the question ‘Could Critical Design become mainstream?’ is found.

Main Body

 To first start looking for an answer to the main question asked it is important to fully understand the subject matter, so what is Critical Design? It has been described as the opposite of affirmative design, which reinforces the status quo (, 2016). Design which critiques has existed for many years but under several names, the most notable being Italian Radical Design of the 1970s (, 2016). In layman’s terms Critical design does not solve the problem that it addresses in its entirety, it simply wants to raise awareness of the problem and it hopes for a conversation to be had.

 The term ‘Critical Design’ was first used in Anthony Dunne’s book Hertzian Tales, 1999 and later in Design Noir, 2001 (, 2016). This term does not have boundaries when it comes to subjects to shine a light upon, what has been learnt is that to ensure it is ‘Critical Design’, it must not solve the problem that has been investigated.

To begin the discussion of this form of design being in the mainstream and what restrictions may be in place you must consider existing Critical Design within the public eye.

The example of Critical Design, on the left, can be compared to the packaging that already exists with cigarettes that are sold over the counter in many different countries around the world. These two examples are doing the same thing whilst shown to the user, they alert them of what the problems can be with smoking through the lighters body that displays tumors growing from the once aesthetically pleasing design and the packaging’s very graphic imagery where it seems they want to almost shock the people into quitting.

It has been said that this form of design must identify and engage with challenging and complex issues if it is to have a future within the design world (, 2016), that is an interesting thought to have, does critical design have a future within the design world? To have a future it is important for there to always be something that can be a subject for critical design, something that can create a conversation for someone, ‘Critical designs are testimonials to what could be, but at the same time, they offer alternatives that highlight weaknesses within existing normality’ (Dunne and Raby, 2013). Culture is a very important in design, it is dependent upon culture whether a design position can be adopted or not.

It is common in Britain that the people love to see life with a rose-tinted view. A taboo subject would not be discussed but instead ignored in the hopes that it would go away. This idea of conforming to the status-quo goes hand in hand with the idea of capitalism and how without the population consuming, capitalism fails, yet it is that of the capitalists who need the labour of the working class, and the working class who need the income to fuel that cycle, ‘The capitalists need labour and the workers need wages’ (Giddens, 1993).

The idea of Critical design being accepted within British culture becomes a little harder to believe following what has been discussed. Society has taught the population not to discuss the depressing, the bad, the unhappy things that surround them and with Critical design being the one to shine a light on those issues, it is difficult to believe anything other than resilience would be met by the people. The question then posed is, where could Critical design become mainstream? And to answer that question you would need to consider the many different countries around the world and the attitude that is had with this design form, with America it seems that the ‘American Dream’ has yet to be diminished and there is an equal opportunity for things to become the norm.

From this paper, it was hoped for a question to be answered but it seems only more questions seem to be asked, Could Critical Design become mainstream? It could, but with the mainstream title this would mean that the cultures of many populations would need to change and change is always difficult. Capitalism has been so far embedded into the DNA of many western countries it is almost ridiculous to believe that the capitalist leaders would allow for there to be a change of the status-quo.


This essay wanted to consider Critical Design and see whether this form of design could become mainstream, whilst trying to answer this question a lot of points have been made about the importance of capitalism and culture in this question and that allowed for evidence to support the claim that capitalism plays a key role in deciding what becomes mainstream and what does not. To further explore this question and to begin to fully understand critical design and its role it would be interesting to expand off the psychological and sociological claims that were brushed over within this short essay. It would also be important to further explore critical design to look at more examples that support what has been said and to possibly present an artefact that fully embodies the problems that are not discussed in the world today.


Critical Design can be a key part of Product design, yet it is often overlooked or just ignored when studying for a degree in the field. As I already had prior knowledge of critical design and an avid interest in wanting to understand more it was easy for me to choose it as a subject for an essay, I wanted to know whether it could be adopted into the mainstream because of the interest I have in the possible changes that would occur if this happened. From this essay, I found a lot of information that I hope to carry with me into my future projects, I learnt more about the opinions of this form of design within society and how it is somewhat limited in its exposure within the mainstream media.

Prior to writing this essay I was extremely interested in the idea of critical design and what possibilities could be created from it and following on after understanding more about it I have become more interested in pursuing this in another brief sometime in the future. I hope to create my own brief where I will be able to tackle an issue where I will be able to use the critical design artefact as part of the dissertation that will be started in the second term, I hope to combine these two projects.

Bibliography (2016). Dunne & Raby. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Nov. 2016].

Giddens, A. (1993). Sociology. 5th ed. Cambridge [England]: Polity Press.

Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2013). Speculative everything. 1st ed. MIT Press, p.35.



Critical Design. (2016). [Image] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2016].

Untitled. (2016). [image] Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2016].

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