The project CRITICAL DE?!GN/Designers troublemakers doesn’t talk about design as a useful artistic discipline, but rather as a tool and advocate of change in media society. It brings an up-to-date perspective to critical design – an area that is still relatively unexplored.
It talks about critical design as an advocate for change. The position of the designer is changing in today’s media society, as well as the influence of design studies. Its field of action is much broader – the designer needn’t serve only the market, but also choose the content to communicate. The design we create is no longer just a tool, it is also a carrier of messages and itself becomes an important message and a reflection of the times in which we live.
Critical design can have various faces and names. Some theorists or practitioners call it socially engaged, while others call it reflective or speculative. However, it has the same goal – it wants to bring about changes in society, to highlight problems, to ask questions, to provoke debate, and to question the seemingly unquestionable. It needn’t be the solution to a problem – it can be the creator of it.
The exhibition and symposium explain critical approaches in design through a variety of methodological approaches by international and local designers, which are presented through selected practical examples. Often these are not established and strictly defined methods, but creative authorial approaches based on a sincere interest in one’s surroundings, questioning the established ruts of the design profession, and taking a critical reflection on our society. Design thinking here is not subservient to the demands of industry, but – in conjunction with critical thinking – rather functions as a tool of knowledge that can bring a different way of looking at the world and the ways we design for it. Each author’s approach is unique, but from the methodological perspective specific practices can be decoded and inspire other designers and critical thinkers to replicate them in a different context. For Slovak professional and lay audiences alike, this exhibition can provide a long-missing stimulus for reflection and an impetus for their own critical thinking.
Critical practice in design is a broad term that encompasses a variety of alternative approaches in design work, based either on academic discourse or one’s own practice. Using critical and analytical thinking and their own creativity, authors arrive at unexpected solutions to problems raised, or completely challenge, redefine or create completely new ones. The aim of this practice is thus not to find the ultimate answer, but either to multiply the number of answers or to create even more questions. Asking the right questions requires a deep immersion in the context of the problem, a sincere interest in the topic, and an openness to different perspectives, in addition to those currently prevalent in society or those of the author.
This project does not aim to offer an exhaustive overview of critical design methods. Rather, it is a slice in time; a window through which one can peek into the background of specific projects and decode the practices employed. These are transferable to other contexts and adaptable to other conditions; able to grow, mutate, and contribute to positive change in whatever form they are used.
Some methods, such as critical making or co-creation, are already established practices in Design Research, but they originally come from the “underground” – from various DIY communities and the alternative cultural scene. Other methods are borrowed and adapted by designers from other disciplines that use qualitative research methods: various ethnographic approaches, mapping, visual research, workshops, etc. There are also overlaps with Artistic Research, where more subjectively-oriented methods based on autoethnography and working with one’s own body and intuition have become established. In the search for alternative approaches, productive interdisciplinary connections are emerging, such as between design and sociology, design and journalism, and design and hacker culture.
The project aims to present international critical and committed design and visual communication in Slovakia, where, despite the increasing global interest in critical design, a similar presentation activity has not yet taken place. It’s therefore crucial to support open discourse in this professional area of design, the critical thinking of designers in Slovakia, and to connect local designers with international designers.
The project is based on the initiative of the founders of the Critical Daily blogzine (www.criticaldaily.org), which has been collecting and publishing articles on critical practice projects in graphic design for four years. In 2022, this platform becomes the project initiator, aiming to stimulate designers towards active social engagement and critical thinking. Expert research (inc. www.criticaldaily.org) has shown that critical design is now a relevant part of the design profession and, especially abroad, an equal field in research and practice. This online journal and educational platform on critical practice was launched in 2017, and was awarded the National Design Award in the New Horizons category in 2020, which further motivated its author team to professionally research critical design.
In Slovakia, critical design is still only weakly supported. The tendency is instead to support the formal and craft skills of young designers in schools, at the expense of developing critical thinking. Graphic designers have historically always been considered as rather neutral professionals, who help to effectively communicate foreign content at the service of a client. In today’s media society and under the influence of design studies, graphic designers’ role is finally changing. They’re becoming active participants in discussions, and through visual design have the opportunity and desire to shape public opinion and worldview.
The project is also inspired by the current academic discourse in Design Research, which critically analyses the mutual relationship between design and society. This also confronts concepts such as critical design, and the critically creative designer, the opinion of whom is now considered important. Critical practice can reflect events, actions, economic situation, culture, social and ecological problems, and transform the current collective consciousness.
Katarína Balážiková (SK)
Katarína Balážiková is Bratislava-based graphic designer, co-founder of the Open Design Studio. Since 2007 she organised international projects such as Openeon and Visible Data, initiated workshops, exhibitions, lectures and talks that approached issues from diverse social and political aspects. The aim was to present graphic design as an open platform for the development of critical practice.
In 2017 she finished her doctoral degree at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, where she tutored her own Critic – Critical Practice in Graphic Design course, on which she taught visual communication students how to develop their own critical project reflecting the social environment.
She is an author and designer of Critical Daily, the international blogzine about critical practice in graphic design.
Lenka Hámošová (CZ)
Lenka Hámošová is a Prague-based artist, designer and researcher who focuses on the future implications of AI-driven media synthesis and the emerging synthetic media. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the Film and Television Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU).
Lenka graduated from Design at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava, Slovakia. She is the co-founder of the festival of socially engaged art and design UROBOROS: “Designing in Troubling Times”, and collaborates with Fresh Eye – the Czech platform for the study of visual culture.