Highlighting the ‘Dark Side’

young people sit at a table which has a large sheet of paper and writing implements. They appear to be discussing something.Critical Design is a way of challenging stereotypes and prejudice. It is a way of looking at the world from the “dark side” of design thinking. A paper presented at a recent engineering and product design conference explains how design students responded to a series of workshops using the critical design method. The process does not focus on designing solutions. Rather, it focuses on designing to highlight the problem. The idea is to get the participants to think about the problem in greater depth. This is where satire and irony can be used to convey the message of stigma and exclusion. Students were also challenged to consider user empowerment, or how they might reshape societal and cultural stereotypes.

The authors explain, “it is essential that they are armed with design methods for tackling the challenges of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Furthermore, they must gain valuable experience of interdisciplinary work in order to be prepared for the ‘real’ world, outside of university”.

They conclude the article with, “Whether CD alone can help in battling stereotypes, prejudices, discrimination, and stigma – in so doing achieving a more diverse and inclusive society – we don’t quite know but are sure that it’s a good way to start!

The title of the paper is, Addressing the issue of stigma-free design through critical design workshops.  

Abstract:  Stereotypes and prejudices are a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon that can impinge on peoples’ wellbeing. Moreover, the power of public stigma can make users of certain products experience discrimination, alienation, and inequality. Such experiences increase the likelihood of individuals rejecting products, services, environments, etc. altogether, often depriving them of e.g. safety, efficiency, and independence. In a worst-case scenario this can lead to a stigmatised condition that triggers further inequality and exclusion. In an increasingly complex world, it is imperative that those responsible for addressing future needs, challenges, and demands, i.e. the next generation of designers, architects, engineers, etc., are adequately equipped as regards methods and tools for battling existing stereotypes and prejudices related to social growth and development in society. Through this, they will ensure that stigma-free design is a priority when initiating, planning, and executing future projects. The purpose of this paper is to describe what happens when critical design is used to explore the stigma associated with existing products, services, environments, etc. in the context of interdisciplinary workshops, and to discuss the results so far. Furthermore, the paper examines whether and how this upside-down way of thinking about and performing design is a good contribution to the fields of design, architecture, engineering, etc. as a method of both teaching and learning about equality, diversity, and inclusion.