Research Critique 3 – Critical Making (79% Work Clock)


First coined by Matt Ratto in 2008, Critical Making is the practice of critical thinking applied to hands-on creating which aims to expand important personal and “social reflection” through the means of technology and its material. Ratto intended Critical Making to push scholars to apply their knowledge in linguistics and conceptual information in a physical and hands-on, material-based practice so as to effect social change and an understanding of the impacts of technology on human society.

An interesting example of Critical Making takes the form of the “79% Work Clock” as part of the Disobedient Electronics: Protest.

This clock has the 3 standard hands (hour, minute, second) of an analogue clock with an added hand that reliefs “79%” that can be adjusted to denote the time reached at 79% of a woman’s workday. Once that time is reached, an alarm is sounded. This clock was created to criticize and call attention to the gender wage gap in America where a woman who works full-time is only paid a median 79% of a man who works as much annually.

Peter Lueders / PARTY

This simple device is a result of craftsmanship paired with critical commentary on social issues. The tangibility of a clock is then an understandable delivery of the issue of the gender wage gap in America.


For one, Critical Making is necessary as standard and common methods of technological design often forgo the consideration of the “human” element. Due to the heavy focus on capitalist and utilitarian principles and values such as “efficiency and productivity”, products of such designs often lack “cultural richness” and “emotion” that connects human beings. For example, a standard electronic alarm clock is just created as a tool to tell the time and to keep people on time, nothing more in a personal or emotional sense.

TQ-140-1EF/Casio UK

These standard methods of design thus disregard human values and would not be as effective in connecting with the “consumer” as an individual. Instead, such methods treat the customer as one drop in a pool of consumers that produce capital profit. This not only disconnects society as people when using technology but also perpetuates this capitalist, mass-consumer attitude that is present in today’s society.

Therefore, Critical Making is important as it provides designers and the public a chance to disengage with this perpetuated social norm and then be able to reconsider a “broader spectrum of human experience”. With Critical Making, culture and emotion are reintroduced into technological design and designers would then be able to implement such in order to bring to light the “diverse complexities” of unique, individual human lives.  Creating tangible objects with intertwined social reflection and commentary is also extremely effective as it is human nature to encounter an object and attempt to determine its purpose – this is then an important factor in starting a conversation. Such can be seen with the “79%  Work Clock” where there now is debate and emotion intertwined with the alarm clock especially when the alarm rings as it signals a perpetuated social issue.

Additionally, through Critical Making, designers are given the opportunity to strip down their own technological creations and analyse the social consequences and values that are attached to it. This calls back to Ratto’s intended “social reflection”, where now technological products are understood to have an important and lasting social impact when Critical Making is applied, and that designers now have the opportunity to create this impact in their products.



Hertz, Garnet. What is Critical Making? Current.

Hertz, Garnet. Disobedient Electronics: Protest. The Studio for Critical Making.

Lueders, Peter. 79% Work Clock.  PARTY.

Casio UK. TQ-140-1EF

Post-presentation Discussion TAKEAWAYS:

Critical Making transforms traditional product design into almost a tool for activism and protest. Social issues and political commentary is made – at the same time, the product is still a practical and functional object. The resulting product is then a composite object which can be said to be the direct outcome of successful Critical Making.


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