Research Critique — Suicide Box/Design Noir

Design Noir according to Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, is part of a contemporary yet forward approach towards Design. It is ‘avant grade’ and controversial in the way it challenges the mass production mindset that the industry has etched in the minds of many designers. However it is not just ‘weird’ for the sake of wanting to be recognised as a sub cultural movement – it rides on familiar objects that mass people have a pre existing relation to and harnesses the advancement of technology, to produce relevant objects that critique the current state of society or design. It provides an alternate space for a paradigm of multi realities to exist by rejecting the idea of one physical reality. They argue for the push of this sort of art as it is important for the sustainability and credibility of the creative power we possess as designers. When one has the avenue to mass audience and hence the chance to ‘mass produce’ subversion, they should utilise it to destabilise capitalist mindsets instead of falling back into designing within the restrictions and motivations of the ‘marketplace’. Many creative agencies only employ provocative or controversial projects as a ‘testament’ to their creativity in the form of prototype objects. However within their modus operandi, these ideas are never seriously entertained or tackled. They become a far fetched imagined reality.

In line with this, Natalie created Bureau of Inverse Technology (BIT) — a self made fictional corporation run by essentially herself. It acted as a front to legitimately conceptualise experimental products that would be taken seriously – not just as explorations by an individual artist. According to Dunne and Raby, it is ‘more sinister’ when an organisation engages in a set of subversive works. Suicide Box is one key ‘product’ that was conceptualised in its time as a critical design work. It involved placing a motion detector and video camera near  the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to track vertical movements in its frames – its aim to capture the moment every time someone tried to jump down from the bridge. A ‘engineering report’ was post produced to suggest how Suicide Box could be harnessed to ‘calculate a robust and and market responsive value of life’. This slightly invasive and desensitised approaches towards documenting suicide as an empirical factor (rate of suicide) (see Image 1.), makes it a ‘box’ that measures the rate of suicide over time. It takes the guise of a mass produced form of high technology (motion sensor camera) with underlying dark undertones. It’s function does not change. It works the same way an industry based motion sensor might be used to calculate the number of rain drops falling per hour. However it explores an uncharted and alternate reality that before this was not seen as a viable medium for this particular technology.

This hence falls under critical design to show the industry that technology and everyday products can be employed to greater and deeper use if one were to view it not just as a money making piece of hardware but as some sort of archetypal object. It relates back to how Dunne and Raby in their article argue that it is necessary to pursue and ‘realise’ unpopular design due to the implications popular design have for both us as designers and society in the future. Unpopular Design, unlike Popular Design, rejects the idea of a fixed reality and proposes the blurring of the conceptual and real. It is capable making the conceptual more ‘real’ to consumers while at the same time pushing for the ideology of multi realities that should be explored and reflected through design.

Image 1.