Research Critique 5 – Design Noir (Suicide Box)

According to Anthony Duane and Fiona Raby, design can be divided into two categories; affirmative design and critical design.

Affirmative design conforms to cultural, social, technical and economic expectation whereas, critical design rejects and challenge what is available in the industry as the only possibility, with alternative ideas that embody values in design as the foundation to raise awareness on social, cultural, technological, ethical issues that make us think. It can be used to provoke new ideas for systems, products, and services.

In authors’ words, the design profession will lose all intellectual credibility and β€œbe viewed simply as agent of capitalism”, if they insist on focusing on marketability. Popular design has to sell in large number thus, focusing on capitalism instead of the impact it might make. It lacks practicality as it promotes desires for new products, ensures obsolescence and encourages dissatisfaction with what we have. Unfortunately, most critical design objects are deemed as conceptual design because it is unlikely to be funded by the industry due to challenging its agendas.

Developing critical perspective in design is essential because having an intellectual stance creates a more responsible and pro-active role within the society. It emphasizes on neither commercial purpose or physical utility. Creating design that challenges the system will encourage discussion among everyone about why certain values are embodied in the design, and question about the design proposals about the progress of technology, consumerism and cultural value being implemented in our lives.

Affirmative design focus on the production rate, product, and its feasibility. Whereas, critical design focus on the consumption, aesthetic of use and, the user experience and awareness it can offer. Hence, critical design is a powerful form of social critique by implementing values as a raw material into the object.

For example, Suicide Box by Natalie Jeremijenko, created this box to reveal the political nature of data abstraction as she felt that advanced technology is being taken for granted. The object is a motion-triggered camera developed by the Bureau of Inverse Technology placed on the Golden Gate Bridge for 100 days. The purpose of the suicide box is to count the number of people jumping off the bridge. When vertical motion is detected, it will trigger the camera to record to disk, supplying public, frame-accurate data of a social phenomenon not previously quantified.

An average of 0.68 suicides per day during the duration of the project. This statistics and data create an opportunity to characterize the value of suicide. Previously, the value of suicide has been extremely hard to quantify and represent but with its imaging of suicide, it recovers statistical representation and quantifies suicide in the logic of information thus, shedding some light into the issue of mental health and how the data collected and can be used to improve the situation. With the advancement of technology, having a critical perspective in design is essential to create a commentary of reflection and criticism regarding a certain issue with our object or artwork with the public to progress as a society.


  • Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects by Anthony Duane and Fiona Raby


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