Over the next two weeks on the Cooper-Hewitt Design Blog, students from an interdisciplinary graduate-level course on the Triennial taught by the Triennial curatorial team blog their impressions and inspirations of the current exhibition,‘Why Design Now?’.

There is no shortage of practical objects in the 2010 Triennial. You will see everything from noble solutions for global issues, to networking sites that ensure our most mundane thoughts never go unpublished. All of these products fulfill some need, whether real or imagined, but almost none challenge the traditional notion of what has become the accepted norm. Dunne + Raby however, offer a fresh perspective and a new way of looking at design.

According to Dunne + Raby, critical design is meant to stimulate discussion amongst designers and the public about the social, cultural and moral implications of technology. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have blindly accepted the machine as integral if not essential to our existence. But very few ever stop to consider the potential ramifications of such unyielding faith. We forget that mankind survived hundreds of years without the beloved iPhone.

Dunne + Raby are not against technology, only those who allow it to think for them. Projects like the Risk Watch, which alert the user as to the political stability of the country they are in, are intentionally invasive. Such products are designed to blur the line between the necessary and the absurd. Whether the object works in any practical sense of the term is secondary, more important are the issues they address and discussions they inspire.

In creating projects that fall outside of the mainstream, critical design encourages people to look at objects in a radical way. While the underlying humor captures our attention, the proposed application invites us to consider the product in daily use. The hope is that the sheer absurdity will spark a discussion that not only generates new ideas about what design is, but what design can be. Rather than perpetuate the existing system, such conversations have the potential to alter the future of normative practice. What is unique about critical design is that it invites us, the lowly museum goer, to take part in that process.

Arielle Schraeter
Cooper-Hewitt Decorative Arts and Design History MA program

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