Design legitimacy for critique, a discussion with Alexandre Saunier

The other day I had a good conversation with my friend Alex, he’s an electronic & digital artist, as I was presenting my work he stopped me right in the beginning to ask about critical design legitimacy.
“— Alex: Why is design relevant on the topic of critique? Is it just a fashionable trend?
— Max: No it’s not! OK maybe it has been fashionable during a period of time when popularized by Paola Antonelli and Bruce Sterling (under the name of Design fiction). But it no longer is and I find it more interesting now that we can observe what is left of it, what is it really good for.
— A: So why design and why critique? Art and philosophy have done that for ages.
— M: Critical design is different from critical theory and art, as it does not have the same tools and it does not touch the same people. In the popular culture design produces a familiar typology of objects – commissioned by a client, aiming at a user – that integrates well into our lives (and changes it). Design object have a different place than art or literature objects: they are aimed to be “used”. Therefore they are touching different people (and differently). They can reach the consumer (i.e. pretty much everybody).
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— M: Talking about consuming. In our current (consumerist) society, design and designer stand at a different place than philosophers and artists. They are at the interface of industries (plus other stake holders) and consumers. They translate technology and stake holders goals into user needs, at least they participate to making the final artefact appealing. I do not want to enter in a debate on consumerist society, I do not either think that designers have a legitimacy to propose critiques and solutions. But talking about designers role and impact, their place in the society is different and relevant (comparing to art and philosophy), they can (and they must) take action if they want to explore alternative paradigms and to stimulate the audience’s reflective concern for the current state of things.

Alexandre Saunier

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