Learning from Critical Design

The pathway to becoming a UX designer and/or Service Designer is always a fascinating story. If you take the time to ask fellow professionals in the field of how they came to be, I guarantee that it will be time well spent. The beauty of this industry is the fact that people have diverse backgrounds from probably every field you can imagine. This is precisely why the UX world thrives.

Another reason why it thrives is because if you look for it, you can pretty much find it in any field that exists. And when you do, the people you meet have no idea that they are actually participating in an User-Centered-like manner.

Most of us like to think that academia and the real world of work are completely separated. This is mostly true when it comes to the actual work of what is delivered as “valuable goods,” but it’s important to listen and understand what is actually being taught in academia in order to understand how people are learning about design in a classroom setting – which eventually bleeds into how that person begins to approach things in the working world. Take for instance the subject of ‘Critical Design’.

Critical Design

Critical Design uses critical theory to approach designed objects in order to challenge designers and audiences to think differently and critically about objects, their everyday use, and the environments that surround them. Design professors across the nation are versed in this theory and it is standard practice for most design schools to deliver this concept.

Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, are examples of design professors who make projects stemmed from Critical Design, and their work has been shown throughout the world.


One of their projects called, “Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots,” created in 2007, is a great example of Critical Design. It provokes the idea that ‘one day, in the future, robots will do everything for us’ and the question of how we will interact with them comes to the surface. In this project, designed robots are shown to project the ‘new interdependencies and relationships [that] might emerge in relation to different levels of robot intelligence and capability.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info)

It is through works like Technological Dream Series: No. 1, Critical Design ultimately takes on the role of questioning ‘the limited range of emotional and psychological experiences offered through [existing] designed products.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info) It emphasizes the condition of today’s design culture as it ‘limits and prevents [designers] from fully engaging with and designing for the complexities of human nature.’ Although this can be seen as a negative way to view designed objects, Critical Design ‘is more about the positive use of negativity’ as it confronts designers to think critically about people they are designing for.

If you have time, watch and read about the robots. Think about what a world would be like in the future if robots and technology actually behaved in this way. I challenge you to consider why we are in partaking in this industry and to think about what ways you can use this fictional narrative to make what you are currently making more human and healthy for today’s world while keeping the future in mind. If we don’t start now, we could very well be living in a world where technology dictates our behaviors and way of life rather than allowing our human culture to grow organically while technology serves and evolves with us.

Janice leads the design discipline at DevMynd. She has been with the company since 2016.