This text was originally published on Medium. Please refer to the original text when citing it (see below for info).
Photo Credit: “Landing of Columbus”, by John Vanderlyn (1847) – Wikicommons
A 1–2 Guide for a well-placed Dystopian Design Project
Earlier this year we published a text on Medium which, apparently, said a few things that resonated quite well among design practitioners and researchers alike. In that text, we pointed out a general disregard for issues of race, class and gender privilege within Speculative and Critical Design projects and publications. For us, it was a serious problem we felt the need to call out.
Naturally, a good number of other design practitioners and researchers claimed we were exaggerating, being unfair or “augmenting” the facts so as to fit our own purposes, whatever they were. However, questions very similar to ours were raised by others during this year’s Design Research Society Conference in Umeå, Sweden, and we were also invited to speak about our positions in July at the Open Design Conference in Barcelona, Spain. In the meantime, other essays that echoed our concerns showed up, mostly from other designers that were actually catalysts of the discussion that originated our text in the first place. All in all, there is an elephant in the room that demands some attention, and these texts elaborate and expand considerably what our own writing left off.
Still, those texts and the subsequent reactions to them only showed us what we expected: (1) these are issues that are still in need to be acknowledged and dealt with as serious concerns and (2) what we initially set off to challenge lies well beyond “representation” or the danger of tropes and tokenism – unlike most of the criticism we received seem to think. Notwithstanding, SCD projects and publications are still letting plenty of “narrow assumptions” sneak in, and they will only continue to reinforce the status quo of colonialism and imperialism rather than effectively challenging it.
To try to make things a bit easier, we developed this very simple and straightforward “Cheat Sheet” you, Speculative and/or Critical Designer, should consult when developing new projects. This is (very) loosely based on Sandrine Micossé-Aikins’ “7 Things You Can do To Make Your Art Less Racist” – which is a strongly recommended read for before and after you get through this cheat sheet of ours – as well as María del Carmen Lamadrid’s “Social Design Toolkit”, also a mandatory read. Ready?
Cheat-Sheet for a Non (or Less) Colonialist Speculative Design
We strongly believe that following these simple steps may positively contribute to not only Speculative and Critical Design projects becoming more powerful in their line of questioning, but also avoiding the mishaps it sets itself up so boldly to criticise.
To be once again very clear, we are also not advocating that every single SCD Project should talk about, tackle or depict issues of colonialism and imperialism. Rather, we say “know where you come from and know where your privileges are.” If “all design is ideological”, as Dunne says, do take that statement seriously.
Giving yourself the task to stop navel-gazing and to always second-guess your own decisions is not a shame. It is for the better, trust us.