IEEE ISTAS 2021 – Critical by Design

By on June 15th, 2022 in Conferences, Social Implications of Technology, Videos

The Special Session “Critical By Design: Fostering Responsible Innovation with Critical Design Methods” took place during IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS)  2021 on 28 October 2021.

In this workshop, participants are introduced to critical design methods and apply them in small group projects to create speculative scenarios and objects-to-think-with that promote reflection on key topics in responsible innovation.

Click here to watch the recording of this Special Session.

Presenters: Marcel O’Gorman and Jason Lajoie, University of Waterloo, Canada

Marcel O’Gorman is a University Research Chair, Professor of English, and Founding Director of the Critical Media Lab (CML) at the Universty of Waterloo, where he teaches courses, leads collaborative projects, and directs workshops in digital design and the philosophy of technology.

Jason Lajoie holds a PhD in English Language and Literature from the University of Waterloo and is Organizing Chair for ISTAS21.

This participatory workshop occurred on 28 October 2021 and made the case that critical design practice, first popularized by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, can counter dominant narratives about technology by proposing alternative presents (as opposed to alternative futures). O’Gorman began with an excerpt from the science fiction TV series “Black Mirror.” He highlighted the crucial role of design when it comes to the props in the series that represent near-future technologies, arguing they are artifacts of critical design for a “present that doesn’t currently exist.” Lajoie then gave the example of his own “Queer Controller” project, where the ‘messiness’ of the interface is purposely unwieldy and meant to evoke questions like “who gets to play?” and “how is play determined?” From there, O’Gorman introduced the critical design theory of Matt Malpas and his mantra of “problem finding versus problem solving,” which serves as a means for critiquing the solvability, i.e., determinism that runs rampant in technoculture.

The second half of the session put the counterfactual method into practice by splitting attendees up into groups of 4-5 in breakout rooms via Zoom, where each was assigned a different problem to “combat” through a counterfactual design. Problems included algorithmic bias, conflict minerals, e-waste, and AI job automation. Groups were given 20 minutes to discuss and devise a solution, entering a written description and visuals of their proposed critical design into a shared document. Afterward, all groups reconvened to share their prototypes. While this part of the session is not included in the recording, viewers are invited to try out the strategies on topic relevant to their own areas of interest and expertise.