Gathering Opinions on Satire in Design

Hello fellow designers!

I am an undergraduate from LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore majoring in Design Communications (BA Hons) and in my second year. I am currently working on my research compendium regarding satire as a design strategy in critical design practice.

As a background, I will provide context as to how I first got to my research topic:

  • I first started out by reading Matt Malpass’ Critical Design in Context: History, Theory and Practices to understand critical design as well as Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming

  • From there I got to know that satire can be used as one of the approaches to critical design, and I got intrigued as to how satire can be used as a design strategy in critical design since both of them work to provoke and inquire

Thus, I would like to gather opinions on the effectiveness of satire being used in design - be it graphic design, product design, or even architecture. I know satire has been associated more with memes, but I was thinking how satire can further provoke the minds of the audiences and highlight the purpose of a particular design.

Do correct me if I got any information wrong as I’m still a student learning more about critical design and satire! I would love to hear more insights on these topics and it would be useful if anyone could share with me your insights, or maybe any references that would greatly help me in my research!

The word satire feels a little off-the-mark, to my mind, for what I feel you are looking to define. Of course there are niche areas where satire is utilised in various design disciplines (very rarely in architecture, I imagine). Its use within a more general design process, as far as I can see, is going to be less relevant and confined to said specific conditions. Satire implies a passive-aggressive use of whimsical humour intended to ridicule or insult.

However, I may be playing semantics here, as I suspect what you may be referring to is a use of provocative, or disruptive thinking with, or without, a sense of sardonic humour. All of these things are valid approaches and have some merit. I have used them myself, but it depends entirely on the problem at hand and the brief you are working to.

Is this more what you are referring to?

I can’t see where I have ever used a satirical approach, per se, in professional work (though I have very often when creating birthday presents for friends, etc), Humour and provocativeness, I have definitely employed on a number of occasions – the former (used cleverly and sparingly) can help get an audience ‘on your side’ fairly effectively. The latter I’d use to challenge norms, current thinking – the status quo, which ultimately is what ‘Critical Design’ is about anyway, is it not?

I am not particularly a fan of the term ‘Critical Design’. It feels like an attempt to over- or pseudo-intellectualise something that is – or, should be – just one of many potential approaches to a problem. As I said earlier, any solution should be guided by a given brief, rather than beginning with a methodology. For me, that is putting the cart before the horse.

As a vehicle to teach a way of thinking, then it is fine, but as soon as it becomes an approach on its own merits, as with other similar cognitive theories, you risk approaching a problem from completely the wrong direction and deriving a solution (somewhat ironically, when it comes, specifically to Critical Design) that fits the premise and the constraints of the methodology. It is a bit like the Kierkegaard quote (which I don’t remember verbatim) about once you name something, you limit alternative possibilities.

For example, designers should always think laterally, but if you employ De-bono’s approach wholesale, as a starting point and a framework, you may miss the correct solution which comes from a completely different direction. Critical Design (whether or not you assign it a nomenclature), is just part of the arsenal of approaches a designer should have to achieve a solution to a problem.

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I had never thought about it before, but I don’t think I’ve ever used satire or its close cousin sarcasm in my work. Perhaps, it’s because I don’t think in those terms.

Maybe, it’s because I view them as negative or passive-aggressive. I’m not sure. As I mentioned, I’ve never thought about it, nor do I have any memory of seeing these approaches used successfully in design. I’m likely just not remembering, though, since satire just doesn’t resonate or, maybe, even register with me.

Satire like the Mac vs PC commercials?

PS, I always found both portrayals annoying in this campaign.

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That’s funny. I always enjoyed those commercials and thought they were well done.

“If you have to ask, I can’t tell you”

– Attributed to Louis Armstrong, when asked What is jazz?.

A part of considering the success of a design is the longevity of the design. Some designs are classic and stand the test of time, and some cater to the newest trends. With satire I feel it lends itself to ‘trending design’ more than a design that would stand the test of time.

In that sense I think it depends on the medium as well. Maybe some social media ads would take a satirical ad well because the target market that would find it funny or appealing is in that realm, however for print ads, logo design, etc… it may miss the mark for your target audience.

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