Gathering Works highlighting Criticality (BA FYP)

Hi Designers on the world wide web!

Firstly, to the mods: I am unsure if I am posting in the correct forum, but please feel free me point me in the right direction if I am in the wrong!

I am an undergraduate from Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore undertaking my BA in Design Communications and am currently working on my final year project, where I am building an online repository and currently looking to gather projects to highlight what criticality in design is.

As I am a new user, I am unable to post links, but if anyone is interested in sharing, please do let me know and I could PM a link to the site!

As of right now, I am in the midst of gathering projects and am currently reaching out to as many designers as I could. I would like to firstly disclaim that this is a student project, and all IPs and Copyrights would belong to their respective owners.

To provide context for my undergrad project (This will get wordy): Our college’s programme is research heavy and the outcome of our projects are inline with our research.

I initially looked into the different forms of Bourdieusian Capitals and how they manifest within the design industry in Singapore, as well as identifying how organizations with higher levels of capitals are able to affect how the design industry is shaped. Pragmatic policies by such organizations utilizes design for economic growth is however criticized to hinder creative innovation. Further exploration led me to learn more about Critical Design and its role in critiquing the current paradigm of design as a service provider. But of course, the western perspective of Critical Design could not be fully adapted to our local practice, so I had to learn and understand how it is practiced here in Singapore.

To establish what Critical Design is, I looked to Ramia Mazé’s and her explanation in the Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice - The Reader, which I referenced as a framework to identify the critical design practice.

For easy reference, a brief outline of the framework is listed below:

  1. In relation to the individial practitioner and their practice … to become more self aware of reflexive about what they do and why they do it.
  2. In building a meta-level or disciplinary discourse - to challenge or change traditions or paradigms
  3. As a basis for mounting a critique not just in design, but in other issues in society.

The nature of the Singaporean upbringing and the design industry leads many designers to be pragmatic and accepting of the current paradigm, and may see critical design as purposeless in the local context.

Speaking of the processes of other designers in the more “traditional field” (i.e. Small-Medium Enterprises, Startups and Ad Agencies), I learnt that they also do practice a certain level of “reflexivitiy” and they do consider “issues outside of design”, falling into 1 and 3 of the above framework, but also face a lot of resistance due to the nature of their work environment, with practicality being one of the priorities with briefs. Therefore I want to highlight this “criticality” in design works and projects, where the processes of designers fall within the above framework, such as when a UX designer contemplates Dark Patterns in the client brief, when a Graphic Designer thinks of users with dyslexia when laying out type, etc.

While I did consider how each area does need to coincide, I was looking to position the project to highlight the value of criticality in design, especially in the rather pragmatic climate such as Singapore. When I spoke to designers working in the more “traditional” field of design, eg. Advertising and in-house production, they mentioned how Singapore’s design industry constrained the design considerations that can be identified as critical in accordance to Maze’s argument.

To attempt to at least convince these more “pragmatic” designers who sees critical design and/or criticality in design as of no use through the open sharing of other designer projects is the crux of my FYP, where a majority of times many design considerations and processes are not seen on design based websites such as Behance, where the final and client-accepted outcome is usually shown and reduced to its visual aesthetic. This is also one of the reasons as to why I initiated my current outcome, as many design students who browse these sites simply see these visual outputs without understanding what went into its development.

I’m looking to gather projects where there may be certain considerations made in relation to the brief, whether is it commissioned or independent, such as type layout and choice, colours, and other thoughts that decide the final output. The projects may not be in its final polished form, but the focus is more on the aforementioned.

For example, a friend was telling me about a Book Research workshop he attended where a particular typeface was brought up (Eco-font, I think, according to his description) which reduces ink usage. To my (undergrad-level) understanding, this falls into the “societal level issues” for briefs or designers who are looking to address the more environmental-related issues within the design industry.

It would be great to share any of such considerations that you made on my platform regarding your works! It could be entire projects, or simply a specific facet of one such as type choice or layout.

The platform requires a sign up to moderate the content posted. Just a disclaimer that as it is a student project, the rights of all text and images posted would still belong to their respective owners.

There is a link in the user tab at the top of the page that links to the submission form for you to fill in the title of the work, a short write up of the brief (whether it is self-initiated or commissioned), a field for a write up on the process, and upload buttons for images.

The form is a bit iffy right now and will be redesigned haha

There might be some bugs so I’m hoping for some critiques and feedbacks if you run into any issues!

Some issues that I am aware of is:

  • The form requires multiple upload buttons for multiple images, and requires you to upload select each image individually; it’s a technical limitation of the site but I’m looking for workarounds
  • Each submission is limited to 1 KV and 4 additional images; another technical limitation and hopefully sorted with the above.

I apologize for the long post. If anyone has any questions, feedback or critiques, please drop me an email at marcus.tanhk@mylasalle.edu.sg

Thank you and I hope to hear from you all soon!

PS - I understand copyright concerns and IP issues that may arise from my project. However, I would like to reiterate that, as this is a student’s project, no works shared will not be monetized in anyway and all IP and copyrights would still belong to the original uploader. I only reserve the right to moderate contents that may be deemed offensive and or off topic!

Also, I also recognize that it is extremely sketchy for someone across the internet asking for these, so to put a face to the project, I would like to share links to my portfolio and instagram, although as a new user to the forum I am unsure if I am allowed to do so. As of right now, I do have local studios from Singapore in the midst of sharing their projects on the site, so I hope that that would add some credibility I hope that this is not breaking any rules, but the crux of my project is to highlight these though processes that all of us designers go through, and though my limited connections as a student, am writing to the wider internet in the hopes that some of you may be willing to share!

TL;DR but this …

… means it’s probably not for me.

Hi there!

Yeah, I understand it is a mouthful to read through, and I apologize!
I tried to keep it as concise but contextual as possible!

May I understand why?

I don’t do Criticality. My working environment is restricted to a single designer and the process of Critical Design is eschewed in favour of a more end-user led approval process, with every stage of the design process being led by myself and taking into account a necessarily limited measure of input from the client.

Even before the current lockdown my social capital as described by Bordieu was determined by a small colleague set with a severely restricted pool of contacts both in the working context and socially.

Actually that is precisely the kind of works that I am looking for! I know my post was a TL;DR but, to put it briefly, my research and findings led me to identify that many design processes are in fact critical in nature, where a key insight I uncovered is that iterations of works (your R1s, R2s, FINAL 1, FINAL 2s) that may not be accepted by clients, do have conceptual meanings backed by reflexive thinking and decisions that can be considered “critical”.

I do not aim to showcase the general understanding or visual aesthetic associated to “Critical Design”, but rather a repository where graphic designers would be able to share about the kind of creative agency they have in relation to their work with constraints to their brief. I hope that my project would be able to position and highlight the value of criticality in design, especially to designers who do not see the value in this practice.

It could be entire projects, whether commissioned or self-initiated, simply a specific facet of one such as type choice or layout, or even how your agency as a designer is seen in the output of the works.

To put it in perspective, here are two projects that were shared by local designers here in Singapore that are commissioned projects (I can’t post links yet, as I am a new user, but please remove the space before the www to take a look!):
https:// www.cogi-tare.space/designworks/confidentiel
https:// www.cogi-tare.space/designworks/four-legs-good-catalogue

Youngling—I was a highly successful Creative Professional & Graphic Designer for over 50-years, and frankly, I have never heard of such a thing. Reading your post I can simplify it for you—in advertising, if a design does not sell products it is a bad design. If it does sell products, it is a good design. Period. End of story. Plain and simple.

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I can attest with confidence that my colleagues lack the dialectical ingenuity to make any meaningful contribution in a Critical Design framework scenario.

I think you’ve befuddled most everyone with your detailed academic explanation.

Very few designers use terms like “criticality,” “critical design,” or “Bourdieusian capital.” You might have been a bit more concise in your explanations or left them out altogether, given that they obscure your main request.

After reading through your posts, I’m still unsure what your requests are or how you’re defining “critical design,” which seems a central concept to what you’re asking. You mention establishing (or defining) critical design, but then you provide an outline of something Ramia Maze wrote that doesn’t explain much of anything.

Boiling it all down into a few words, are you asking people to submit work and explain the reasons and logic behind the decisions made while creating the work?

You mentioned a form to submit examples, but I can find no link to any forms.

Picking up on something you wrote, the concept of social capital in design deserves more attention than it gets. For example, recently graduated designers tend to emulate the aesthetic aspects of work done by big names, big agencies, and influencers on Behance or Instagram, even when that work, or the non-obvious logic behind that work, have few pragmatic relationships to their own.

Most experienced designers eventually gravitate to what @PopsD mentioned — solutions that best accomplish the tasks at hand. When a client hires someone to design a brochure to help sell cars, the brochure’s measure of success is whether it helps sell more cars. Most experienced designers don’t ignore aesthetics, award annuals, and visual trends, but they tend to consider them as supporting actors rather than the lead roles in what are, essentially, business decisions.

I understand your point! In fact, it was one of the central arguments that I made in my paper, which was centered around the Critical Design Practice in general - Design being restricted as a service-providing industry constraints creativity and innovation (but this is highly contextual, as my paper is centered around Singapore), and needed to develop past this for the Design practice to establish a stance of its own (This according to white papers anyway, has value add in terms how much designers can earn/quote, but slightly off topic).

However, I understand that the working industry is different from academia. But as a student, with my college’s programme focusing on research and my topic on cultural concepts, I hoped that the repository would serve as a place of learning, rather than looking to sites like D&AD as references, although the function of design, good design, is to sell products / fulfill the client wants or needs.

You’re using Grammerly set on it’s highest formality and fluency setting, aren’t you… :wink:

You said this:

Design being restricted as a service-providing industry constraints creativity and innovation

This right here is what far, far too many students of design don’t find out until it’s too late. Graphic Design IS a service industry. Designers are in the service of providing their clients with an ROI to the client’s bottom line. Full stop. End of story.

If you’re in it for the art and creativity, even at the topmost levels, if your design does not sell the product (no matter what that product is) then your art and creativity have been misapplied. You will go nowhere. Fast. Business does not generally hire out work for aesthetics. They do it to improve their bottom line. And the farther up the food chain you get, the more constraints there will be to work within. Designers who balk at existing brand standards, who don’t take the time to see beyond what they personally want to create, and who don’t have a hand on the pulse of the industry they are trying to represent aren’t going to work out.

That’s not to say you have to stay stagnant. But there will always be constraints. Pushing the envelope, breaking out of the box or any of the other euphemisms used to describe “being creative” are just that. Pretty words that mean nothing to clients if you don’t make them money.

I endeavor to make a meaningful contribution to the thread, so . . .

Sad as it may be, this s**t get’s churned out weekly, because it works:

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We used to have a Building 19 series of stores here that had “Good Stuff Cheap” in that exact same typeface. But their ads were all illustrated in a very humorous way. I mean how can you be anything but humorous when selling a frozen truckload of men’s underwear (building sprinkler damage - they were thawing it out as it sold so it wouldn’t get moldy, LOL!)

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My bad! I tried to keep it as concised as possible but might have simply brushed the surface (my academic supervisor had been warning me about this lol!).

When I first started looking into it, it was tricky in trying to identify what in reality is critical design. Ramia Mazé’s reader sets the boundaries or at least a frame of reference of what the critical design practice is.

Further down my research, to learn how the practice operates in Singapore, I spoke to practicing designers to learn more about the practices of one who works in both an ad agency and another who works as an in-house designer, and learnt that both design processes can fall within Mazé’s definition of criticality!

To put it in its simplest terms, yes. But essentially what I am trying to highlight is that all design processes, whether it is for “Critical design” or “clients” or whether it is considered good or bad design, are critical in nature.

They are in the drop down once one has registered on the site. This is solely for moderating the content posted!

I fully agree with this! But it is also what I find problematic, at the same time, where I find myself doing the same. While whether good or bad design is tagged to whether it accomplishes what the client wants (in this case, sales figures), a lot of student designers or fresh graduates emulate aesthetics, while not knowing the conscious decisions that goes behind the design. As you said, designers grows with experience, so I felt that it was also necessary for us to learn along the way.

@PrintDriver

:sweat_smile: I’m trying to be polite but I’m used to writing in academic terms, especially with this being my final thesis and project I find it hard to be casual about it haha

But in response to this,

I am 100% aware and fully agree with you! Graphic design, or design in general, is a problem-solving/service industry. I am also not referring to creativity in aesthetics! What I am trying to highlight is that the design processes itself are critical in nature, where designers work with constraints to produce solutions in answering a brief.

I just spoke to a CD regarding my project as well, where he brought up how clients don’t care about your accolades and awards but rather what you can bring to the table to answer their brief. And I fully agree with that as well. But I was looking more towards within the design industry and within the design discourse itself, where there are (maybe?) some designers who label themselves as “more critical” than others. I do not mean to criticize that, but rather I am approaching this topic in a rather inclusive manner where I am positioning what our design processes are, are in fact critical in nature.

@HotButton
This is great! I mean, to some “typography-purists”, they may condemn the type used, or some may critique that it is “s**t”, but then, a designer (maybe, or it could be some one with powerpoint lol) had sat down and looked at how contrasting colours would work for the headers… (I’m trying to find something positive here :sweat_smile:)

That is not to say it this is amazing or groundbreaking design, by industry standards, but is it considered good design

?

Thanks for this, however! I do not see things like this much here in Singapore!

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Extremely sad, but true. This stuff was common when I started in the ad biz in the late 1960’s. Great designers (like me) used to call this stuff a “Circus Wagon Ad”

fasterthanlife—You are doing it again, Youngling, so I would politely offer a bit of advice. One of the greatest minds who ever lived, Albert Einstein, said “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself.” A person (especially a designer) of any age who uses complicated run-on sentences to describe a process, does not come across as intelligent. In fact, they are revealing themselves as an amateur. Simplicity is the hallmark of great design and designers.

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You keep using the word “critical,” but I’m still guessing what you mean by it.

The word has at least three separate definitions that could apply.

  1. Critical, as in urgently necessary
  2. Critical, as in expressing disapproval
  3. Critical, as in a thoughtful analysis like a critique or analytical examination

Depending on the definition you’re using, your sentence could refer to self-important designers, those with disapproving dispositions, or those designers prone to thoughtful analysis.

The third is likely the least common usage, but that seems to be the definition you’re using. Right?

As for differences in the critical analysis designers employ, I think it differs both in degree and kind. A newly graduated designer might rank aesthetics and novel creativity higher than functionality. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re less critical in their evaluations — just using different criteria.

A more seasoned designer might incorporate more strategy- and business-driven criteria into the analysis. For example, besides looking nice, was the project completed within budget, and will it yield a return on the client’s investment.

It’s true that there are multiple definitions of what “critical” means, in terms of its dictionary definitions or within the design academic discourse.

Critical, as a word, can be defined by a dictionary, but within design itself, I referred to Maze to set the parameters for my research.

That is exactly so! I apologize if I made it confusing, but with my findings, this is what eventually discovered, that all these different processes, whether it be for function, aesthetics, novelty, client’s ROI, all these different considerations are part and parcel of a designer’s process, which (to my understanding, anyway) falls into the above parameters of defining what “Critical” is.

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You’ve just defined the entire graphic design industry.
All graphic design is approached “critically” in the sense of thinking it through and applying what may work, as observed through observation and research. If this approach is not used, you’re doing it wrong. Solving other people’s communication issues with graphic design requires critical thinking.

There’s someone else on here now too talking about critical design, from a different viewpoint.
Don’t take on board any one theory too strongly. As others said above, do that and you cramp your design parameters to fit the theory, when some other theory may do better to solve the challenge.

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Rightly so! This is what I discovered through my conversations with designers locally. Although there is some notion of separation (or segregation) between “Critical Graphic Design” versus “Graphic Design” (whether is it interpreted or perceived as a form of visual, or practice), what I intend to highlight is that all design IS critical (or in your words, requires critical thinking).

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