Speculative and Critical Design: Futures and Imaginings from the margins, Fall 2017

Deepa Butoliya
Aug 29, 2017 · 11 min read

DES 51878 / DES 51478
T/Th 11:300–1:20
Location: MM 121, School of Design

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Image: Artist Rory Wakemup wearing stars wars inspired native american self creations

Instructor: Deepa Butoliya (dbutoliy@andrew.cmu.edu)
Office MM 207a Office Hours: By appointment

Readings are available on the box, Syllabus will be updated regularly.

Introduction to the course

Welcome to the Speculative and Critical Design class !!! This is a part seminar part practice experimental course that helps students to develop critical perspective towards the “normals” they are exposed by the dominant discourse of design. We will use the term SCD for Speculative and Critical Design henceforth.

SCD helps us question the role objects and systems play in our everyday life, not taking into account what everyday life means for people in different cultural and socioeconomic conditions. The objects and systems shown in such speculations are often narrow in their outreach and even speculations are limited or too focused on narratives of a privileged western world. They fail to capture the disparities of the human condition prevalent in large parts of the world. In this regard, the dominant practice of speculative and critical design, limits perception of the general masses rather than pushing boundaries of the field. SCD, if done as conventionally prescribed, is rarely liberating and often so interwoven with science and technology that it is not an appropriate tool for disrupting the social injustice and dominant narratives about the futures.

For this class the students will create SCD projects that consider the implications of their speculations on everyday lives of people including those who suffer the consequences for producing those artifacts.

The students will engage with the status quo in the field of speculative and critical design and also the criticisms of the field of SCD from a decolonial perspective. We will engage with parallel fields and the key terms and read and discuss the key players and emerging voices in the field of SCD.

The students will engage with SCD artifacts through essays that question and address contemporary problems associated with and as a result of white privilege, climate change, intersectional perspectives, racism, imperialism, neoliberalism, etc.

The students will gain an understanding of SCD concepts that are developed in the framework of post critical design and post normal design, through which the instructor intends to punctuate the speculative and critical design practice and make it a plural, inclusive, action oriented field of design practice to represent the voice of the underrepresented communities at margins.

The key takeaway is to develop a critical sensibility towards design and have a pluriversal approach towards methods of Speculative Design, Critical Design and Design futures by developing alternative futures for the marginalized.

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Participants in Sankofa City Summer School: South Side Design Fiction Workshop present their visions for the future of our neighborhood, in the form of speculative design videos and objects that imagine new possibilities for public spaces.https://graycenter.uchicago.edu/events/sankofa-city-summer-school-proposals-for-our-future-video-screening-community-conversation-reception

Course Overview

The SCD Course, as the name suggests, is structured around understanding the field of SCD, its history, scope, criticism and applications. This course is structured around the following broader topics:

  • Design Criticism
  • Post Critical
  • SCD from beyond the Angloeuropean sphere (decolonial)
  • Feminist Perspective of SCD
  • Assembling publics
  • Post Normal Design
  • Pluriversal Approaches in Design
  • Critical Jugaad
  • Futures and Fictions of the Global South

We will be engaging with these topics through different mediums such as films, design projects, workshops, essays and published papers from international sources.

The students will design and develop artifacts based on the understanding developed during the course and by reflecting on their personal value systems.

The class will culminate into an exhibition open to public which may or may not be in the conventional gallery format. Though as a challenge we will aim to take the discourse beyond the walls of classroom and the gallery.

Class Expectations

  • Being on time is essential as time is short and there is a lot to cover, explore and create. However, there are unexpected incidents that happen, so please try to inform as soon as possible about a possible delay and discuss beforehand if you are going to miss the class
  • Participation is very important for this class as it is one and the only way to understand yourself in the face of material discussed in the class. 20% of your grade is on participation.
  • Reading should be taken seriously and the first quarter of the class cannot move forward without reading the material provided. The material is mostly visual yet has some textual information that needs to be processed before class discussion.
  • Class assignments are expected to be turned in as per the required deadline and in the required format.

Students are expected to be resourceful in terms of accessing facilities for making projects. Some help will be available, but cannot be promised.


  • Attendance- 10%
  • Discussion, and Participation- 20%
  • Three reflective/critical essays through blog posts (500 words)- 10% each
  • one midterm design project- 10%
  • Final Project- 30%

Three unexcused absences will result in drop of a letter grade and five or more unexcused absences will result in failure of the course.

Please take care of yourself, don’t plagiarize, be respectful and kind to everyone around you. Have a great semester !!!!!

Course Structure

(Please note that this would be updated regularly and revised as per availability of the guest speakers and workshop conductors)

Week 1

Introducing the course, setting expectations, syllabus overview. What is SCD?

Recommended books:

Critical Design in Context History, Theory, and Practices by Matt Malpass https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/critical-design-in-context-9781472575197/

Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction and Social Dreaming by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/speculative-everything

To Read for next class:

further Suggested readings

  • Chapter 3 and 5 of Hertzian Tales by Anthony Dunne(find on BOX)
  • Design Noir(find on BOX)

Discussions on readings, terminology and what’s the difference Speculative Design, Critical Design, Design Criticism, Design Fictions, Design Futures.

Projects Discussed:

To Read for next class:

Week 2

Class viewing of Black Mirror Season 3, Episode 1 — “Nosedive”+Short Whiteboard Exercise (10 min Design Fiction sprint)

Suggested readings for next class:

Projects and practices

  • Microsoft vision Videos

Guest: Ahmed Ansari https://ahmedansari.com/

topics covered:

Blog Post 1- document the workshop experience and results(500 words) Make a medium page, take pictures and upload. Due midnight before class next Tuesday. Sep 12

To read for next class:

further suggested readings:

  • Bardzell, Jeffrey, Shaowen Bardzell, and Erik Stolterman. 2014. “Reading Critical Designs”. Proceedings Of The 32Nd Annual ACM Conference On Human Factors In Computing Systems — CHI ’14. Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). doi:10.1145/2556288.2557137.

Week 3

Discussion on readings, examples

To Read

Lecture, example, guest TBD, Viewing Examples + short whiteboard exercise

suggested reading:



Projects discussed:


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A protestor wears a homemade gas mask in Venezuela 2017 Source: cnbc

Design Assignment #1 :

City hunting for local unaware SCD + blogpost on the context, reference to text, observations, photos, interviews. Due-Sep 26 Design a provocation for this context.(Can do in teams of 2)

Week 4

Finding examples of SCD in the city

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Artwork titled Wild Animal left anonymously on sidewalk Pittsburgh. Source: Pittsburgh Orbit

Work on documenting and presenting + blog post entry

Student Response:


To read for next class:

Week 5

Guest: Stuart Candy



In class exercise based on the workshop Exploring Futures

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Native Art meets Star wars by artist Rory Wakemup

Week 6

Lecture on representation and futures of the margins in fictions


To read for next class:

Lecture+ Class Discussions

To read for next class:

Week 7

Introducing the term+ discussing examples

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Model showing lifehacks style floatation device to be used during flood Courtesy: designfordisasters.org

Projects discussed:


Suggested readings: http://millergallery.cfa.cmu.edu/exhibitions/climacticpostnormal/


In class activity + Special Guest: Francis Carter

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Student wearing a mask made during the Critical Design Workshop in 2016 Image: Deepa Butoliya

Blog Post 2- document the workshop experience and results(500 words) Make a medium page, take pictures and upload. Assignment: Design an artifact that represents an alternative vision and future fiction for a community or group that does not represent you

To read for next class:

Week 8

Exploring the exhibition, Post normal design+ discussions

Guest and topic: TBD

To Read for next class:

Week 9

White Board Discussion on constructing publics for SCD


Suggested reading:

  • The entanglement of Speculative Design and upstream engagement: Phd thesis, Tobbie Kerridge 2015

Week 10

Guest: Dan Lockton | Carnegie Mellon School of Design

Continued with Dan Lockton– Ideas for Final PRoject.

To Read:

Week 11

The Term, what it means, key players

To Read:


Guest Lecture: (TBC)

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Yarn Bombing

Blog Post 3- Reflections on the topics covered so far with an example you consider to be important to this course (500 words)

Week 12

looking back, examples from design history, Situationists, Radical Design, Interrogative Design, Memphis, Relational Aesthetics.

Scope of the project, logistics.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Week 14

Thursday, Nov 30: Final Project

Week 15

Introducing the course, setting expectations, syllabus overview. What is SCD?

Lecture: Speculative Design+ Class Discussions on readings

Week 16

Introducing the course, setting expectations, syllabus overview. What is SCD?

Post Normal Design-Post Speculative Critical Design

Research on teachings around post normal design and post…

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