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Critical Contexts

A critical survey of key and reoccurring contextual paradigms that designers must consider.

The world is in flux. Everything must be re-designed. This course will survey a selection of theories, ideas and concepts that form the basis for understanding ourselves, the category of “the human” and the world that we live in. Currently, many aspects of human experience are being reconsidered through emergent notions of the posthuman and the more-than-human. Designers must be challenged to think and design in new, hybrid and relational ways in order to design for these futures. This class will address themes such as materiality, temporality and power as well as categories such as gender, race, class, disability, sexuality, decoloniality and the multispecies. As design moves away from traditional domains such as images and objects, and towards the design of socio-technical systems, it is essential that designers build a rich vocabulary to discuss these complex relationships.

Learning Objectives
Class time will be focused on lectures, discussions, hands-on activities and review of weekly assignments. Students will become familiar with theories and methods that engage with and critique techno-centric, human-centric and posthuman futures. Specifically, the lectures, readings and discussions will enable students to evaluate the social and cultural, ethical and legal, health and environmental, political and economic implications of design. The hands-on activities and assignments will introduce a range of inventive and exploratory methods that allow students to think both critically and creatively in written, visual and physical form.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will become familiar with a range of theories, concepts and ideas that are useful for understanding complex socio-technical systems.
  • Students will be able to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of various theoretical arguments and perspectives.
  • Students will be able to articulate and critique the social and cultural, ethical and legal, health and environmental, political and economic implications of design.
  • Students will be able to creatively and generatively build their own points of view about the nature of complex socio-technical systems.

Enrollment Restrictions
No prerequisites. This course is open to all Institute of Design students.