FIONA RABY: Do you want to replace the existing normal? – an error message from Microsoft word

FIONA RABY (Royal College of Art, Dunne & Raby)

“Do you want to replace the existing normal? this is a piece of poetry when it pops up on the screen unexpectedly. And its very interesting as it is exactly what we have been specialising all our time through what we attempt to do in design. Design sits entirely in the normal, the banal, the popular, the trivial, the norm is the starting point for every project. The norm is always there to keep as a point of reference no matter how strange the project might seem.”

Fiona opened the conference with an insight in to the way that design tries to sit itself in the tangibility of the everyday. This was an interesting lead into describing the design for debate approach that deals with the implications of science and technologies in our everyday lives through using design as tool to enable provocation, stimulation and most importantly discussion and reaction. Fiona continued to give an overview of the various designers who have taken this approach in their work and how that has been evolving over the past ten years and how some of the outcomes from a variety of design practitioners has culminated into the recent exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind, curated by Paola Antonelli at the MOMA in New York.

With this introduction she lead on to give an summary of the collaborative workshop between the various designers and social scientists that has occurred via the New Sciences of Protection Designing Safe Living research programme at Lancaster University. Emphasizing the fact that this collaborative experiment has been about broadening the way designers ask questions and consider dilemma in society.

“So when we came to the workshop, we did not know what our question was, we wanted to get together with a crowd of experienced people to think what does this mean and how can we ask some more questions. But we really wanted to find out what do social scientists get really excited about and do we get excited about the same things?

We made Tower Hamlets an unregulated zone for experimentation, all projects were manufactured or nurtured, some were contradictory and we wanted to see what would come out of it. We issued a memo to get the community to give us knowledge, the students presented, there were conversations with social scientists etc.

But here we think the meanings are the same that there are so many different, because we speak such different languages, but everyone made us so welcome and supportive. So when we returned we did a series of interviews to try and understand what was going on. We had amazing conversations particularly after talking with Cindy who raised these questions…

“… Are these designs contesting the social order?”
“…what is the social order legitimating? “
“….the scientists will give you technologies
and possibility, but they will not give you
the power relations in the lived world”
“… when designing your questions, you design in
the social science along with the science.”

We want to ask more questions that have more bite, but we did agree in one thing, the one space of DILEMMA, a space that is aesthetically seducing but conceptually may repel you, disgusting and uncomfortable but does make you think it is desirable?

As Cindy put it..
““…that ooh ahh space, that going back and forth,
working itself out,…. the undecided.
There’s all this space for thinking…
with speculative research, you want to get people
to get into that space and you want them
to do that thinking”

We want people to get into this space and get more people thinking in this way.”

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