In this workshop, participants will learn to unpack the complex networks of materials, labour, politics, and sociocultural relations that are woven into and surround the object as a designed artefact. Guided by the Brazilian design researchers A Parede, the workshop will critically question the act of design as a universal, formulaic, or predictable process. Instead, participants will develop new ways to turn the complexities of things into “building blocks” for design and design research as a politically-situated practice.
This workshop starts from a simple idea: that the act of designing produces other designs into the world. It does so by intervening in processes, performances, interactions, narratives, and relations that are context-dependent and socioculturally informed. In other words, the act of designing produces a material discourse that is anything but provisional and performative. This puts at stake the common assumptions of design as a universal mode of making or as a process whose implications can be predicted. As design researchers, how can we reformulate our approach in order to account for these complexities, and critically re-evaluate the design activity?
In order to tackle this issue, it is necessary to understand designed things as both product and producer of networked relations. These involve, but are not limited to, issues of labour, trade, and infrastructure (or lack thereof)—amongst other legacies and practices that materialise and enact colonial and neoliberal conceptions of bodies, cultures, and societies. Moreover, designed things entail personal and micro-political relationships that inform the work and lives of all bodies involved in their existence, from designer, to manufacturer, to labourer, to so-called end-user.
In this workshop, participants are asked to bring two human-made objects to the workshop: one representing WORK, and one representing LABOR, according to their own interpretations of these terms. Starting from these designed artefacts, they will slowly unpack the networks that inform the existence of that object in the world, as well as its implications in-use. Our approach places particular importance on the knowledge that each participant brings to the table, a result of their own, localised experiencing of the world. Finding out idiosyncratic, speculative, or even unexpected relationships between objects further adds to the entanglement of processes that will be visualised.
We stand against the idea that design is about learning frameworks or that designerly language is universally transferable. This is not a skill-learning workshop, meaning participants will not learn a fixed model, framework, template, or formula that can be universally applied to any project. We believe that learning how to think through problems in a “designerly” way implies more than putting things into neat canvases or post-its. Instead, we encourage participants to engage with the political, economic and sociocultural frameworks that circumscribe the materiality of things, their discursive apparatuses, and their inter-relational problematics. The goal is to come up with ideas with which to turn these complexities into "building blocks". With them, we may understand the broader role of designed things as, around, and within the political.
In learning how to unpack a designed object in this way, we hope to trigger reflections on the “long tail” of the participants’ own research and practice. We believe that designers can use these ideas—for example, as starting points for their own future projects or guiding principles for conducting research—to re-learn the impetus of designerly work, and develop new ways of enunciating design problems in a politically-situated manner.
About A Parede
Luiza Prado de O. Martins and Pedro J. S. Vieira de Oliveira are Brazilian design researchers and educators currently living and working in Berlin. They are also PhD candidates at the University of the Arts Berlin. A Parede is their joint research work as a duo, using design as a method for political literacy, and inquiring into the accountability of material practices within issues rooted in coloniality, such as gender and sonic violence. They aim to encourage the use, misuse and abuse of design tools to secure counter-hegemonic, anti- and decolonial futures. In June 2016, together with other researchers with ties to the Global South, they released the Decolonising Design platform.