Critical Design

Critical Design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life. (Dunne & Ruby)


“it happened mainly in the furniture world, product design is still conservative and closely linked to the mass market. ” (Dunne & Ruby)

Anthony Dunne’s books:

  • Hertzian Tales (1999)
  • Design Noir (2001).

Those books contain the term “Critical Design” and explains its use with electronic products.

Book Brief:




  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press (17 Oct. 2008)
  • Language: English


From the book jacket:

“As our everyday social and cultural experiences are increasingly mediated by electronic products? from “intelligent” toasters to iPods? it is the design of these products that shapes our experience of the “electrosphere” in which we live. Designers of electronic products, writes Anthony Dunne in Hertzian Tales, must begin to think more broadly about the aesthetic role of electronic products in everyday life. Industrial design has the potential to enrich our daily lives? to improve the quality of our relationship to the artificial environment of technology, and even, argues Dunne, to be subverted for socially beneficial ends.”


“Is it a movement?
No. It’s not really a field that can be neatly defined. It’s more about values and an attitude, a way of looking at design and imagining its possibilities beyond the narrow definitions of what is presented through media and in the shops.

One of critical Design’s roles is to question the limited range of emotional and psychological experiences offered through designed products. Design is assumed to only make things nice, it’s as though all designers have taken an unspoken Hippocratic oath, this limits and prevents us from fully engaging with and designing for the complexities of human nature which of course is not always nice. It is more about the positive use of negativity, not negativity for its own sake, but to draw attention to a scary possibility in the form of a cautionary tale.” (Dunne & Ruby)


A good example in applying critical Design on furniture, is the swaddle tale, designed by Fadi Sarieddine.

Swaddle Tale:


“a human cocoon with a cotton quilt sewn onto its elliptical rim through which one can enter and shut the world out by pulling on its draw strings. when the quilt is not used, it can be passed through a hole to become a swaddle tale.” (Fadi Sarieddine)


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