Critical design practice : mapping a new territory for the discipline (or 'Are we nearly there yet?)'

Gale, Cathy (2016) Critical design practice : mapping a new territory for the discipline (or 'Are we nearly there yet?)'. Message : Communication Arts Research, 3(6/6), pp. 85-106.


Graphic design is a predominantly social discipline in continuous flux. It forms multiple productive intersections between art, technology, ecology, industry and science in the lived environment. By drawing inspiration from diverse sources such as history, literature, science, anthropology, politics, philosophy and sociology, designers are ‘able to see the multi-faceted nature inherent in any problem’ (Quraeshi, 2002, p. 2). The in-between status of graphic design opens up space for new critical viewpoints to be considered, and allows wider audiences to engage in discourse around corporate and civic modes of visual culture. This discursive space is not only edged by art but connects with diverse academic disciplines and creative practices. As the ingredients of design evolve, so should the terms with which design is perceived. Yet, graphic design is commonly viewed as a commodity, distinguished only by the vehicles used to deliver a message, such as screen, street billboard, poster and publication. In addition to this fusion of commerce and culture, the discipline is also determined by its functional and service-orientated operations. Therefore, when new modes of practice emerge, expanding the conceptual scope, critical and speculative possibilities of graphic design, this can lead to a crisis of identity and pigeon-holing (Goggin, [2009] 2012, p. 56). Rather than be constrained by reductive definitions in relation to art, this essay argues that critical design should be valued as an increasingly core component of graphic design’s evolution. A critical approach challenges assumptions about design thinking and production, provoking questions about how we live and how this might change.

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