There’s no question: critical design is en vogue. Speculative design labs generate ambivalent visions of a future technological world. Design consultancies apply design thinking and market visual criticism as a strategy and management method. Social designers develop new concepts for humanitarian projects, ecological packaging or social concerns – often as side projects to their more economical day jobs. The question of what design can, must, or should be these days is the subject of numerous international conferences. Indeed, the concept of design as a whole is transforming.

Many of these approaches have good intentions in trying to make the world a little better. Viewed globally, however, their perspectives could also be understood as a kind of new design colonialism: A predominantly western, white middle-class design community is carrying critical design into the world as a universal promise. In fact, do their aspirations actually just reveal the old question of the social meaning of design – of a discipline that is at odds with its capitalist cradle, but remains inaccessible to large parts of the global society, thus marginalizing them even more?

So, what does “colonial” mean in the context of design? A question also posed for instance by the multinational design research group “Decolonizing Design”, and sharply rejected at the very outset when it was to be excluded from a design conference on the grounds of irrelevance. Perhaps because their aim is to achieve an “informed understanding of the complexities, challenges, and political implications of designed things”? Or as Francisco Laranjo demands: Decolonizing Design is to be understood as breaking up the North Atlantic axis that controls and monopolizes the design discipline and international design discourse.

Today’s Dinnertime Talk will explore these questions with two representatives of the Decolonizing Design Group, Pedro Oliveira and Luiza Prado (Brazil,, who are working together as A Parede (, as well as Francisco Laranjo (Porto/London,, design researcher and initiator of the international publication series “Modes of Criticism”. The basis for discussion is the Decolonizing Design Editorial, and the editorial statement on Modes of Criticism.

Dr. Francisco Laranjo works as a graphic designer, author and design researcher in Porto (PT) and London (UK). His platform “@modesofcriticism” deals with the theory and practice of creative criticism within the design discipline. He writes for Design Observer, Eye Magazine, Creative Review, Graphics, and teaches internationally as a guest lecturer at the Sandberg Institute (NL), the Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins (UK) or the Hochschule der Künste Bern (CH). He has also recently been a guest speaker at CalArts (US), Angewandte Wien (AT) and the University of Lisbon (PT). Francisco holds a PhD from the University of the Arts London and an MA in Visual Communication from the Royal College of Art. He is co-director of the Shared Institute, a research centre for design and radical pedagogy.

Pedro Oliveira and Luiza Prado have just submitted their doctoral theses in the field of design research to the University of the Arts Berlin. They use A Parede as a collaborative playground for their research, texts on design methodology, design and teaching projects and other educational activities. It is based on an understanding of design as a method for political alphabetism, the questioning of the responsibility of practices as ways to secure and update colonial structures, but also the questioning of gender and sound structures. Their aim is the use and misuse of design tools in order to develop counter-hegemonies as well as anti-colonial and decolonial plans for the future.
Luiza Prado studied graphic design at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and Pedro Oliveira at the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Bauru, Brazil). Both graduated with a Master’s degree in Digital Media from the Hochschule für Künste Bremen.

The Dinnertime Talk is a format by and with Prof. Dr. Klaus Birk and Prof. Dr. Holger Lund.

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