Image @Form Design Magazine, 2020. Font by Charlotte Rohde, graphic design by Mateja Huff.


Staying with the Trouble through Design

A Critical-Feminist Design Manifesto

#1 Designing should not be a way out of trouble, but a way of staying with the trouble In troubled times where social, cultural and political issues are inherently intertwined with technologies, design is not the solution but rather part of the problem. By staying with the trouble of present issues and technologies’ inherent responsibilities in the unfolding of these issues, the critical-feminist designer uses design to stay with the trouble rather than propose (yet another) solution that will end up as tomorrow’s problem.

#2 Engage with trouble, not problems By engaging with trouble rather than problems, the critical-feminist designer situates themselves within a world rather than keeping it at distance. Engaging with trouble prompts the designer to deeply engage with the present social, cultural and political condition and the emotional and agonistic qualities that is inherent in trouble.

#3 Design responses to trouble, not solutions As solutionism either invents problems or ignores the complexity of problems, and since today’s solutions will be tomorrow’s problems, the critical-feminist designer should not design solutions but rather respond to trouble. Responding to trouble includes caring for the other, shifting perspectives and engaging in negotiations and argumentations. It includes not giving answers to open questions but engaging in conflict and conversations.

#4 Be willing to make trouble In order to stay, engage and respond to trouble, the critical-feminist designer must be willing to make trouble. To engage with trouble is to make trouble visible and thus to increase trouble. In transforming the system from within, the critical-feminist designer must embrace the curious practice of making trouble and the risk that it may bring.

#5 Stay with the wrong by speaking up against injustice Even if it can be emotionally exhausting, the critical-feminist designer must stay with the wrong; that which (or whose who) are perceived as wrong, by a system that judge it (or them) to be wrong, and hereby speak up against injustice. One of the best tools of the critical-feminist designer is to question the given as given and challenge patriarchy and capitalism by speaking up against sexism and racism.

#6 Curiously visit ongoing pasts and alternative nows The critical-feminist designer visits ongoing pasts and alternative nows in order to go beyond their own positionality— their own way of seeing, being and knowing. By carefully listening to human and nonhuman’s stories, the designer allows the world to be interesting and themselves to be surprised. In curiously visiting other ways of being, the designer seeks to understand a multitude of lived realities and bring voice to ongoing pasts and alternative nows.

#7 Be truly present across times, spaces, fact and fiction The critical-feminist designer rejects universal truths and the dominance of one present and one reality. Rather, the designer aims to gain a deep understanding of how the present is entangled with the past and the future, and how it interweaves fact and fiction. By being truly present across times, spaces, fact and fiction, the critical-feminist designer can be attentive to a present’s trouble and allow it to gain presence.

#8 Collectively imagine still possible futures The critical-feminist designer includes human and non-human agents into collectively imagining different ways of being with a starting point in present trouble and messiness. The designer and public alike make use of storytelling to tell other possible stories and other possible worlds, and hereby broadening our collective imagining of futures that are still possible if we act in the present(s).

#9 Be vulnerable with technology By being vulnerable with technology, the designer embraces how our subjectivity is intimately interwoven with technologies. The designer does not distinguish between the digital and analogue but is critically aware of the political role of digital technologies. By embracing the trouble of intimacy, the designer focuses attention to how technologies engage in power relations, control and the transgression between pleasure and pain.

#10 Disclose your designerly privilege and understand that you have one By reflecting on their own position in the world, the critical-feminist designer carefully considers how their own biases and privileges influence their ways of seeing and designing. The designer discloses their position, so other people can understand how their research and design are situated.

#11 Use feminist humour The critical-feminist designer uses feminist humour and a playful approach to engage with trouble. The designer is not willing to use jokes that are designed to cause offense or use humour to keep distance to a topic. Rather, the designer uses feminist humour to bring bodily relief, a feeling of collective will, a space for reflection and a hope in that different worlds are possible.

#12 Use taboos as a design resource Rather than ignoring taboos and that which does not fit into the social order, the critical-feminist designer uses taboos as a design ressource. When designing with taboos or that which is a perceived as wrong, different perspectives on the social order collide, but the designer is willing to engage with the taboo’s conflict —and the embarrassment and awkwardness of taboos—in order to understand the complexity of a taboo.

#13 Resist the smooth and sleek aesthetics and engage with mess and bodies The critical-feminist designer engages with messy and playful aesthetics which disclose material qualities and the bodies that produced and are produced by their relations with technologies. By appropriating mess and bodies, the designer facilitates a more intimate and reflective relation between people and the materiality of their designed artefacts and challenges the dominant design aesthetics.