Modes of Criticism is a research platform, magazine and graphic design studio based in Porto. It was originally created as a platform for Francisco Laranjo’s research at the London College of Communication, evolving into a collaborative studio for design, writing and research.
This practice-based research is the result of an interest in graphic design as a specifically critical activity. It exists in the context of the emergence of the terms critical design and critical practice, and develops methods that use criticism in practice during the design process from a practitioner’s perspective. It argues that in order to develop a critical practice, a designer must approach design as criticism.
This thesis draws on action research and is aligned with the proposition of ‘problem setting’ instead of the established ‘problem solving’ approach to design. It uses the following mixed methods of research: 1) interviews with key figures operating in the discourse and practice associated with the terminology mentioned above such as Jan van Toorn and Anthony Dunne; 2) workshops at the Royal College of Art, Sandberg Institute, University of Westminster and London College of Communication; 3) selection of projects from professional practice; 4) self-initiated practical research in the form of action research; 5) critical writing, including essays, reviews and in particular the self-initiated publication Modes of Criticism.
Following the theorisation of the terms critical design and critical practice, an historical survey of criticism, politics and ideology in relation to graphic design, and reflection on the workshops and practice detailed above, this research proposes a method consisting of three dimensions: visual criticality, critical reflexivity and design fiction. It argues that criticism as design method offers a fundamental opportunity to develop a reflective and critical approach to design, and more importantly, to society. This method creates opportunities to develop a critical practice; one that shapes a continuous agency and interest in systemic and infrastructural problems with an ability to critically adapt and research their multi-layered nature. That will on the one hand help the designer to become a substantial agent of change and on the other, in particularly difficult circumstances of conflicted personal, private and public interest such as commercial practice, to find opportunities for criticality.
Francisco Laranjo is a graphic designer based in Porto and London. His writings have been published on Design Observer, Eye, Creative Review, Grafik, Público, among others. He has been a visiting and guest lecturer at the Sandberg Institute, Royal College of Art, Central Saint Martins, London College of Communication, Kingston University, Zürich University of the Arts, University of the Arts Bern and speaker at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, University of South Australia, University of Lisbon.