Dialogue: SVA's D-Crit - Design Bureau

At Water’s Edge, a chapbook written and edited by D-Crit students, explores the New York waterfront.

Present Tense: The 2011 D-Crit Conference: Keynote: Rob Walker, “Imaginary Objects and Fictional Critiques” from D-Crit on Vimeo.

In May, the graduating students presented their research and thesis topics at Present Tense, the 2011 D-Crit Conference.

Studio DRIFT’s Fragile Futures, photo via

Studio Juju’s Rabbit Table

Knoll Textiles at Bard Graduate Center


Photograph from Made In China, by Lorena Turner

The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on on Fifth Ave. and 42st St. Photo via

Dialogue: SVA’s D-Crit

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

by Sarah Handelman

Who: Aileen Kwun, Vera Sacchetti,Molly Heintz, Avinash Rajagopal, Amelie Znidaric, Kim Birks

Summer’s here, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to put down the books. In the second of our two-part series on education, we talk with several recent grads of the Design Criticism MFA at the School of Visual Arts.

This seriously international group (students from New York, Montreal, Lisbon, and India, to name a few) spent the past two years learning from the likes of a name-droppable faculty that includes Steven Heller, Paola Antonelli, and Elizabeth Spiers. Through a diverse body of work, continuing research, and various theses, these grads have carved out their own positions in design criticism. While they hope to educate the public through writing, the group also sees design criticism as an opportunity to spark meaningful design dialogues. And we love that. 

Why is design criticism important?

Aileen: To me, it's is all about raising awareness of your environment — how it works, what it's made of, how it's being built and planned for the future; small scale to big scale, from a practical point of view, and from an emotional point of view. Design criticism is about voicing and sharing those observations — for the user, the consumer, the community member...for all the different roles we play in our daily lives. 

Vera: I first joined D-Crit because I felt the design profession was not given to reflect upon what it produced, and I wanted to change that. As a designer, it was impossible to stop and think; there was always some other deadline or project looming ahead. Being a design critic allows you to have a voice in a field where there aren't many voices. As a critic, you're not only a writer; you have an opinion. And that opinion, whatever it is, can only enrich the conversation in and around the design field. 

What is the role of design criticism? How do you see that role shifting in the next five years?

Molly: The role of design criticism is to help stoke these conversations and articulate the issues and concerns in an intelligent but accessible way. I see the design critic as a public advocate. With social media, individuals are empowered to answer back to developers, manufacturers, architects, and designers, and their voices will only grow louder in coming years. I think the days of the lone critic as a powerful arbiter are over, and that power is shifting to the general public; the critic will become an advisor, informer, and provocateur.

Avinash: As critics, we interpret, we analyze, and we ask questions. The word "critic" seems to indicate someone who is after-the-fact, but I think there is a role for criticism within the design process. I am specifically interested in how design criticism is useful to tomorrow's designers, within design education. There should be a place for critics who want to work with designers, and a place for critics who want to work with design students.

Is it possible not to write about design? What are the stories design critics should be telling?

Vera: Design critics should be telling the stories they care about. Whatever they are. The more the merrier. And yes, design is part of culture, so arguably any story could be about design. But I don't think that needs to be heralded, or even mentioned, if you just make it a good story. 

Kim: I agree with Vera that there is a lot of scope for design critics, and that they should be telling the stories that excite and interest them. The great thing about design criticism is it can be applied so broadly. A writer's own passion for the subject is, I believe, more important than the subject itself. 

Snapshot: D-Crit

Anything lately that has made you look twice?

Amelie: A series of luminaries called Fragile Future by Dutch design duo Drift. It's made of an LED network and blowballs, and it's utterly beautiful.

Avinash: I have been very intrigued by the fact that one of the most interesting design projects from India in recent times, Dream:In, is now moving to Brazil to reprise what it did in India: recording and compiling the dreams and aspirations of a country in flux. 

What designer or studio should we have started watching yesterday?

Aileen: I've recently become interested in Singaporean product design and South Korean graphic design, but can't say I know any of the studios all that well yet. Studio Juju is a good one, I think.

Vera: I'm fascinated by new models for design & architecture as practiced and preached by the Brazilian activist group OASIS and Lisbon-based TISA (The Informal School of Architecture).

Best place to get things done:

Kim: Away from my desk! I often do my best thinking in transit — in the subway or walking through the city. 

Molly: The New York Public Library, research branch, on Fifth Ave. and 42nd St.

Best place to get nothing done:

Vera: The beach! I’ve been revisiting my favorites around the Lisbon area.

Amelie: Any waterfront bodega at Vienna's Alte Donau, a branch of the river Danube.

Best exhibition you’ve been to lately:

Molly: I just went to the opening of a very tiny but very thought-provoking exhibit called Made in China by photographer Lorena Turner at 0.000156 Acres gallery in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Turner bought a variety of packaged products made in China, took them out of their wrappings and boxes, and dusted them for fingerprints. Then she photographed them under a black light, revealing the invisible prints of those who last touched these “brand new” objects.

Avinash: Knoll Textiles, at the Bard Graduate Center. In an age of iPad apps and interactive installations, I think this exhibition proves that a rigorously researched, no-frills historical exhibition can still be astounding.

Favorite person to follow on Twitter: 

Kim:  Ellen Lupton for design purposes and Stephen Colbert for pure entertainment.

Aileen: I love the goodies @UbuWeb and @OpenCulture post, and recently started following my friend @BreeApperley, who posts cool and curious things. A while back I came upon the @TacoBell Twitter, and at the time found it especially funny. They have some very enthusiastic customers.

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