Review: Creations – An entangled narrative about design as norm-critical practice

Karin Ehrnberger's theseis Tillblivelser - En trasslig berättelse om design som normkritisk praktik, Creations – An entangled narrative about design as norm-critical practice, reviewed by Susanne Helgeson.

An eye-opener!

The result of industrial designer Karin Ehrnberger's research is in many ways both unique and striking. It concerns what reality is actually like, how important it is to do further research in the field of norm criticism, and the fact that the possibility of positive change is easier than what many people think – if more design workers and manufacturers become aware of it. The thesis also differs from most of its fellows in terms of its embodiment, accessibility, appeal and language (Swedish).

The title of the thesis is Tillblivelser – En trasslig berättelse om design som normkritisk praktik (Creations – An entangled narrative about design as norm-critical practice). In it the author invites the reader to participate in reflections, projects and a dialogue about norm-critical design, what it might be and how it can be used. Ehrnberger shows with all (un-)desirable clarity how norms govern the design process and how design reproduces social norms by repeatedly creating products and services that exclude people. These, like most innovations, are based on the norm of the middle-aged, heterosexual, white man with a good income and without any functional impairments.

Ehrnberger describes her research via five stand-alone projects – all spiced with anecdotal-like personal life experiences. Among other things, she presents the Energy AWARE Clock, a new way of making visible energy consumption in the home, and one that demonstrates the energy companies' normative view of solutions that do not at all meet customers' needs. In Androstolen (The Androchair), a chair for the examination of men's prostates with a design based on women's experiences of the gynecological examination chair, the neglected need to pay serious attention to women's experience of the chair in question is made apparent. She also includes the project in which she demonstrates what "masculine" and "feminine" design look like respectively when a drill is designed as a handheld stick blender and vice versa.

Karin Ehrnberger's dissertation should be read both by all of Sweden's design students and by all the stakeholders in the industry. In brief, in order to understand what the situation is actually like. Thanks to Ehrnberger's view on how a thesis can be designed both in terms of its contents and its form, design research now has a far greater chance of doing its job of reaching out, being read, understood and implemented, and fostering improvement outside of academia's tight, strict walls.

Note: For those who are not able to read Ehrnberger in Swedish, she has also articles published in English, e.g. The Androchair: Performing Gynaecology through the Practice of Gender Critical Design by Ehrnberger and co-authors Räsänen, Börjesson, Hertz and Sundbom, in The Design Journal, 2017.

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Swedish Design Research Journal no 1 2017

Framsidan till Swedish Design Research Journal nr 1 2017

This article is published in Swedish Design Research Journal no 1, 2017. 

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SVID, Swedish Industrial Design Foundation | Visit: Söder Mälarstrand 29, 3 tr | Mail: Söder Mälarstrand 57, 118 25 Stockholm | info@svid.se I +46 (0)8 406 84 40

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SVID, Swedish Industrial Design Foundation | Visit: Söder Mälarstrand 29, 3 tr | Mail: Söder Mälarstrand 57, 118 25 Stockholm | info@svid.se I +46 (0)8 406 84 40