Like a trap door to a room we didn’t know existed, Design Noir opened up a space for a critical design practice that was wholly unexplored in its time. Today, that space seems not only obvious and essential, but inevitable. The impact of Design Noir has been inestimable. And the aftershocks from this unassuming but masterful book are still reverberating decades later.
Only now that speculation through design has come into its own can we see the full legacy of this mischievous and engaging book. Its welcome reappearance shows it remains both a crucial study in material critique and a lesson in how to document the thoughts of your participants.
The first book to be published on the work of their partnership (in 2001) Design Noir is the essential primary source for understanding the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings for Dunne & Raby’s work.
Consisting of three elements—a ‘manifesto’ on the possibilities of designing with and for the ‘secret life’ of electronic objects; —some notes for an embryonic network of critical designers, and most famously, —the presentation of the Placebo Project, a prototype for a critical design poetics enacted around electronic furniture-objects; Design Noir offers an in-depth exploration of one of the most seminal design projects of the last two decades, one that arguably initiated speculating through design in its contemporary forms.
By detailing the logic and character of the objects that were constructed; the involvement of users with these objects over-time, and in the creation of a new kinds of spatially and temporally distributed moments of critique and engagement with things, the work presents the case-study of the Placebo project as a far more complex and subtler project than is often thought.
As a bold and in many ways unprecedented experiment in design writing and book designing, Design Noir is itself an instance of the speculative propositional design it expounds.
Anthony and Fiona are University Professors of Design and Social Inquiry at Parsons/The New School in New York where they co-direct the Designed Realities Studio.