Apple Above Critique?

Salon has an article today about a controversy that happened recently at Print magazine, when it published a critique of Apple.

The original critique is here (and has some very interesting analysis beyond its basic premise):
http://printmag.com/Article/An-Anatomy-of-Uncriticism

And the Salon article on the dust-up is here:
http://www.salon.com/2012/01/12/design_critique_imprint/

One thing at stake in all this is how people perceive the role of “critique” in design. Often, people assume that critique is saying bad things about something else. That’s how we use the term “criticism” in every day life. But as the Salon article notes, the purpose of serious critique (including design criticism) is to illuminate, not to scold. The relevant quote is here:

If the criterion for what warrants design criticism is based on a level of social, cultural or political impact, then a particular work is fair game regardless of the age or virtuosity of its maker. Since criticism is not meant to be a scold, but is rather a means of illuminating — delving below the surface — finding aspects of work that benefits by explanation and analysis, nothing and no one should be exempt.

There are two gems in that quote worth pointing out. The first I already have, which is that criticism is about illuminating a community, not about attacking a person or artifact. The second point reinforces the first: the role of criticism is not simply to call attention to flaws, but rather it is about “delving below the surface” to help explain or analyze the “social, cultural or political impact” of a design or event. Since we all must live with the social, cultural, and political impacts of designs, we all have a stake in their critique, with no exemptions.

Note: This post is based on an entry I posted earlier at the Interaction Culture Class blog.

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About jeffreybardzell

Jeffrey Bardzell is an Associate Professor of HCI Design and new media at the School of Informatics and Computing and an Affiliated Faculty of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University - Bloomington. He specializes in the aesthetics of software interfaces, amateur multimedia design communities, and digital creativity.
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