Cover Image for Who Can Afford to be Critical?
Cover Image for Who Can Afford to be Critical?
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Who Can Afford to be Critical?

Hosted by Damien
Past Event
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About Event

The world is in polycrisis, and designers are being asked to put the tools of our trade to ethical and critical purpose — to address social, political and environmental issues through our practices. But if we’re going to do that, we need to, like, be employed. We need to pay the bills and put food on the table. What are the pathways open to us to achieve getting paid for our work, while staying true to being a critical and ethical designer? Is it possible for us to go to work every day to critically design our way into a more just, less crisis-ridden future?

In this casual online round table moderated by Patrick Pittman of the Nor Co-operative, designers at different points of wrestling with this big question come together and share where they’re at with it.

Inspired by Afonso Matos's Who Can Afford to be Critical and Silvio Lorusso's What Design Can't Do.


Joel Derksen

Founder, Studio Otherness; Partner, Nor Collective

Joel set out as a self-taught designer and freelancer in midwestern Canada, before studying formally in Halifax and Toronto. After working across agencies in Toronto, Joel joined IDEO where he worked in the London and German offices. He founded Otherness in Rotterdam in 2022 to offer his experience of practice and execution to start-ups, scale-ups, with a focus on Queer and POC founders across commercial and cultural sectors. He is also co-founder of Nor, a digital, co-operative commons for Canadian design — a volunteer-driven project dedicated to discussing and critiquing the material culture of Canada.

Kevin Yuen Kit Lo

Assistant Professor in Communication Design and Visual Culture, Concordia University

Kevin Yuen Kit Lo works at the intersections of graphic design, cultural production, and social change with a research focus on publication practices and social movements. His new book Design Against Design: Cause and consequence of a dissident graphic practice is published by Set Margins. His research is invested in exploring the tensions between material and relational studies of design as a means of fostering greater social and political autonomy. Kevin founded the Montreal/Tiohtià:ke-based graphic design studio LOKI in 2014, working alongside community organizations, non-profits, cultural and educational institutions, unions, artists, researchers and activist groups, as part of broader movements for social change.

Mandish Kalsi

Service Designer, London Borough of Waltham Forest

Mandish is a transdisciplinary designer from Australia. Before transitioning into Service Design, she worked at the intersection of textiles and international development, focusing on cultural sustainability and women’s rights, in India and Peru. As a Service Designer in Local Government currently, Mandish has worked on a range of complex projects, external and internal facing, looking to improve and enhance experiences for residents as well as staff through policy development and service redesigning. Through her work, she champions values of deep care, respect, and empathy, to foster a culture of equity and inclusion.

Dr Silvia Grimaldi

Reader in Service Design and Collaborative Futures, University of the Arts London

Dr Silvia Grimaldi was previously Course Leader of the MA Service Design at UAL, Postdoctoral Research Fellow on Pharma Factory (H2020), and Co-Investigator leading the UAL side of Co-Design Your Place Erasmus+. Dr Silvia's expertise is in leading multi-stakeholder projects, involving communities, organisations, researchers, designers and students. Her approach is participatory, based on design-justice principles that value multiple voices, mindsets and experiences, and based on ethical exchange.

Valeska Mangel

PhD Researcher, Central Saint Martins; Service Designer, Epowar

Valeska N. Mangel has a background in Service Design and futurepsychological healthcare research. She is currently focusing on her PhD research at Central Saint Martins (UAL). Here, she is experimenting with a 'Design Philosophy Briefing' that mediates Critical Theory and Systemic Design practices to emancipate design from capitalism. Besides her passion for design theory, zine making, and writing, she she is working to improve women's safety as the head of UX and Design at Epowar and a UN Women UK delegate.


Patrick Pittman

Partner, Nor Collective; Partner, No Media Company

Patrick has spent his career poking, prodding, pushing and telling stories across platforms, as a reporter, as a collaborator and as a maker of magazines, radio, digital products, communities, theatre, and documentary film. Based between Toronto/Tkaronto and Newfoundland/Ktaqmkuk, Canada, he is co-founder of the Nor Co-operative, a partner at the editorial and creative studio No Media Company, editor of the email Buckslip, and a writer/creator of all kinds of various ongoing others. He was previously the editor of the magazines The Alpine Review and Dumbo Feather, a correspondent for Monocle in Australia, the South Pacific, and Canada, and director of a few creative and content agencies here and there.

Organised in Collaboration With

Service Lab London

UAL Research Society

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