Background and activities

E X I S T E N T I A L  D E S I G N

From where I stand as an industrial designer and design researcher, I consider an object, such as a quilt, to be produced by humans in a certain way or fashion. That is, the quilt has its own method of construction; it comes with an outline saying that its essence, in functional terms, is for example to keep someone warm. This “fundamental nature” (Torkildsby 2014, pp. 29) is given even before the cover exists, so that designers can bring another piece into life by making it according to this specific plan. However, there is a dilemma with this way of thinking: since none of us really know “[...] when, where, why, by whom and most importantly, how [...]” (ibid., pp. 28) the thing is to be used, designers will not be able to fully determine its intended use, purpose and goals in any situations concerning human beings (if any at all).

Normally, this does not cause any critical problems. In an “extreme environment” (ibid., pp. 22), such as intensive care units and remand prisons, however, it could be a matter of life and death. This is why I spend my PhD researching into institutional environments, particularly hospitals and prisons. Based on knowledge gained from e.g. extensive reading about existentialism, phenomenology and life in institutions – in addition to observations on various types of institutional caring-environments and interviews with professionals at the hospital/prison as well as patients/prisoners – I extracted certain “truths” about what it means to be human in suchlike environments.

The research resulted in a critical design method, i.e. the existential designial analysis, which is another way of thinking about design: a method of designing with a focus on “designials” (fundamental forms of design being). Focusing on designials, the methodology intends to illustrate the fact that objects may directly impinge upon certain “existentials” (fundamental forms of human being). Moreover, “the method is a form of critical design that enables designers to shift focus, from analysis of the functionality of a design in use, e.g. by performing a functional analysis, to analysis of the form of being human that a design in use defines" (ibid., pp. 7). More importantly, the method considers what may happen if we do not take into account this aspect of design; in other words, the ‘"dark side" of design thinking.  

The theory in its entirety is defined and illustrated throughout three parts of my doctoral thesis, titled "EXISTENTIAL DESIGN - Revisiting the 'dark-side' of design thinking": 1) Design manual, 2) Dialogue and 3) Critical design examples, and I am in the process of applying this way of thinking design onto the discipline of Universal Design as we speak.

(Photo: Maja Nilsen Stende)

COMPETENCIES: Design research, Universal Design; inclusive design; design for all, Existential design; critical design, Industrial design; product design, Project management.



Scientific, academic and artistic work

Displaying a selection of activities. See all publications in the database

Part of book/report

  • Torkildsby, Anne Britt. (2016) Existential Design Applied in Universal Design Settings. Universal Design 2016: Learning from the past, designing for the future. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Universal Design (UD 2016), York, United Kingdom, August 21–24, 2016.