Auger Loizeau: Sublime Gadgets

via Auger Loizeau: Sublime Gadgets

Further research into the work of Auger and Loizeau and also, I believe, my better understanding of the nature and purpose of Speculative or Critical Design has led me to appreciate this work. Initially I found aspects of the work of James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau impenetrable, however further research around the subject has allowed my understanding to develop. This shows how important time is in allowing an appreciation of complex work to form.

ripple counter
Sublime Gadget No.1, Auger & Loiseau (2012)

Auger and Loizeau write about the Sublime Gadgets project:

Gadgets are the most ephemeral of domestic objects. Their dazzling but fleeting existence is a consequence of two combined factors:

1: The value of a gadget is found in its novelty and ability to provide spectacle.
2: This novelty is provided by the latest technological innovations.

Arthur C. Clarke’s often quoted 3rd law describes the relationship between these points:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

It is in this magical element that the spectacle resides but as a consequence it follows that just as the illusion dies when the magician reveals his slight of hand, so the technology becomes distinguishable from magic when it becomes familiar. This normalising of technology leads to the death of the gadget.
Sublime Gadgets aims expand the lifespan of these ephemeral objects through introducing notions of the romantic sublime. This shifts the focus away from technological fetishism towards objectifying ‘pleasures of the imagination’ (Addison), the infinity of time and space (Shaftesbury), agreeable kinds of horror (Addison), randomness found in nature and the management of life and death.

This work also illustrates the many layers of ideas and theory that are encapsulated in well developed critical or speculative design concepts.

Democratised Maintenance

Teenage Engineering produce synthesisers that are designed to make music making accessible. Their products feature an exciting aesthetic that is both simple and technical. I am particularly enthralled by the exposed electronics of the PO series of products. I enjoy the paired back nature of the design and the fact that this lays the technical components bare allowing the informed owner an understanding of the operation of the device and the opportunity to replace parts that become worn or damaged.

The company offers a free down load service where owners can access free files to allow 3D printing of parts to replace worn elements. They also offer software updates which will extend the function of the products and can be seen as a form of digital maintenance.

Most of the files  3D files are for the PO-10 series which has many buttons and switches, all of which are designed to be replaced when worn.

OP-1 Series, Teenage Engineering
cad files
CAD Files for 3D Printing replacement parts.

Offering maintenance items in a digital form is an interesting concept, both this and the design that exposes/makes accessible the technical parts of the product can be seen as democratising maintenance.

Dunne and Raby

Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby are noted for their work in speculative design. They are quoted as stating:

Dunne & Raby use design as a medium to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about the social, cultural and ethical implications of existing and emerging technologies. (Dunne & Raby, 2016)

I can’t possibly cover all of the work that this prolific partnership has generated, but one particular project has captured my attention and helps to explain their approach to using design as a means of communicating speculative future thinking.

Digiland, United Micro Kingdoms, Dunne & Raby.

The United Micro Kingdoms project was commissioned by the Design Museum and uses speculative design to communicate four alternative imagined futures for the UK. It envisages a future where the UK is split into four separate autonomous states that choose very different social and political directions. The concept is well informed by contemporary thinking and published research, but the often abstract concepts can be hard to communicate. The use of ‘good design’ to help make the thinking behind the work accessible is not dissimilar to the methods used in film to help the audience imagine a different reality. Their work is designed to inform, but mostly to spark debate.

Dunne and Raby contend that if we speculate more—about everything—reality will become more malleable. The ideas freed by speculative design increase the odds of achieving desirable futures. (Dunne & Raby, 2013)

I have seen ‘critical design’ and ‘critical artifacts’ used as research tools through the work of Professor Paul Chamberlain of the ADRC at Sheffield Hallam University. I have also used speculative design as a means to communicating ideas at the culmination of some research into how caring can help users extend the life of their possessions in the Critical Care project. I am interested in using a form of speculative design to express ideas about how designers might tackle certain problems. It seems possible that this same work can be used to trigger reactions that can form the basis of further research.

The Agency of Design

The Agency of Design is a London based studio founded by  multidisciplinary group of designers who state:

Having witnessed the unhappy ending of products, the studio was founded around the concept of human agency, we wanted to demonstrate that the agency of design was about the potential of design to create change in the world. It is from this ethos that we focus on design that creates a more desirable future.  (The Agency of Design 2016)

Their work ranges from commercially realist product design, digital/virtual solutions, guides and instructions through to provocative projects that stimulate debate.

the optomist - The Agency of Design
The Optimist Toaster – The Agency of Design


The example shown above is from a range of three toasters designed to illustrate potential future directions that designers could take simple domestic products to promote more sustainable consumption.

There are many other examples on their website of products aiming to create a better future. This includes more sustainable design, as seen with the ‘Design Out Waste‘ project, solutions to infection control in hospitals with the ‘PullClean Door Handle‘ and the ‘Digesting Science‘ project which culminated in a website used to explain Multiple Sclerosis to children whose parents have the condition.

PullClean Door Handle – The Agency of Design

I find their work both exciting and highly accessible, there is a real mix of pragmatic problem solving and speculative ‘critical design’.

Having been enthralled by the work of Dunne and Raby ,but finding their work in speculative design sometimes difficult to rationalise, it is refreshing to find a group whose work appeals to such an extent.