Critical Design: “Achieving Success”

Background: The project explores critical design, which is design that critiques culturally accepted/prevalent systems held by dominant powers, and provides alternative realities for defining social, cultural and economic value.

The topic I  chose for this project was the arbitrary nature of success in western society. My critical design question was, How can I use design to question the status-quo of how we, as a society, accept or define “success” (as defined by our governmental systems and the existing structures of our workplaces)?

The arbitrariness of success can be summed up by some simple and practical questions such as, Who decides what’s worthy of a reward or prize? Who is being observed and entered into the running? Who is judging? Even if the answers to the previous questions are clear, what does “success” actually bring you or do for you? Success is often assigned based on personal wealth and accomplishments, yet having the most money in your pocket and/or accomplishments under your belt does not guarantee happiness or even a lasting feeling of satisfaction. This presents a Catch-22 situation: we are not supposed to be happy or satisfied until we’ve achieved success, but success itself might not bring happiness or satisfaction. My challenge: how could I use design to communicate an alternative socio-political reality: that the modern idea of “success” is an arbitrary, unachievable illusion?

The Project: This project uses satire (ridiculous exaggeration) through design and performance to poke fun at existing serious views and reward systems for “success” (such as the pomp and circumstance around the Nobel Peace Prize), making a parody of it by freely doling it out to anyone and everyone. I began by creating a tongue-in-cheek organization called The Governing Body for Arbitrary Success (“GBAS”) and designing a prize ribbon and booklet (gold foil ribbon, embossed booklet). Then, I created a pop-up performance installation in an Edmonton mall where I (dressed in full opulent tuxedo, tails, and top hat) handed them out to office workers heading up the escalator on their lunch break, with Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture playing in the background. The performance installation took place on Thursday, November 18, 2016 from 12 to 12:15pm, and was documented in photos and videoography by Jill Keech.

Design: Sarah Jackson / Photos and videography: Jill Keech