Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby redefine contemporary design practice and design education with work that interweaves elements of design, art, science, technology, and philosophy. In collaborative partnership since 1994, first in London and, since 2016, in New York, they engineer provocative questions that probe our expectations of design and of the systems and frameworks that structure the world around us.
Both studied at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London—Dunne in industrial design and Raby in architecture and, later, computer-related design. They gained professional experiences at, respectively, Sony Design and Irie Architects before returning to the RCA as faculty in the Design Interactions track. Their program was renowned as an avant-garde incubator, producing designers who, like them, eschewed traditional solutions-oriented approaches. Instead of engaging with design’s established problem-solving role, Dunne & Raby imagine speculative scenarios and future possibilities. As they have stated, “We need to shift from designing applications to designing implications.”
In Designs for an Overpopulated Planet: Foragers (2009) Dunne & Raby imagine a possible future in which the problem of food shortages inspires a series of prostheses that enable human beings to digest algae, roots, and leaves, essentially outsourcing our gastrointestinal mechanisms. All the Robots (2007), from their Technological Dreams series, poses questions about robots of the future. Dunne & Raby suggest these robots will have emotions and feelings equivalent to those of human beings, and ask whether they will be subservient or equal to us, or dependent on us. Will robots take care of us or will we take care of them? Dunne & Raby’s work may be traced back to, in part, Radical Italian Design of the 1970s and designers and architects like Alessandro Mendini, who rejected the legacy of 20th-century modernism—which prized rational and functional design—in favor of spectacle and unconventional formal experimentations. Their work can also be seen as part of the history of visionary architects, such as the 18th-century Italian printmaker and architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi, whose work was purely imaginative and, despite remaining unbuilt, powerfully evocative for its audiences.
Dunne & Raby’s publications are a key part of disseminating their explorations of possible futures. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming (The MIT Press, 2013) is a primer on the mode of design they practice and teach, which has become known as Speculative and Critical Design. After winning the inaugural MIT Media Lab Award in 2015, they became professors in Design and Emerging Technologies at Parsons The New School, in New York, bringing their groundbreaking perspective on contemporary design to new generations of designers.
Introduction by Michelle Millar Fisher, curatorial assistant in MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design from 2014 to 2018.