In 2013, I returned to the Design Interactions department at London's Royal College of Art to do a PhD. Over the last four years, I explored the problem of "better" through practice and writing, finishing in November 2017, and am planning to turn the PhD into a book.
Designers, engineers, marketers, politicians, and scientists all craft motivating visions of better futures. In some of these, “better” will be delivered by science and technology; in others, the consumption of designed things will better us or the world. “Better” has become a contemporary version of progress, shed of some of its philosophical baggage. But better is not a universal good or a verified measure: it is imbued with politics and values. And better will not be delivered equally, if at all. “What is better?”, “Whose better?”, and “Who decides?” are questions with great implications for the way we live and hope to live.
At a time when social, economic, and environmental conditions place in question the dominant paradigms of better defined by globalisation and technology, Better, a PhD by project, investigates some of the powerful dreams triggered by a banal word and develops critical design techniques to find new ways to ask better questions. This thesis contends that the “dream of better” is so influential in advanced technological societies that it is what science and technology studies scholars term a sociotechnical imaginary. The imaginary is used as a critical design tool to examine better, revealing links between design and the emerging technoscience of synthetic biology and other ideological spaces, like Silicon Valley. As a young field, synthetic biology offers a space to test and expand critical design’s potential.