Proof of Concept is an ongoing series of guerrilla actions staged in the various halls, conference rooms, labs, and lobbies belonging to that nebulous phenomenon called design thinking. The project mis-appropriates tools and practices that advance a solutionist definition of design as a neutral service and of the designer as a neutral party. This dominant epistemic formation refigures stubbornly complex societal dysfunctions as design problems to be solved through proprietary methods, disavowing the value of other ways of knowing and acting. In flattening the intricacies of context and treating its acts of intervention as apolitical, contemporary design discourse bends its subject matter toward commercial antidotes, finding purchase as a laundering service for capital.

Proof of Concept is provoked by the question posed by Lucy Suchman, an anthropologist of design practice, “What does it mean to move from a discourse of design as a signifier that erases its own cultural, historical, and political specificity to an understanding of design as a modest contributor to collective efforts toward transformational change?” Turning the act of design upon the ‘designing’ body itself—and the spaces it occupies—Proof of Concept assembles a series of epistemic actions against meaning-making in the interest of capital. These actions are a form of ethnographic encounter with the body as a site of forgetting, training, and, potentially, reorienting.

Each entry of the project enacts a willful misinterpretation of an operation fundamental to the design thinking process—brainstorming, prototyping, assessing—to intensify its rhetoric to a breaking point and push it beyond recognition or usefulness. In treating each methodological operation as a performance in and of itself, the project suspends attention to outcomes or goals so as to consider the expenditure of sweat, muscle control, stress, money, and attention that underlies the affirmational aura of the design thinking industry.

The project is conceived and performed by Stratton Coffman and Isadora Dannin, co-conspirators based in Cambridge, MA.

Thank you to the Transmedia Storytelling Initiative and NuVu for providing pivotal financial support over various phases of this project.

We could not have pulled this off without the indispensable and legendary know-how of Jim Harrington.

All voiceover acting is performed by the inimitable Chelsie Green—thank you for lending your voice.
Thank you as well to the design-agnostic insights of Caroline Jones, Azra Akšamija, and Ana Miljački.

Our technical idiocy was and continues to be offset by the wizardry of John Steiner, Sean Mcdevitt, and Graham Yeager—thank you all.