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Wicked Problems, Wicked Designs (2021)

Wicked problems, Wicked designs is a Forum Theater session held during the Attending [To] Futures conference in 2021 organized by the KISD School. Forum Theater is a technique developed by Augusto Boal to make structural oppression visible through acting while also rehearsing liberation from oppression. In this forum, the goal was to reveal and challenge the sexist, colonialists, racists, and capitalist oppression in contemporary design thinking. The full recording is available on Youtube.

The plot consists of a Brazilian designer who wants to get funded by a foreign investor for her solution to the wicked problem of period poverty. The investor uses design thinking to evaluate her proposal and suggests some improvements to her idea, which pushes her to explore what the feminist social movement was doing in Brazil against President Bolsonaro’s veto of a period poverty protection Law.

Members of the Design & Oppression network staged the play and mediated the debate with the audience. An innovative format was developed based on the experience of the Theater of the Techno-Oppressed, an outreach program that, among other things, adapts Theater of the Oppressed to online venues. The streaming video became the aesthetic space, whereas the characters wore digital masks built with augmented reality to express the wickedness of design. The characters also presented mockery slides and visual thinking presentations. The audience could interact directly with the characters or with the complicators through a chatbox.

This Forum Theater was created, produced, and complicated by Frederick van Amstel (UTFPR), Bibiana Serpa (UFRJ), Rafaela Angelon (UTFPR), and Carmem Saito (RCA), from the Design & Oppression network. The network also produces an online weekly reading group, a series of Youtube videos, and the Designs of the Oppressed international course.


Saito, C., Serpa, B.O., Angelon, R., and van Amstel, F. (2022) Coming to terms with design wickedness: Reflections from a forum theatre on design thinking, in Lockton, D., Lenzi, S., Hekkert, P., Oak, A., Sádaba, J., Lloyd, P. (eds.), DRS2022: Bilbao, 25 June – 3 July, Bilbao, Spain.

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