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Wicked Problems, Wicked Designs (2021)

Wicked problems, Wicked designs is a remote forum theater 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. This forum aimed to reveal and challenge the sexist, colonialist, racist, and capitalist oppression in contemporary design thinking.

The Design & Oppression network members 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 complicators through a chatbox.

The several faces of Doris, the monstrous protagonist character

Cast and crew

  • Frederick van Amstel, joker-director, as Tom White
  • Rafaela Angelon, as Doris
  • Bibiana Serpa, as Helena
  • Carmem Saito, as Crystal

Plot summary

The story follows Doris, a Brazilian female designer who is a single mother working on solutions for period poverty. Doris seeks investment from Tom White, a foreign investor who set up a startup accelerator program to support Global-South women in tackling society’s wicked problems. The investor uses design thinking to evaluate her proposal and suggests improvements but he is never satisfied with what Doris is presenting. This pushes her to explore what the feminist social movement was doing in Brazil against President Bolsonaro’s veto of a period poverty protection Law. Doris appropriates social movements imagery and political strategies to design a community-based service, presented to Tom White, despite the criticism of Helena, her friend who already participated in several period poverty acts.


Full recording


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.

Saito, Carmem; Van Amstel, Frederick M. C.; Serpa, Bibiana O; Angelon, Rafaela. Wicked rituals of contemporary design thinking. (2023). In: Mehl, Johanna and Höfler, Carolin (Eds). Attending [to] Futures. Matters of Politics in Design Education, Research, Practice. Hamburg: Adocs. p. 150-161.

Categories: My work.

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