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A number is worth more than a thousand pictures: The case of designers’ cynical resistance through quantification

Journal article
Authors Ulises Navarro Aguiar
Published in Ephemera : Theory and Politics in Organization
Volume 20
Issue 4
ISSN 1473-2866
Publication year 2020
Published at HDK­-Valand - Academy of Art and Design
Language en
Keywords evaluation, quantification, evaluation device, cynical resistance, managerialism, statactivism, post-critique designers
Subject categories Design, Technology and social change, Business Administration


This article draws on an ethnographic investigation of product development at an engineering organization to examine the struggle faced by designers in justifying design proposals when cooperating with engineers and managers. Frustrated by the priority given to numbers over other modes of evaluation traditionally used in design, designers in this case developed and mobilized their own evaluation device to quantitatively prove the validity and worth of their work. This quasi-parodic form of evaluation enables designers to criticize and influence strategic project decisions. At the same time, this cynical act of resistance paradoxically endorses the quantitative approach and undermines designers’ own professional expertise as a valid way of conceiving worth, which ultimately renders this move more indeterminate than what a distinction between resistance and conformity denotes. Overall, the study adds to our understanding of how modes and principles of justification typically embraced by professional groups can be unsettled by attempts to protect them. In doing so, it brings to light the ambivalent nature of resistance through a cynical embrace of quantification.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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