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The University of Kent School of Architecture claims that a brief asking students to design a torture device and its antidote is acceptable. Does such an assignment aid design learning, or is it merely offensive?

We are all for lateral briefs to push design thinking, and have seen some of the best ideas come from seemingly unfertile ground, but this seems unnecessarily sensationalist. The media has over-glamourised violence and torture, making this an obvious and somewhat trite choice. The real challenge is to create inspiring and challenging briefs for issuesthat aren’t as superficially sexy. There are many more aspects of the human condition that can be improved with inspirational thinking from a generation of new talent.
Dave Beard, Creative director, Brandhouse

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I think people need to stop taking life so seriously. It sounds like a great brief tome. They should be congratulated on stretching young minds and on having slightly odd and interesting tutors. Some of thebest ideas come from exploring users and markets that you wouldn’t normally consider. There is also a huge fetish market out there and design has a roleto play in every walk of life.
John Corcoran, Director, Wire Design

It would be folly to imagine that all youneed to learn about on a design and architecture course is how to bolt things together successfully. As practitioners, we sometimes have to make difficult ethical decisions about what we do – should I design a cigarette box, for instance? So putting such issues at the feet of students is a vital part of their learning process.
Adam White, Partner, Factory Design

The nature of this brief encourages adebate around the ethics of design and forces students to deconstruct and challenge the brief itself. For students,these things are a healthy and necessary part of forming their opinions and values as designers. We recently designed a torture device (or, hopefully, the antidote) – a ballet pointe shoe. I’m sure thestudents at Kent would learn genuinely useful skills like ergonomics, physiology and mechanics fromthis project. Whether it is offensive depends on how the tutors choose to present it.
Rob Brown, Director, Sprout

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