Week Twelve: New Steps

The idea of the future is always interesting, purely because there are no limitations of what could happen, well through imagination there isn’t anyway. When regarding ‘what are the potential future definitions of design practice?’, many of the case studies had similar answers of what would seem, the most logical and common responses.

Simon Manchipp stated how terms are beginning to become a lot more broad, and people are desperate to categorise things into sections, similar to what we explored in week 3. He made a statement that stood out of ‘convert customers into fans’, design an experience for people, experiences are broad in themselves; music, smell, theatre, emotion and much more. Design isn’t just making things visually pleasing on a page anymore, it’s much more. Sam Winston interesting mentions the attention economy and how this isn’t getting any less, although when I looked into what the actual definition is, there where many examples of saying attention economy is disappearing, such as here and here. Arguments are raised that due to us having so much information to take in now, our brains can’t cope with it, in turn our attention spans are becoming shorter, making it more difficult to engage consumers. In addition to this, the attention economy has become toxic with fake news and garage content due to the power of social media. (Lichfield, G. n.d.). However, Sam states against this, in that people are very aware now and physical elements affect how we think, the medium shapes our thoughts, which is a nice concept to take forward, again stepping away from the traditional idea of graphic design. Perhaps attention economy is something that that future design practice can adapt and adhere too with more physical elements rather than on screen?

Regular Practice discuss how people are very keen to predict future design trends and definitions, such as the print becoming dead, which personal I think print is making a comeback and as RP say, due to the digital age not much is produced that stands out anymore, therefore unique work is rare to come by and I think print can provide this stand out element. Humans are tactile creatures and print can allow for this need of touch, marketers can use it to break through the digital content and it can provide an additional content delivery avenue. (Cook, A. 2016). Intro made an intriguing statement in reference to Saul Bass and how he was a commercial artist, who produced many elements through a range of different skill sets, they believe this style of working is making a comeback, as do Sarah Boris and RP stating that now one person can provide a wide skill set, unlike many years ago people were very specific with one skill, in turn this is making studios a lot smaller, due to not need 3 people, when 1 person has the skills of all of them for example. As designer Benjamin Hubert discusses, ‘It [his new launched studio, Layer] has to be multidisciplinary. I think design practices are becoming less based around one thing – I think agencies that are successful have to offer that complete holistic view.’

When posed with the question ‘What are the sectors that might change or need to change?‘, the answers ranged a bit more than the previous question. Simon Manchipp commented that the idea is the central thing, it is important that our ideas are connected with people and that the medium shouldn’t matter too much, it’s about the message and communication. But as we’ve explored in previous weeks, the medium can enhance a message so I can’t say I agree with this statement completely, however I do agree with that if we can’t connect well with people we are failing with the projects. Sam Winston linked back to the idea of how designers are becoming more multidisciplinary but in the respect that it’s very hard to break out of your known skill area with clients. Agencies that do well are the ones who break down this barrier. As Butler says, the future belongs to multidisciplinary agencies and refers to an essay by Bronowskithat
articulates ‘how scientists must be multidisciplinary—particularly engaging with creative pursuits—in order to avoid the “emotional immaturity” that leads them, inevitably, to “produce work which appeals to others like them, but which is second rate.” Designers can also get caught in echo chambers, motivated by peer approval and using client work as merely a means to that end.’ (Butler, C. 2013). That actually the creative process is sustained by the cross-pollination from one area of practice to another.

RP discussed how they don’t think things need to change, but they will. Things will merge together, again bringing this multidisciplinary ideas to the forefront again. Sarah Boris elaborates on this by mentioning how not just designers, but even production companies have to adapt for more print based solutions, as people are more environmentally conscious. This could also back the argument of print isn’t dead, just adapting. She states everyone is more collaborative overall. But as Intro say, the world around us changes so fast it’s a bit like the blind leading the blind – collaborating and working together across many disciplines could allow for a more confident adaptation to the world changing around us and how as designers we can slot into it.

Throughout the lecture with Susanna, Maziar Raein discusses many elements of design practice today and considerations of how it may change in the future, but what stood out the most to me was when he mentioned speculative design. This then lead me to the resources section for this week to discover the Speculate Everything book by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. The book proved very interesting, reading the first chapter, then flicking to the last though proved I needed to read the whole book to fully understand – adds to do to list.

At the very beginning of the book the two authors propose this list, of which B does not intend to replace A, of which showcase original ‘design’ elements, but aims to add new dimensions. In turn, providing thoughts and considerations of how design can be adapted and change within the future, when implementing B elements with A elements.

The book starts by discussing the problems we face as a human race, from over population, water shortages to climate change and how designers, feel an urge to work together to fix these. Which is great, as now, we are starting to understand design is much more than a selling tool, it can change lives, as heroic as that sounds. However, the book states, quite rightly, a lot of our problems today are unfixable, so instead we need to change our attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviour, and not to give up, but to use design as a means of speculating how things could be.

Speculative design is design that aims to open up new perspectives and thrives on imagination, to create space for discussion and debate about alternative ways of being, as well as acting as a catalyst to refine our relationship with reality. It all sounds very fancy, but in simple terms it’s design that provides ideas of possible futures, using these as a tool to better understand the now, and to allow people to discuss the kind of future they want, or don’t want. The book is quite straight to the point of how we can’t predict futures, but we can help put in place factors that will increase the probability of a more desirable future, or spot undesirable futures and address this to limit the impacts and changes.

This resource caught my interest mainly due to my new found curiosity of human centred design and other support practices, of which I will be researching into a bit more to gather a clear understanding over Easter break. The idea behind it is certainly interesting and one of which I didn’t know existed, it’s a simple concept in the grand scheme of things – get people talking, understand what each other want and try manipulate the situation to create positive outcomes in the future, but obviously, it’s isn’t that easy to do I imagine.

In 2009, Stuart Candy, founder of Situation Lab, did a presentation that showcased a diagram based on different futures. This diagram was created in 1994 by Trevor Hancock and was based on Henchey’s original future possibilities concept in 1978 (Voros, J. 2017). There seems to be a lot of arguments of who created the future cone first, but anyway, I gathered a few versions to get a better understanding. The cone consists of four main sections, probable, plausible, possible and preferable. The first cone is probable which Dunne and Raby say most designers sit, as it is focused around what is likely to happen. The next cone is plausible, this is the section of what could happen. Next cone is possible, this consists of making links between today’s world and a suggested one. A final cone is preferable which intersects probable and plausible, but as stated in the book – what is preferable, to who and when? Potentially the cones that most speculative design belongs in would be the plausible and possible. But it’s not about predicting futures, as designers it’s about opening up possible ones. (Dunne, A. and Raby, F. 2014).

An example of this speculative design is discussed in a TED talk by Anab Jain of why we need to imagine different futures. She has set up a multidisciplinary studio, Superflux that aims to feel the impact of potential future possibilities, they look out for weak singles that they believe could lead to something, they take them; think, create, prototype and test a future based idea. She talks about how things are happening too fast, we become uncertain and just let the future happen, as humans we are struggling to even imagine how the consequences of our actions today will effect our future. A prime example is global warming, we hear about it every day, yes things are being put in place to try improve the situation, but because it hasn’t actually happened, a lot of people can’t relate. Superflux worked with the UAE to propose potential futures in terms of the energy used and outcomes of this, she states anything on screen didn’t impact the public, but for one potential future they showcased ‘air’ from 2030 if they didn’t change their energy use soon. Due to people wanting to touch, see and feel as Sam Winston mentioned earlier, this creates a more real and relatable outcome, which allows people to really think and ask the right questions. (Superflux. N.d.).

Superflux create concrete experiences which allow them to bridge the disconnect between today and tomorrow. Through this speculative design, we have the chance to change direction and write a future we want. Through their website they showcase a huge range of conceptual ideas for the future, of which create discussion, interest and mainly provide a relatable experience that can be acted upon by the right people. It would seem this type of design follows an ethical base with the main focus being around creating positive futures for humans, with designs for topics such as climate change, surveillance, cultural, ethical and many more.

Another example of speculative design is by Forensic Architecture (FA). FA are an independent research agency in London who undertake advanced architectural and media research on behalf of international prosecutors, human right organisations and political and environmental justice groups – again very ethical, and focused around creating a positive impact for our future. As discussed earlier about multidisciplinary teams becoming more common within design and the future of design, FA host a team like this consisting of investigators, architects, scholars, artists, filmmakers, software developers. investigative journalists, archaeologists, lawyers and scientists. A team of which, before this course, I wouldn’t even consider exists due to the wide, and very different range of skill sets.

Through analysing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, they focus on an overarching theme of urban conflict. They always share their findings with the public via a convincing, precise and accessible manner of which they investigate throughly to inform their practice of why an urban conflict happened, the patterns within it and the main aim, to prevent and predict such conflicts happening again or repeating on from this. FA aim to analyse dynamic events in real time as they unfold to enable them to generate new insights into the context and conduct of urban conflict. Such events have been investigated: Grenfell Tower, killing of Zak Kostopoulous and drone strikes.

A vital element of speculative design is the showcasing of design or findings to the public, FA provide many exhibitions to provide a vital opportunity to disseminate not only their finding, but their research technologies too. This has sparked even more of my interest into HCD, research based design, etc and now speculative design – the thought of being able to involve the public within your own design work for their own benefit creates a somewhat appealing notion of how as a designer, you can make or aim to make, even a small difference to the future.

The Grenfell Tower was the most relatable piece of FA’s website, therefore the most interesting to me. It’s good that they leave the investigation open, rather than proposing their findings and forgetting about it, allowing for potential changes and understanding of the urban battlefield. Some of FA’s exhibitions are below too, fantastic representations and compelling. Again sparking curiosity and ideas for my own work and interests.

A further example of speculative design I found was Parasitic Products. Which upon reading at first, I couldn’t see any positive from the design, but then remembered that can be the point. To propose what could happen, and how we can change or aim to stop it if need be.

‘Parasitic Products is a suite of working digital radios with a difference. Each radio is based on a real world parasite (gall wasp, ichneumon wasp and hookworm), and can only survive by parasitising another domestic appliance. The behaviours, characteristics and aesthetic are directly based on the reference parasites. Gall wasp radio uses chemical reactions to produce energy and change the host’s chemical & physical structure. Ichneumon Wasp radio tricks iPhones into giving up their electricity to power itself. The hookworm radio survives by suppressing the communication systems of its hosts, drawing power from phone lines and blocking wifi.’

To me, it sounds like some form of Sci fi horror film. But perhaps that is the point, to show how dangerous technologies can be and how people can use them in a bad light. As Studio PSK states ‘The aim of the project was to act as a design provocation, to propose ideas of an alternative trajectory for a connected ecology of objects. What are the ethical and social implications of designing objects that are not just connected and collaborative, but parasitic and disruptive?’ (Core77. 2014). An eye opening project, to show even in a simple concept, just how powerful speculative design can be.

Speculative design proposes the big what ifs. The what would happen if. The notion of providing a more relatable connection to our future by materialising imagination. But of course, there’s always a critic. Kolehmainen states that speculative design is often provocative and uses shock tactics to see results and that the government need new ways to approach the future, of which they could do by using the shock element of speculative design. It could be used for control by materialising all the fears the public have, rather than the hopes discussed. (Kolehmainen, I. 2016).  Tin foil hat time. Although the government states they ‘need to put citizens back at the centre of public service and public policy development. Speculative Design is a tool to do this, not only to creatively imagine solutions but also to think more long-term. (Whicher A. 2017).
James King, founder of Science Practice, further mentions how ‘mainstream Hollywood science fiction probably has had a much larger impact on the way people are informed about emerging technologies and different ideas about how the world should be.’ Could this result in our future concepts being tainted, perhaps making it worse, or better? Rather than inventing are we regurgitating? As with all things, there is concerns and speculation of negative impacts.

Butler, C. (2013). The Future Belongs to Multidisciplinary Designers. [online] HOW Design. Available at: https://www.howdesign.com/web-design-resources-technology/renaissance-designers/ [Accessed 15 Apr. 2019].

Cook, A. (2016). Three ways that print media is making a comeback | SnappConner. [online] Snappconner.com. Available at: https://snappconner.com/three-ways-that-print-media-is-making-a-comeback/ [Accessed 15 Apr. 2019].

Core77. (2014). Core77 Design Awards 2014: The Best Speculative Designs of the Year – Core77. [online] Available at: https://www.core77.com/posts/27475/Core77-Design-Awards-2014-The-Best-Speculative-Designs-of-the-Year [Accessed 15 Apr. 2019].

Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2014). Speculative everything. [S.l.]: MIT.

Forensic Architecture. (n.d.). Forensic Architecture. [online] Available at: https://www.forensic-architecture.org/ [Accessed 15 Apr. 2019].

Kolehmainen, I. (2016). Speculative design: A design niche or a new tool for government innovation?. [online] nesta. Available at: https://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/speculative-design-a-design-niche-or-a-new-tool-for-government-innovation/ [Accessed 15 Apr. 2019].

Lichfield, G. (n.d.). Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you. [online] Nieman Lab. Available at: https://www.niemanlab.org/2018/12/goodbye-attention-economy-well-miss-you/ [Accessed 15 Apr. 2019].

Superflux. (n.d.). The Future Energy Lab — Superflux. [online] Available at: http://superflux.in/index.php/work/futureenergylab/# [Accessed 15 Apr. 2019].

Voros, J. (2017). The Futures Cone, use and history. [online] The Voroscope. Available at: https://thevoroscope.com/2017/02/24/the-futures-cone-use-and-history/ [Accessed 15 Apr. 2019].

Whicher A. (2017). Speculative Design for Government, Policy and Politics. [online] PDR. Available at: http://pdronline.co.uk/blog/2017/06/speculative-design-for-government-policy-and-politics [Accessed 15 Apr. 2019].

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