Tag Archives: design thinking

How we made the future in the past.

 

 

Decisions. Decisions. Today’s blog was a toss up between another drone update (probably next week) and some optimistic technology news (for a change). Instead, I decided to go another route entirely. This week FastCo blurbed a piece on the “new” limited edition book collection, “The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It’s no so new, the 4 volume set that sold for $1000 sold out in no time, but the story is a compelling one. The $70, second printing is on my Christmas list. There are a dozen fascinating angles to the 2001 production story. FastCo’s article, “The Amazingly Accurate Futurism of 2001: A Space Odyssey“, focuses on the film’s “attention to the technical and design details that made the film such an enduring paragon almost 50 years after its release.” I could not agree more. This latest book’s author, Piers Bizony wrote a predecessor back in 1994 entitled “2001: filming the future.” This book is currently out of print, but I managed to snag a copy for my library. It’s a captivating story, but like FastCo, I am in awe of Kubrick’s brilliance in the team he brought together to build the sets and design the props.

“He assembled a skunkworks team of astronomical artists, aeronautics specialists, and production designers. Aerospace engineers—not prop makers—designed switch panels, display systems, and communications devices for the spacecraft interiors.”

The objective was realism and total believability. It worked. I remember seeing it in the theater on the BIG screen (I was five years old). There was nothing else like it — ever— a testimony to the fact that we still marvel at its accuracy nearly fifty years later.

Clearly Kubrick was a visionary, but what might be more impressive is how they made it look so real. Today, we watch tidal waves take out New York City, and 20 story robots transform into sports cars. It has almost become ho-hum. To capture the effects that Kubrick did it required an inspiring level of ingenuity. Much of this goes to his production designers and the genius of Douglas Trumbull. These special effects, people walking on walls, floating in weightlessness, or believable spacecraft gliding through the cosmos were analog creations. Take for example the gracefully revolving centrifuge: they built it. Or the spacewalking scenes that I believe are every bit as good as 2013’s Gravity. The film was full of artifacts from the future and a tribute to design and engineering problem solving that was and is most rare.

Kubrick's-Centrifuge
They built it!

I could rave about this movie all day, but I can’t sign off until I rave a bit about the film itself. By this, I mean the story. First released in 1968, at the crux of this narrative is an Artificial Intelligence that becomes self-aware. It is so freaking convincing that I leave with this clip. You can also get a taste of how truly visual this film was.

Photo from 2001: Filming the future. Piers Bizony 1996
Bookmark and Share

What games will we change next? Is your game one of them?

A few of weeks ago I was blogging about open sourcing, collaboration and how all these tectonic shifts change industries, professions and more. Then, there was a recent blog on the future of work and how even white collar jobs, the ones that everyone thought were bullet-proof, are targets for dissolution by artificial intelligence (AI). Could designers be targets as well? That was the subject of the first post I mentioned.

So a couple of things crossed my glance that could have a bearing on the design, manufacturing, collaboration, and what we think of as the traditional maker-economy. What bearing will it have? Who knows? I think we should keep an eye on them.

1. Not long ago, WIRED had an article and video on how a “regular guy” without any special “making” skills was able to fabricate, in his home, a fully functioning and untraceable AR15 automatic rifle. Of course, doing so is illegal, so after testing his weapon on the firing range he turned over the parts to the local police. It was all in the name of journalism. Check it out.

The fully assembled AR-15.  Photo: JOSH VALCARCEL/WIRED
The fully assembled AR-15. Photo: JOSH VALCARCEL/WIRED

2. I read an article in Harvard Business Review about the very interesting trend in business toward Network Orchestrators. According to HBR, “These companies create a network of peers in which the participants interact and share in the value creation. They may sell products or services, build relationships, share advice, give reviews, collaborate, co-create and more. Examples include eBay, Red Hat, and Visa, Uber, Tripadvisor, and Alibaba.”

What do these things have in common? They are potential game-changers. Heck, they’ve already changed the game. The bigger question for us is what game will they change next. Both models challenge traditional “expertise”. The expert, the specialist, the factory, the tradesman (and in some cases the authorities) are getting edged out. It has applications to just about everything including medicine and the work that we believed could only be done by the specialist. So what should we do about it? I don’t have the answer, but I can tell you this: We should be thinking about it.

Just sayin’.

 

Bookmark and Share

Robots will be able to do almost anything, including what you do.

There seems to be a lot of talk these days about what our working future may look like. A few weeks ago I wrote about some of Faith Popcorn’s predictions. Quoting from the Popcorn slide deck,

“Work, as we know it, is dying. Careers and offices: Over. The robots are marching in, taking more and more skilled jobs. To keep humans from becoming totally obsolete, the government must intervene, incentivizing companies to keep people on the payroll. Otherwise, robots would job-eliminate them. For the class of highly-trained elite works, however, things have never been better. Maneuvering from project to project, these free-agents thrive. Employers, eager to secure their human talent, lavish them with luxurious benefits and unprecedented flexibility.  The gap between the Have’s and Have-Nots has never been wider.”

Now, I consider Popcorn to be a marketing futurist, she’s in the business to help brands. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I agree with almost all of her predictions. But she’s not the only one talking about the future of work. In a recent New York Times Sunday Book Review (forwarded to me by a colleague) Rise Of The  Robots | Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford pretty much agrees. According to the review, “Tasks that would seem to require a distinctively human capacity for nuance are increasingly assigned to algorithms, like the ones currently being introduced to grade essays on college exams.” Increasingly devices, like 3D printers or drones can do work that used to require a full-blown manufacturing plant or what was heretofore simply impossible. Ford’s book goes on to chronicle dozens of instances like this. The reviewer, Barbara Ehrenreich, states, “In ‘Rise of the Robots,’ Ford argues that a society based on luxury consumption by a tiny elite is not economically viable. More to the point, it is not biologically viable. Humans, unlike robots, need food, health care and the sense of usefulness often supplied by jobs or other forms of work.”

In another article in Fast Company, Gwen Moran surveys a couple of PhD’s, one from MIT and another who’s executive director of the Society of Human Resource Management. The latter, Mark Schmit agrees that there will be a disparity in the work force. “this winner/loser scenario predicts a widening wealth gap, Schmit says. Workers will need to engage in lifelong education to remain on top of how job and career trends are shifting to remain viable in an ever-changing workplace, he says.” On the other end of the spectrum some see the future as more promising. The aforementioned MIT prof, Erik Brynjolfsson, “…thinks that technology has the potential for “shared prosperity,” giving us richer lives with more leisure time and freedom to do the types of work we like to do. But that’s going to require collaboration and a unified effort among developers, workers, governments, and other stakeholders…Machines could carry out tasks while programmed intelligence could act as our “digital agents” in the creation and sharing of products and knowledge.”

I’ve been re-accessing Stuart Candy’s PhD dissertation The Futures of Everyday Life, recently and he surfaces a great quote from science fiction writer Warren Ellis which itself was surfaced through Bruce Sterling’s State of the World Address at SXSW in 2006. It is,

“[T]here’s a middle distance between the complete collapse of infrastructure and some weird geek dream of electronically knowing where all your stuff is. Between apocalyptic politics and Nerd-vana, is the human dimension. How this stuff is taken on board, by smart people, at street level. … That’s where the story lies… in this spread of possible futures, and the people, on the ground, facing them. The story has to be about people trying to steer, or condemn other people, toward one future or another, using everything in their power. That’s a big story. “1

This is relevant for design, too, the topic of last week’s blog. It all ties into the future of the future, the stuff I research and blog about.  It’s about speculation and design fiction and other things on the fringes of our thinking. The problem is that I don’t think that enough people are thinking about it. I think it is still too fringe. What do people do after they read Mark Ford? Does it change anything? In a moment of original thinking I penned the following thought, and as is usually the case subsequently heard it stated in other words by other researchers:

If we could visit the future ”in person,” how would it affect us upon our return? How vigorously would we engage our redefined present?

It is why we need more design fiction and the kind that shakes us up in the process.

Comments welcome.

1 http://www.warrenellis.com

Bookmark and Share

Design Fiction: More Ammunition

Design Fiction Rationale #24

There are a number of good reasons to practice design fiction. A few:

  • It’s the foresight side of design thinking.
  • It generates ideas free of constraints like, “How many can we sell?”
  • It helps foster an appreciation for the interdependency of things. 

And then there are provocations about the implications of creating any design, it’s affect on society, on behavior, on other things.

I have already written about this in my MFA thesis, When Designers Ask, “What If?”, and more or less predicted it, but as it has been widely reported over the last couple of weeks, a 3D printer has produced a gun that has been successfully printed and fired. In a web article, this quote fell out:

“An undetectable firearm constructed on your computer may sound like science fiction, but unfortunately, it’s already here and our laws have never contemplated this scenario,” D.C. City Council member Tommy Wells, who introduced the legislation, said in a press release. “These weapons create a significant and immediate threat to public safety.”

I hate break it to the D.C. City Council, but laws do not contemplate anything and more often than not, laws are created to fix problems that people never contemplated. So, now we have a new problem that city councils all over U.S. will have to create laws for and governments will have to regulate.

Roll your own. Source: The Sun
Roll your own. Source: ibitimes

But let’s face it, the cat is out of the bag. You can make it against the law to do anything, which works for the wide majority of people, except outlaws, terrorists, and loose-cannon regimes.

Did anyone think about potential ramifications of a home 3D printer in the hands of a bad person? Perhaps, but as is often the case these “black cloud” scenarios are usually brushed off with the positive outweighs the negative types of comments. There’s heavy pressure for progress and precautionary types are dismissed as “Debbie Downers.” I think we build things because we can, and then think about it later.

We like to think that technology will save us, save us from destruction, from cancer, from obesity, from boredom, from death. Some folks are holding out for it. But there is always a downside, like with Uranium gone missing, or texting while driving, bovine growth hormone. In the future it may be that our perfect selves along with a 24/7 virtual fantasy in our heads will become … boring. Then there’s that death thing. What could be wrong with scientists and artists and loving wonderful people that live forever? Except, of course, for the people that aren’t so wonderful or just plain evil.

And that’s one way we can use design fiction, with our diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change, so that people can look at the possible future with this new thing or that new thing and maybe take extra time to think about the downside. Like Bruce Sterling says, “It’s important to explicitly acknowledge the drawbacks of any technological transformation—to “think the underside first,” to think in a precautionary way” (Sterling, Shaping Things, 2006:12).

Maybe the bigger question is this: If we knew then what we know now, would anything have changed? Are we even capable of stopping ourselves from building, or injecting, or releasing the next big thing because of those few minor, potential mishaps? Should we? After all, surely we can find some technology to prevent the downside from even happening.

Bookmark and Share

Diegetic prototypes from the design fiction graphic novel and webcomic

The grand purpose behind this blog is to chronicle the progress of my thesis and my graphic novel. Of course, the two are intimately related. The thesis objective is to participate and contribute to the discussion and practice of design fiction. Design is changing and that means that designers will have to change, like it or not. I believe that it is better to be conscious of this change and to participate in it rather than waking up one day and finding that you no longer recognize your profession. Design fiction asks us to imagine a plausible future—even just a possible one. Like, what happens when hardware disappears and the technology we use becomes internalized; or when messages become thoughts. What will be visual? What will be virtual? Environments? Software? Design fiction, through the creation of diegetic prototypes provides legibility for the ideas that surround this.

 

Linked to this, is the science fiction, crime thriller, graphic novel currently in progress. The story takes place in Hong Kong 2, in the year 2159 and is built and rendered to scale completely in CG. It’s also a web comic.

 

This particular post focuses on one of the more prominent prototypes in story: the embedded, two-way, luminous implants that appear on the fingertips of the Hong Kong populace. These “luminous implants” do everything from “dialing the phone” (called tapping), accessing the Lightstream (the evolved Internet of 2159), sending or receiving data feeds from active touch surfaces, and controlling body chemistry. They are used for security and identification as a “smart fingerprint”, they can be outfitted with a pheromone release system for attracting the opposite sex, and they even change color to match your mood or fashion. Exploiting the purpose behind diegetic prototypes (to suspend disbelief about change) the implants figure into several aspects of the story. If you are roving around the city you are likely to see the Luminous Systems advertisements that are floating around, and I have incorporated a scene inside the Luminous Systems store. I have designed it as a sort of Zen spa meets Apple Store. I see the implants as standard piece of bio-hardware that gets implanted under the skin at an early age, like 5 or 6 years. Digging into the idea a little deeper, I found the idea of tapping, to be a fascinating angle.

Learning to use your new luminous implants. Click to enlarge.
Learning to use your new luminous implants. Click to enlarge.

Since there is a direct connection to the brain, voice, sight hearing, taste and, of course, touch, learning the tap language,  is just a matter of infusing the program and watching your fingertips light up as it prompts you through the language. This immediately becomes “remembered” information. To give it a bit more reality, I designed this “user’s manual” for beginners. Ready to order?

Bookmark and Share

Awesome Denver ComicCon and Literary Con

I have just returned from The Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels where I presented my paper, “When designers ask, ‘What if?'” A fascinating experience underscored the incredible variety and scope of what we consider sequential art. Unfortunately, as there were more presenters than there were hours available for the conference, there were overlapping presentations during various time-slots in the day. Hence, I was not able to listen to everyone and had to make some tough decisions on which presentation to attend. Nevertheless, I lucked into some great insights from some very learned colleagues.

Here are some the highlights for me: Theresa Fine, presented a paper on the “The Face of Evil: The Stereotype of the Comic Book Villain” which buttressed my thinking that while characters, specifically villains, might be too “arch” for the movies, there may be no such thing in the realm of comics or graphic novels. I prefer this idea. As some of you know, my script for the graphic novel began as a screenplay, but with every intention of converting it to a comic format. In the screenplay, the original characterization for the antagonist was toned-down at the urging of my instructor at the time, “Too arch for the movies,” he advised. Because of the conference, I am seriously considering an integration of some of the more villainous deeds that were written out of the early draft.

In the same panel was a presentation from Celeste Lempke, “Saving Young Girls from Ourselves:  The Importance of Super heroine Fantasy”. I immediately some early comments from those close to the project who thought my visual characterization of the females in my book might be “offensive.” Celeste demonstrated that strong female characters capable of making their own decisions could overshadow and legitimatize their visual appearance. My key female lead does have, what some would consider, an ideal female form, tall and thin but equally curvaceous. However, she is also portrayed as a strong, leader in a position of command, and a competent single mom. She is also portrayed in charge of the investigation that is at he center of the action. While she is not autonomous, and must rely on the contributions of the team, she nevertheless is portrayed as both strong, and human.

There were many highlights, another was a panel discussion, ““Reading Comics: A Simple or a Complex Task?” that included an all-star list of comic scholars: Charles Hatfield, William Kuskin, Maureen Bakis and James Bucky Carter. None other than RC Harvey moderated it.

The conference wrapped with the keynote presentation by comics, arguably most famous evangelist, Scott McCloud. His content was rich and thought provoking, as usual, but, as a designer, I was particularly impressed with his command of the Apple app, Keynote. He really took the presentation to the next level. Edward Tufte could have found little fault in the flawlessly executed preso.

There was really, so much more to the conference that I won’t relay here, but and ev I can easily say that every conversation was nothing short of enlightening. I hope to get invited back some time in the future.

Bookmark and Share

Why design fiction is design research—or should be.

Something of a continuation from my last post…

There’s no question that designers are broadening their contributions beyond the conventional practices of making things, spaces and visuals. Some “designers” are moving into the fringes where, we find more “wicked problems”, ones that involve purpose and society, economics and models for sustainability. I see design fiction as applicable to all of these as a method of design research and as a potentially important means of anticipating and planning.

There are scholars out there who write long papers and have lengthy discussions on what constitutes design research. Mostly, when I read them my head hurts but not always. I was reading a [rather old] discussion on Portigal’s site and this comment by Christopher Fahey caught my attention: “Design research doesn’t care about the economic and emotional factors going into whether or not a consumer can be compelled to buy a product, focusing only on how the product is used — which can include emotional and even economic factors. Design research is not concerned with “conversion.” Design fiction fits nicely here, but design research is big territory, so I’m sure that while the idea of designing things into the fabric of a speculative culture doesn’t meet all the criteria, in this instance it does. Because design fiction clearly exists outside of what Bleecker refers to as the “sweet-spot” of [Dubberly’s Venn diagram] the desirable, profitable, and possible, it is free to explore in the fringes of the maybe or the “what if?” These might include ideas like desirable and profitable, but not yet possible, or almost possible—possibly even just plausible [Bleecker].

There is already activity in design research that follows a similar track. “…design and design research share with engineering a fundamental interest in focusing on the world as it could be, on the imagination and realization of possible futures, as well as on the disclosure of new worlds. This implies a reflection of the contingencies of our world today, and of the practices for creating, imagining, and materializing new worlds” (Grand & Wiedmer, 2010, p2.).

“What if?”, can be an effective tool in design thinking. A simple question that erases conventional boundaries that can begin as simply as, “What if we do…?”, “What if we don’t…?”, “What if it does…?”, or “What if it doesn’t…?” can often start a journey onto innovative pathways, not always productive, but often yielding unexpected outcomes.

It could be argued that this type of thinking might find its greatest advantage beyond design, perhaps in politics, government, medicine or technology where solutions that seem, at first, universally positive, result in unexpected and unintended consequences. It seems to me that this is precisely the underpinning that we find in many science fiction narratives with dystopian futures.

In Allenby and Sarewitz’s The Techno-Human Condition, they identify an interesting characteristic that plagues designers (and the rest of us, too). We tend to see everything as a problem to be solved, when it is actually a condition to be acknowledged. The authors describe an approach that does not expect, “fundamental changes in human nature, or redemption through technology. (160)” As they mount their case, “Our problem is that we want to turn everything into a problem that can be solve, when those problems are in fact conditions…” This could include everything from climate change, to greed, spirituality, religious cultures, good, evil and their fluid interpretations. But these very characteristics of the argument they say are symptomatic of a, “world unable (and perhaps increasingly unable) to come to grips with what it does to itself. (160)”

Design fiction can contribute here, because it plays in a land of futuristic ethnography. It puts us in a different culture, (even if it’s just the culture of the next 20 minutes), and of the people mixed up in that culture. It becomes a story and gives legibility to options, examines scenarios and acknowledges conditions in the process. It can be a strong contribution, maybe even a critical step in analyzing what we make next.

 

Bib.

Allenby, Braden & Sarewitz, Daniel. The Techno-Human Condition. MIT Press, Cambridge. 2011

Grand, Simon; Wiedmer, Martin. “Design Fiction: A Method Toolbox for Design Research in a Complex World”. University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland.

 

Bookmark and Share

Design Fiction comes to Denver Literary Con

I have been honored with an invitation to present to the Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels, June 13-15, 2012. Quoting from their web site, the RMCCGN, “is a new literary conference devoted solely to the scholarly study and teaching of the sequential arts. What sets this conference apart from others is its unique mission to combine an educational classroom initiative with the benefits of theoretical and critical discourse. RMCCGN is being held in conjunction with the newly emerging Denver Comic Con at the top-rated Colorado Convention Center, June 15-17 2012.” Also presenting are Charles Hatfield and keynote speaker Scott McCloud, among others.

I suppose that my talk will have to address what design fiction, graphic novels, sci-fi, and CG has to do with anything. I anticipate setting the stage with the expanding role of the designer and the unique aspects of design thinking. Then I will have to situate this idea of design fiction. Here, (though I have recently discovered a great masters thesis from Jonathan Resnick that provides the best overview of the flavors of design fiction that I have seen to date), I will be focusing on my alignment with the thinking of Bleecker and Sterling on the subject. As Bleecker states (2011),  “… we furnish the fictional spaces of tomorrow with objects and ideas that at the same time chronicle the contradictions, inconsistencies, flaws and frailties of the everyday [offering] a distanced view from which to survey the consequences of various social, environmental and technological scenarios.”

 

Of course, as these things go, my thesis, hence the paper submitted to RMCCGN, is a bit of a hybrid on this idea. My project deals with some deliberate mixing of narrative construction, together with a process of design research, and some “making things” at least as far as visual prototypes are concerned.

Some key points to the project: (If you’ve read the blog in the past, you’ll see some evolution here.)

■ step 1 is creating the fiction. Using a type of design research that pulls on threads of technology, conditions and wildcards, the process of constructing the science fiction quickly cascades into a host of new questions and possible ramifications. The story builds from there.

■ design fiction weaves itself into the mix because through it, idea-objects gain knowledge mass and a sense of credibility. [Bleecker]. They become diegetic prototypes [Kirby]; invisible collaborators with culture in making life seem as real in the future as it is real for us now.

■ the graphic novel tells the story in a visual sense forcing prototypes into the visual realm. Design fiction then encourages us to look at how the thing is used, how it blends into the everyday, how it affects or changes the user, the society, the culture. Plus, unlike a film, it provides the opportunity to linger and study what you’re seeing.

■ the choice of CG for visualization likewise insists on “building” these props, giving them form, material and function.

Overall, the project is an examination of the interdependency of things. This is an important consideration for designers and decision-makers poised on the precipice of invasive human enhancement, technological replication, genetic engineering, etcetera, and etcetera. We need to be playing with scenarios. Our inability to anticipate or fathom the interdependencies of innovation, humanity, and the “unintended” are at the core center of a, “world unable (and perhaps increasingly unable) to come to grips with what it does to itself.(Allenby & Sarewitz, 2011, 160)”

Bib.

Bleecker, Julian. http://nearfuturelaboratory.com/2011/10/26/thrilling-wonder-stories-london-edition/) 26 October, 11

Allenby, Braden & Sarewitz, Daniel. The Techno-Human Condition. MIT Press, Cambridge. 2011

Kirby, David A. . Future is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-World Technological Development. Social Studies of Science 40/1 (February 2010) 41–70.

 

Bookmark and Share

Design challenges in design fiction

Part of what makes design fiction so interesting is that you have to speculate, an exercise almost unheard of in the traditional practice of design. In fact, after 30 or more years in the profession, most clients would probably concur that the designer has no right to be wrong. Market research, iterative design and prototyping, along with the rigor of the design process should eliminate ideas that don’t cut it or won’t cut it in the outside world. Design, as we know it, is a criterion-based practice. Time, money, market, manufacturing, competition, user analysis/interface, usability testing and a myriad of other forces are what shape, and ultimately mold, the final solution. It is a fact-based, reality-based endeavor. The exercise, if you will, of design fiction, forces the designer — not to abandon research — but to venture forth without the comfort of the conventional design climbing holds, or to create their own. Building design constraints for a speculative future can be approached two ways, through pulling threads of existing technologies and social trends (which seem to be becoming the same thing) or through wild unbridled fiction. The latter carries the dismissive, “Don’t ask me how, it’s just that way”, as something akin to the writer/artist’s artistic license. Hey, it’s fiction. The former blends the brain of the designer and the writer/artist and insists that he or she ground the idea, however speculative, in the roots of some plausible science or social momentum.

Hence, as I begin crafting the visual world for my graphic novel, I find myself struggling with these challenges daily. This summer, I am working on the self-imposed deadline of August 31 to have completed character designs for the eight, key cast members. Each character is posed in a relevant (though not apparent without having read the story) scene from the book. That requires not only the design of the character and the questions of what they would wear, the material, the design, and the function, but also the design of their accessories, as well as the design and construction of the set on which they are standing. The decisions seem endless, sometimes terribly frustrating and enthralling at the same time. The CG workflow, which at this level often distributed between specialists in modeling, texturing, posing, lighting, rendering etc., lies squarely on my shoulders. Since I don’t posess virtuoso proficiency in any of the above, it adds to the challenge. On the up side, I may well be a virtuoso (at something) by the time the project is completed.

I plow ahead, but I am excited to show my progress, and hopefully on, or near to the deadline.

Bookmark and Share

Designing the future.

“Futurism was an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century.” [1] But that’s not the kind of futurism I’m talking about. “Futurists… or futurologists are scientists and social scientists whose speciality is to attempt to systematically predict the future, whether that of human society in particular or of life on earth in general.” [2]  Though many futurist predictions have come to pass, it seems to me pretty iffy business and at the rate that things change the singularity may be not be such a wacky idea after all. There is a Wiki definition for the singularity, too. A comfortable definition could be the point at which technology becomes so advanced; predicting what will come next is impossible.

Of course, I am not a scientist or sociologist by training but I am a designer, and in many ways, designers are expected to call upon science and social science whenever they are designing. We are designing for people and society, after all. As a designer, if you’re not thinking that way, well, you should be.

So, like it or not, designers called upon to be some kind of a futurist. In my current pursuit of a dramatic design fiction, I have to ask myself, “What will design be like in 2159?” It’s more than a century away. Who can know? The answer is: part science, part design, and part fiction.

As I have argued, design and culture are inextricably linked, synergistically influencing one another. They will be producing and affecting one another whatever utopian or dystopian future you can imagine. Hence, some of my future design will be the result of speculation on a particular scientific thread, that if it remains connected, might produce something that functions or looks a certain way, and some of it will inevitably be done for sheer effect or mood (at the end of the day, this is dramatic story). Some of it will be garish or ugly; conditions that will probably not go away no matter how advanced we become.

Ah, but therein lies the drama. Good and evil are more than tenuous threads that you pull gently into a possible future — they are (in the British sense) bloody cables. Take it to the bank. There will be stunning achievements and dismal failures. While we will make beautiful things, solve epic problems and ease great suffering, not everything will be bright and shiny, sleek and effortless. We will also invent unimaginable horrors, new ways to sin and profane our creations.Regardless of how far our technology advances, the human condition remains more or less steadfast through the centuries.

As a Christian, I believe that we are created in the imago dei: the Image of God, that design, is a kind of divine inheritance from the Master Creator to the design pupil. But we live in changing times. The master narrative that I live by is very much under fire right now. Who knows? In 50 years, it may be outlawed. How will that affect design? One of the questions you stumble over when designers ask, “What if?”

I guess the designer has to be part philosopher, too. I’ll hit on the more nuts and bolts side of future design in another post.

[1], [2] Wikipedia

Bookmark and Share