Designed Futures

Design Fictions, Speculative Design, Critical Design, Anticipatory Design…However you call it, making futures seem like they're already here is the cornerstone of our practice.
18 Aug 2012

The best way to discuss a future is to design it. That is, turn it into something that can be visualized and even prototyped, so that others may look at it, toy with it, and debate it. Depending on who you’re talking to, the process is called Speculative Design, Design Fiction, Designed Futures, and many other more or less obscure labels. The name matters little — what matters are the possibilities it opens up. 

To design a chunk of future empow­ers us to let go of the “what if” and focus on the “now what.” It lets authors and view­ers post­pone judge­ment and instead explore con­se­quences fur­ther down the line: how it affects its envi­ron­ment on cul­tur­al, social, and tech­no­log­i­cal lev­els. It allows us to learn from imag­ined futures in the same way that arche­ol­o­gists learn from ancient cul­tures — their val­ues, belief sys­tems, tech­nolo­gies, or social struc­tures — by unearthing the arti­facts they pro­duced. For this rea­son, we often talk about Reverse Arche­ol­o­gy.

There are var­i­ous ways to make spec­u­la­tive arti­facts tan­gi­ble: func­tion­al pro­to­types, sim­ple user man­u­als, 3D mod­el­ing, illus­tra­tions, audio plays, or vir­tu­al real­i­ty expe­ri­ences. Regard­less of the medi­um, sim­plic­i­ty is impor­tant to not drown the view­er in dec­o­ra­tive details — the pri­or­i­ty is to make our designed future relat­able and challenging.

When cre­at­ing futures (see World­build­ing & Myth­build­ing), we tend to imag­ine fic­tion­al arti­facts as archae­o­log­i­cal finds. We often design small but evoca­tive ele­ments as entry points to our fic­tions. They rep­re­sent the world’s tech­nol­o­gy, every­day objects, aes­thet­ic codes, and inter­faces, while hint­ing at broad­er cul­tur­al aspects — belief sys­tems, pow­er struc­tures, col­lec­tive bias, or even future visions of the future. The arti­facts act as the tip of an ice­berg: the design of a door han­dle can tell you every­thing about the house and its owners.

See #designed-futures in action