Monday, October 21, 2019

Augmenting Cities

Augmenting Cities image via.

Niantic CEO John Hanke opens the event | Photo: Niantic / Knight Foundation

We were excited to take part in an invitational symposium a few weeks ago, Augmenting Cities, that brought together under one roof 150 game designers, artists and urbanists from a number of countries "to reflect on how people, cities, and technology will evolve and be shaped through augmented reality (AR)".

The gathering was convened by groundbreaking AR games company Niantic –– the folks behind Pokémon Go, Ingress and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite –– together with the Knight Foundation, a leading urban philanthropic fund. It was hosted at the Oakland Museum of California, itself part of a city that has recently seen rapid and far-reaching transformation through the Bay Area's latest tech boom.

As the event description notes, "Just as mobile communication and computing has altered the evolution of cities over the last 20 years, AR technology stands to fundamentally change how we connect with each other and experience communities for decades to come." But what might that fundamental change look like?

USC Situation Lab director Jeff Watson (centre) speaks on a panel with (left to right): Ina Fried (Axios; moderator), Gene Becker (Samsung), Ross Finman (Niantic), Ilana Lipsett (IFTF), and Kevin Slavin (The Shed) | Photo: Stuart Candy / Situation Lab

So on the back of two days of presentations and panel discussions by game and experience design luminaries, including Felix Barrett (founder of Punchdrunk), Sarah Brin (Meow Wolf strategic partnerships director), audio artist Duncan Speakman, game designer Katie Salen (UC Irvine), and Niantic founder John Hanke –– as well as our own Jeff Watson (director of USC Situation Lab) and Sitlab collaborator Jen Stein (creative lead at Experimental Design) –– we were asked to devise and run the culminating session, an afternoon's activity for all participants to explore possible futures in this area.

Our mission was to come up with a hands-on, playful, and collaborative intervention that would help develop not only deeper social connections among attendees, but also potentially actionable initiatives in this fast-changing urban AR design space. With around 150 participants and only two hours to get through generating, refining, selecting, and sharing out concepts, it was a worthy challenge.

I led process design and facilitation with a fantastic team made up of Stein, Watson, and CMU Situation Lab associate Ceda Verbakel. We realised that thanks to the venue's particular layout and the number of attendees, players would have to take these co-creative steps at the same time while sited in different locations. This helped to birth, at last, a project that had been gestating for some time; a self-contained facilitation kit.

Participant teams proceed through the Urban Playshop staged by Situation Lab at the Augmenting Cities symposium | Photo: Niantic / Knight Foundation


Photo: Niantic / Knight Foundation

Photo: Niantic / Knight Foundation

In teams of three or four players, future-artifact ideas were incepted using combinatorial prompts from a modified version of our game The Thing From The Future, with ideation rounds timeboxed at 3–5 minutes. This first phase allowed folks to explore in relatively open fashion to start with, and produced a wide variety of imaginative responses. In the second phase, each team selected two of their most promising ideas from the collection that they had generated together, surfacing some of their most thematically relevant concepts and provocations. They then partnered up with another team, to receive feedback and discover which of the two candidate concepts should be developed, in the third and home stretch of the Playshop, into a pitch or advertisement to share live on stage with everyone in the last session of the conference.

We at Situation Lab don't always have the time to write our projects up for sharing more widely, although we have featured at our website some of the gameplay approaches and variations developed over several years, and we continually partner with groups around the world, with a focus on values-aligned initiatives and organisations, to offer customised processes that scaffold rigorous imagination, co-creative exploration, and strategic conversation.

Last year for instance, we ran sessions or whole events in this design space with, to name a few, the Omidyar Group, Pennsylvania's Department of Education, Alaska's Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Mexico City's Laboratorio para la Ciudad, the Association of Professional Futurists, and Institute for the Future (IFTF) with the World Bank Climate Investment Funds. In 02019 so far, Sitlab has collaborated with, among others, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Stanford d.school, the Obama Foundation, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the brand-new Pittsburgh high school City of Bridges, and (in collaboration with IFTF's Governance Futures Lab) United States Conference of Mayors gatherings in Austin and Honolulu.

This post is prompted by a desire to share a bit more of what we've been doing, and more particularly by the terrific energy generated in this initiative. For more information on Augmenting Cities check out the event webpage, overview (pdf), and recap.

Participants devise and share ideas using a specially adapted version of The Thing From The Future | Photo: Stuart Candy / Situation Lab


Photo: Stuart Candy / Situation Lab

Many thanks to our fantastic Playshop participants, to our awesome facilitation team, and to Niantic and Knight Foundation for spearheading the initiative.

We look forward to further developments in this exciting and fast-moving area, and find it hopeful that processes like these –– supporting rigorous imagining in emerging design spaces, as they are being explored and mapped –– are rapidly finding their way into many organisational and community toolkits, to help new ideas and their implications come into focus.

(Report also posted at Situation Lab website. This version updated 22oct19.)

Related:
> Bringing Futures to Stanford d.school
> On Foresight in Organisations
> On Getting Started in Experiential Futures
> The Thing From The Future / Sitlab project page
> Gaming Futures Literacy (article)
> Transforming the Future (book)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Teaching The Long Now


I've been involved with The Long Now Foundation, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to fostering long-term thinking and responsibility, since 02006. Then a year into grad school for futures, I spent a memorable summer at the office in San Francisco, working on various initiatives including Long Bets, as well as a proposal put together with my friend Camron Assadi for something we called Long Shorts; short films about long-term thinking (an idea subsequently adopted at the Foundation as a way of introducing many of its monthly public lectures). I suggested what has since become a Long Now motto, Carpe Millennium. And at the end of that first stint, executive director Alexander Rose invited me to become the Foundation's first Fellow, an association that continued happily over two more summer residencies, and onward through almost a decade and a half to date, spanning many developments in the organisation and its projects, and periodic collaborations.

As it turns out though, this semester, Fall 02019, marks the first chance I've had, after more than ten years of teaching futures, to put together a class on the topic of long-term thinking more broadly. How does it work in different domains? How can we render it accessible and useful? What difference does or should it make to designers? While just a prototype seven-week 'mini', a half-semester course at Carnegie Mellon School of Design, the topic has sparked lots of interest among folks I've discussed it with, so for this post I'm sharing our syllabus (shorn of admin and school policy bits and with links added where possible), in case others may get something out of it.

A few points of context:

• This is my personal and maybe idiosyncratic take on things, rather than an official Long Now Foundation course, but I've made use of some of the rich material the organisation has amassed over the years. For example, we've been using Stewart Brand's version of 'pace layers' (see the diagram below) as a structuring and sequencing heuristic for the curriculum, starting at the longest and slowest register of nature, with a deep time walk spanning the 4.5 billion years of Earth's history, and proceeding upward through the layers of culture, governance and infrastructure, so that by the end we're dealing with the kinds of faster-moving concerns the students are accustomed to thinking about day to day: a lot of design seems to operate on a rapid temporality somewhere near the top. The idea behind this order is to use that exposure to the longer-term early on, to help de-familiarise the familiar short-term, and re-perceive the mundane everyday, by the end.

• I call the classes 'episodes' and the segments within them 'acts', a format idea borrowed from the brilliant long-running public radio series This American Life. Signposting classes this way turns out to make the time easier to plan and pace out, and more legible to students and guests, while also adding a dash of theatricality to typically prosaic matters of course structure and lesson planning. We kick off each episode punctually with a selected 'long short', an intellectual and creative appetiser of sorts, and also partly an encouragement to people to arrive on time, which is helpful when you're scheduled for an 8:30am start in the fall, with days getting shorter and mornings colder. Each week's long short is a surprise beforehand and is added into the syllabus afterwards for reference.

• A monthly series of seminars about long-term thinking (SALT), curated by Brand, has been running since 02003. By this point, the SALT talks represent a large collection of thought-provoking explorations; hundreds of lectures, freely available online, dealing with topics from linguistics and politics to space travel, philosophy and geology. At the start of the course I asked each participant to pick one to add to the syllabus. This touch of curricular co-creation helped tilt the content towards their interests, better than my guesses would, and incorporated deeper involvement by having them run a discussion or activity around their chosen talk. (We have the good fortune in this case to have an intimate class size of eight students, mostly grads, from across the university; some elements would be set up quite differently if the group were much larger.) In case you haven't come across the SALT series before, you might start with the same one that our class did; geologist Marcia Bjornerud's remarkable talk from July this year, Timefulness.

***

The Long Now
Thinking, Storytelling and Designing with Long Timespans

School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
Instructor: Stuart Candy, Ph.D. (he/him)
Fall 02019 // Fridays 8:30–11:20am
Course no. 51819 // Graduate level // 6 units // Aug 30–Oct 11

Description

“Civilizations with long nows look after things better. In those places you feel a very strong but flexible structure which is built to absorb shocks and in fact incorporate them.” –– Brian Eno

The Long Now is about what becomes possible when we engage with longer timespans. We will deal with experiential scenarios and time-based media to enable new perspectives on the anthropocene and beyond; drawing on diverse sources and views from history and foresight, geology, physics, cosmology, indigenous studies, and design – including the design of legal, political and economic systems. You'll never look at time the same way again.


Pace Layers by Stewart Brand (01999), The Clock of the Long Now, p. 37 | Diagram via.

Approach

This course takes inspiration from the work of the Long Now Foundation, a cultural organisation dedicated to fostering long-term thinking and responsibility, where the instructor, a professional futurist, has been affiliated for many years.

We examine territory seldom covered in other university courses due to the rarity of long-term thought in the wider culture, with the aim of offering intellectually adventurous students from diverse programs a set of interdisciplinary perspectives to challenge, deepen and enrich whatever else they may be doing.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course students should be able to:
• See further: Engage with diverse temporalities and patterns of perception at different scales
• Travel more widely: Research, understand and synthesise insights from disparate disciplines
• Be critical: Make the present strange, discerning key ethical, philosophical and cultural dimensions of our era and society
• Be constructive: Use various media to convey and elicit longer-term perspectives

Course Overview and Schedule

Here is an outline of the arc of the course and topics covered week by week.

1. Welcome to the Long Now
2. A Walk Through Deep Time
3. Seven Generations in the Anthropocene
4. Stories and Timespans
5. Design for the Long Run
6. Living in a Material World
7. Creation Crit

There are seven classes in this course, with 3+ weekly reflections, one SALT-based presentation / activity (student selections marked ∆ below), and a final project per student. Guests will be joining us most weeks, from a range of disciplinary and organisational perspectives.

Episode 1: Welcome to the Long Now
Activity: Intro to course
Reading & Media before class: N/A
Long Shorts:
• American Museum of Natural History, Human Population Through Time
• Charles Eames and Ray Eames, Powers of Ten

Episode 2: A Walk Through Deep Time
Class-led presentations begin (25%)
Activity: Field trip –– bring water bottles, comfortable shoes, and a snack
Guest: Professor Mark Baskinger, CMU School of Design & MoonArk
Long Short:
• Chris Stenner, Arvid Uibel and Heidi Wittlinger, Das Rad / The Wheel
Reading & Media (**optional):
• Brand, The Clock of the Long Now [pdf book excerpt]
• Walker, The Art of Noticing [pdf book excerpt]
• Sterling, Pace Layering [pdf chapter]
• Bjornerud, Timefulness ∆ [online audio/video]
• Bjornerud, Timefulness** [pdf book excerpt]

Episode 3: Seven Generations in the Anthropocene
Activity: Field trip –– bring water bottles and comfortable shoes
Guest: Dr. Nicole Heller, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Long Short:
• Claire L. Evans, The Evolution Of Life in 60 Seconds
Reading & Media:
• Matza & Heller, Anthropocene in a Jar [pdf chapter]
• Nixon, The Anthropocene: The Promise and Pitfalls of an Epochal Idea [pdf chapter]
• Brannen, The Anthropocene is a Joke [online article]
• Davis, The Wayfinders ∆ [online audio/video]
• Pinker, A New Enlightenment ∆ [online audio/video]
Class-led presentations continue

Episode 4: Stories and Timespans
Final assignment launches (25%)
Guests: Acharya Adam Lobel, Point Park University; Michelle King, Learning Instigator
Long Shorts:
• Donolinio Studio, 100 Years in 10 Minutes
• Helixaeon Inc., Helix
Reading & Media:
• brown, Emergent Strategy [pdf book excerpt]
• Haraway, Staying With the Trouble [pdf book excerpt]
• Fallows, Civilization’s Infrastructure ∆ [online audio/video]
• Mahbubani, Has the West Lost It? Can Asia Save It? ∆ [online audio/video]
Activity: Meditations on the long now
Class-led presentations continue

Episode 5: Design for the Long Run
Guest: Professor Jo Guldi, Southern Methodist University, author of The History Manifesto
Long Shorts:
• Schich et al., Charting Culture
• Heal the Bay, The Majestic Plastic Bag
• Önduygu, The History of Philosophy [interactive web tool; explore in your own time]
Reading & Media:
• Brockman et al., Possible Minds ∆ [online audio/video]
• West, Why Cities Keep on Growing, Corporations Always Die, and Life Gets Faster ∆ [online audio/video]
• Guldi, The Designer’s Role [pdf]
• Guldi & Armitage, The History Manifesto [pdf book excerpt]
Activity: Co-creation in class
Class-led presentations continue

Episode 6: Living in a Material World
Guest: Professor Jonathan Chapman, CMU School of Design, author of Emotionally Durable Design
Long Shorts:
• Madsen, Into Eternity (Trailer)
• Kalina, Noah Takes a Photo of Himself Every Day for 12.5 Years
Reading & Media (**optional):
• 99% Invisible, Ten Thousand Years [podcast]
• Sandia National Laboratories, Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant** [pdf report]
• Christian, Algorithms to Live By ∆ [online audio/video]
• Chapman, Emotionally Durable Design [podcast]
• Powers, The Overstory [pdf book excerpt]
• Urban, Your Life in Weeks [blog post]
Activity: ‘Mattering’ workshop
Class-led presentations conclude

Episode 7: Creation Crit
Activity: Reviews of final project submissions

A few billion years into deep time with Mark Baskinger | Photo: Stuart Candy

Assessment

25% Participation and engagement in class
25% Presentation and leading discussion
25% Weekly reflections (minimum three required; due the Monday after each class by 5pm)
25% Final project

Selected Bibliography

• Bjornerud, Marcia. (2018). Timefulness: How thinking like a geologist can help save the world. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
• Borrows, John (Kegedonce). (2010). Drawing out law: A spirit’s guide. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
• Boulding, Elise. (1990). Building a global civic culture: Education for an interdependent world. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
• Brand, Stewart. (1994). How buildings learn: What happens after they’re built. New York: Viking.
• Brand, Stewart. (1999). The clock of the long now: Time and responsibility. New York: Basic Books.
• Brannen, Peter. (2019, August 13). The Anthropocene is a Joke. The Atlantic.
• Brannen, Peter. (2019, October 11). What Made Me Reconsider the Anthropocene. The Atlantic.
• brown, adrienne maree. (2017). Emergent strategy: Shaping change, changing worlds. Chico, CA: AK Press.
• Carse, James. (1986). Finite and infinite games. New York: Free Press.
• Chapman, Jonathan (2015). Emotionally durable design: Objects, experiences and empathy (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
• Chatwin, Bruce. (1987). The songlines. New York: Viking.
• Collins, Jim and Jerry I. Porras. (1994). Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies. New York: HarperBusiness.
• Cullinan, Cormac. (2011). Wild law: A manifesto for earth justice (2nd ed). White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.
• Delanda, Manuel. (1997). A thousand years of nonlinear history. New York: Zone Books.
• Escobar, Arturo. (2018). Designs for the pluriverse: Radical interdependence, autonomy, and the making of worlds. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
• Ghosh, Amitav. (2016). The great derangement: Climate change and the unthinkable. Haryana, India: Penguin Books.
• Gleick, James. (1999). Faster: The acceleration of just about everything. New York: Pantheon Books.
• Global Business Network. (2003). Looking Forward To Learn: Future Scenarios For TestingDifferent Approaches To Managing Used Nuclear Fuel In Canada. NWMO Background Papers 8–5. Toronto: Nuclear Waste Management Organization.
• Griffiths, Jay. (1999). Pip pip: A sideways look at time. London: Flamingo.
• Guldi, Jo and David Armitage. (2014). The history manifesto. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
• Haraway, Donna. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
• Haskins, Caroline. (2019, May 6). AirPods Are a Tragedy. Vice.
• Hora, Stephen C., Detlof von Winterfeldt and Kathleen M. Trauth. (1991). Expert Judgment on Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Sandia Report SAND 90–3063. Albuquerque, NM: Sandia National Laboratories.
• Johnson, Steven. (2006, October 8). The Long Zoom. New York Times Magazine.
• Kohlstedt, Kurt. (2018, January 26). Beyond Biohazard: Why Danger Symbols Can’t Last Forever. 99% Invisible.
• Krznaric, Roman. (2019, March 19). Why We Need to Reinvent Democracy for the Long-term. BBC.
• Macleod, Joe (2017). Ends: Why we overlook endings for humans, products, services and digital. And why we shouldn’t. Closureexperiences.com.
• Manaugh, Geoff. (2019, April 18). Move Over, San Andreas: There’s an Ominous New Fault in Town. Wired.
• Matza, Tomas and Nicole Heller. (2018). Anthropocene in a jar. In: Gregg Mitman, Marco Armiero, and Robert S. Emmett (eds.). Future remains: A cabinet of curiosities for the anthropocene (pp. 21–28). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
• Morin, Edgar and Anne Brigitte Kern. (1999). Homeland Earth: A manifesto for the new millennium (trans. Sean M. Kelly and Roger LaPointe). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
• Morton, Timothy. (2019). You never know how the past will turn out. Journal of Futures Studies, 23(4): 97–100. doi: 10.6531/JFS.201906_23(4).0009
• Nixon, Rob. (2018). The anthropocene: The promise and pitfalls of an epochal idea. In: Gregg Mitman, Marco Armiero, and Robert S. Emmett (eds.). Future remains: A cabinet of curiosities for the anthropocene (pp. 1–18). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
• Ozeki, Ruth. (2013). A tale for the time being. Edinburgh: Canongate.
• Powers, Richard. (2018). The overstory: A novel. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
• Rao, Venkatesh. (2011). Tempo: Timing, tactics and strategy in narrative decision-making. Ribbonfarm, Inc.
• Sardar, Ziauddin (ed.). (1999). Rescuing all our futures: The future of futures studies. Westport, CT: Praeger.
• Spier, Fred. (2015) Big history and the future of humanity (2nd ed.). Chichester, England: Wiley Blackwell.
• Stapledon, Olaf. (1930). Last and first men. London: Methuen.
• Stephenson, Neal. (2008). Anathem. New York: William Morrow.
• Sterling, Bruce. (2014). Pace Layers. In: Susan Yelavich & Barbara Adams (eds.). Design as future-making (pp. 214–224). London: Bloomsbury.
• Tabet, Michelle. (2013, January 22). The scale of tomorrow: Architects as agents of change. ArchitectureAU.
• Trauth, Kathleen M., Stephen C. Hora, and Robert V. Guzowski. (1993). Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Sandia Report SAND 92–1382. Albuquerque, NM: Sandia National Laboratories.
• Walker, Rob. (2019). The art of noticing: 131 ways to spark creativity, find inspiration, and discover joy in the everyday. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Some Other Media and Resources

• Long Now Foundation, Seminars About Long-term Thinking (SALT) lecture series (audio and video)
• Godfrey Reggio, Koyaanisqatsi (documentary)
• Jonathan Blow, Braid (video game)
• Randall Munroe, xkcd (webcomic), various timelines
• Ben Robbins, Microscope (tabletop game)
• Lasse Lundin, A Trip Through Time Seen Through The Eyes of a Fir Tree (tabletop game)
• Thomas King, The Truth About Stories. The 2003 CBC Massey Lectures (audio)
• Situation Lab, The Thing From The Future (card game)
• Michael Madsen (dir.), Into Eternity: A Film for the Future (documentary)
• Ainscow, Rae, Woodward et al., Deep Time Walk (app)
• Brian Eno, The Microsoft Sound (composition): original; slowed 4000%; Q&A in SF Chronicle
• Dash Marshall, Very Slow Movie Player (video/design)

***

Much gratitude to my students, to our fabulous guest informants and colleagues, and to the Long Now Foundation for the inspiration.

Do get in touch with any questions, suggestions, or tales of experiments of your own that this may feed into.

Update 11oct19: Added to the bibliography Peter Brannen's piece published in the Atlantic today; revisiting and reconsidering his previous, sceptical discussion of the Anthropocene, maybe the most controversial reading covered in the class.

Related:
> Design is Storytelling (includes a kind of overview of a decade's teaching)
Bringing Futures to Stanford d.school
> American Futures (SAIC project)
> Future Documentary (SAIC course)
> Guerrilla Futures (OCAD course)
> Adopt-a-vision (OCAD project)
> Killer Imps (RCA visit)
> Future-Jamming 101 (UH Manoa project)
Some . early . posts .  written . while . at . Long . Now (02006–08)

Monday, September 30, 2019

The School of Worldbuilding


Bauhaus Futures is an edited collection just published by MIT Press to mark the 100th anniversary of a short lived but profoundly influential institution.

Founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany in 01919, the Bauhaus was an interdisciplinary and international school of design whose charismatic and encompassing vision has had a tremendous impact on design, architecture and art over the past century. As Tom Wolfe wrote, "“It was more than a school; it was a commune, a spiritual movement, a radical approach to art in all its forms, a philosophical center comparable to the Garden of Epicurus."

This new book's point of departure is a provocation, "What would keep the Bauhaus up at night if it were practising today?"

With my longtime Situation Lab collaborator Jeff Watson (USC School of Cinematic Arts), the point of departure for our own contribution is a kind of playfully manifesto-ish contemporisation of the Bauhaus, whereby "the school of building" becomes "the school of worldbuilding" and the motto "Art Into Industry" becomes "Art Into Reality", tying the ambitious reach of the original to emerging imagination-ramifying practices in transmedia storytelling, cinema and media production, game design (alternate reality games, larp, etc), activism, and experiential futures. A sample:

The School of Worldbuilding responds to the question, “how might we design a better world?” by turning it on its head: “how might we world a better design?”
. . .
The School of Worldbuilding is not as interested in what we can do in imaginary worlds as it is in what we might do with or through or occasionally in spite of them, in this world.

The School of Worldbuilding sees the role of the educator not as a purveyor of content, but as a certain kind of game master. It sees the role of the student not as a receptacle, but as a certain kind of player.
. . .
The School of Worldbuilding is political because the imagination itself is political. Power and authority contour and transform social imaginaries just as those imaginaries contour and transform power and authority. Indeed, domination and liberation alike depend on the imagination. What revolution ever started anywhere but in the imagining of a different world? And what tyranny ever lasted without mastery over imaginal resources?
. . .
The School of Worldbuilding confers no degree. To be a student of worldbuilding is to commit to exploration and experimentation as a way of life. Graduation is not only impossible: it is undesirable. To graduate from the School is to fail out of it.

(And so on.)

Edited by Laura Forlano (IIT Institute of Design), Molly Wright Steenson (just down the hall at CMU School of Design), and Mike Ananny (USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism), the book Bauhaus Futures includes contributions in a wide variety of formats from a fantastic lineup of writers.

The full text of The School of Worldbuilding can be found here.

The book is now available for order and is set to ship within the next couple of weeks!

Related:
> I Design Worlds (Interview with Liam Young)
> Reverse Archaeology / The Time Machine (Assignment)
Design is Storytelling
> How to Build a World (Video)
> The Thing From The Future

Monday, July 08, 2019

The music of a community emerging

Volume II of the Journal of Futures Studies special issue on Design and Futures has been published!

A Conversation Piece installation by Agence Future in Belgium (02017) | Photo by Bram Goots

Co-edited over the past several years with Cher Potter from the V&A Museum and University of the Arts London, the first half of this major project came out a couple of months ago.

The second half is now out too: another dozen and a half contributions exploring futures and design's intersections. About fifty writers appear in this special issue overall, voices from around the world; Mexico to Portugal, Australia to Taiwan, Kenya to Kazakhstan.

We recognise this as just the start of a vibrant and fast-moving hybrid field of activity that barely existed a decade ago. We were sadly unable to incorporate every piece that we would have liked, but glad to offer a platform taking the design/futures conversation forward that includes some of the key figures in the field, alongside others brand new to it.

Below is our intro to Volume II (with contributor links added). In case you haven't looked at Volume I yet, you might like to start there, but the two halves of this collection can also be read independent of each other and in either order.


***

Introduction to the Special Issue: Design and Futures (Vol. II)

Volume I of this special double issue of the Journal of Futures Studies ‘Design and Futures’ – the largest themed project in the history of the journal – began by noting something that is increasingly self-evident to anyone paying attention: the fields of futures and design are merging in a process of dialogue, experimentation, and mutual discovery. Obvious perhaps, and yet this process and the practices and perspectives it engenders are nonetheless remarkable. They show no sign of abating.

The dialogue continues (note we do not say ‘concludes’) here in Volume II, with scholars and practitioners from across the two fields, and beyond, delving more deeply into the practical and philosophical issues at various intersections. Both established and emerging voices share generously of their case studies, lessons learned, and methodological questions. They traverse the worlds of media, design, curation, and strategic foresight; they propose research strategies that cross community perspectives and shift our geographical (and political) focus to different sites for design and futures. To adapt an observation from cultural geographer Denis Cosgrove, “position and context are centrally and inescapably implicated in all constructions of [design and futures] knowledge” (Cosgrove, 1999, p. 7).

This second volume of ‘Design and Futures’ opens with seven peer-reviewed articles from a constellation of contexts, spanning five continents: Maya van Leemput (Belgium) distils lessons from many years of relational work and play where futures meets media, art and design [upper image]. Leah Zaidi (Canada) illuminates the importance of worldbuilding as an emerging practice that intersects science fiction with real-life applications of design and foresight. Ralph Borland (South Africa) outlines a case study of interventionist art from the streets of Cape Town as an instance of guerrilla futures activism [lower image]. Karla Paniagua (Mexico) describes the first four years of running a postgraduate design/futures program in the highly energetic and fast-changing context of Latin American foresight practice (la prospectiva). Stefanie A. Ollenburg (Germany) offers a generic ‘research through design’ framework, inviting researchers to hybridise futures and design in participatory projects, early and often. And finally, a pair of case studies from Taiwan: Jeanne Hoffman investigates preferred future images about the environment in 2060 as held by a cross-cultural cohort of undergraduate students; and Kuo-Hua Chen considers the possibility of designing for increased environmental awareness among young Taiwanese through a suite of futures interventions in curriculum.

These are followed by a potent collection of shorter essays and interviews from philosopher Timothy Morton; Museum of Modern Art curator Paola Antonelli; transdisciplinary artists Maja Kuzmanovic, Tina Auer, Tim Boykett and Nik Gaffney; designers Nik Baerten, Dan Hill, and Lucy Kimbell; futurists Aaron Rosa and John Sweeney; NASA visual strategist David Delgado; architect Lizzie Yarina, and design theorist Tony Fry.

Taken in singularity, these voices are strikingly diverse, but when hearing them together, they begin to harmonise. It is the music of a community emerging.

Through this issue, we encounter contemporary questions around design and futures in the twenty-first century, as well as ageless questions about what it means to be human, and the nature of time itself. We’re excited to see what these may do to help deepen, enrich and catalyse further activity and exchange.

It seems fitting that this second volume starts and ends with articles about journeys. This project has been a remarkable journey for us as guest editors – with several years of work spanning multiple job changes, international relocations, and children being born – as well as tremendous changes in the context of design and futures themselves. In spite of expanding this themed publication to two volumes, the interest and contributions have far exceeded our expectations. It is gratifying that the relevance of this undertaking continues to grow apace.

We wish to express our gratitude to all authors who submitted proposals; our wonderful peer reviewers; our incredibly understanding partners on the home front; and not least José Ramos of the Journal of Futures Studies, without whose tireless support this project would not have been possible.

Stuart Candy and Cher Potter, Guest Editors

References:
Cosgrove, D. E. (1999). Mappings. London: Reaktion Books.


***

The whole of Design and Futures, Volume II is available in open access via JFS – please enjoy, share, and build on what you find.

Related:
> Design and Futures, Volume I
> From killer apps to killer imps
> Design is Storytelling
> Critical activism (Anab Jain in JFS)
> I Design Worlds (Liam Young in JFS)
> Ghosts of futures past

Monday, June 17, 2019

Critical activism

Anab Jain is a leading light of experiential futures practice. She is cofounder with Jon Ardern of the London-based "vanguard foresight and design organisation" Superflux, whose work has rightly earned attention and admiration far and wide, with projects like Mitigation of Shock (an installation), Instant Archetypes (a tarot deck), and Drone Aviary (a film, and more).

Image from Mitigation of Shock by Superflux, an installation at CCCB portraying a small London apartment adapted for climate change in 02050 (02017)

We first met in 02009, just a few years into our own first experiments with experiential futures, following a talk I gave on that topic at the Long Now meetup in London one evening during my time visiting 'Design Interactions' at the Royal College of Art. This was the highly influential MA program led for a decade by the wonderful Fiona Raby and Tony Dunne from which Anab had graduated back when it was still a degree in 'Interaction Design' –– prior to the 02008 landmark MoMA exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind, which contributed much to the visibility of the work of not only Dunne and Raby but also their mentees, in what they called at the time 'design for debate' and 'critical design', and well before 'speculative design' framing coalesced (as mentioned by Anab below), a development of the past five years or so.

Superflux got underway in 02009, a few months after we'd met in London, and Anab and Jon were among the first designers to set up shop in a way that engaged the tradition and practices of the futures field not just explicitly (using the language) but substantively too (really using the tools). For instance we recently collaborated on introducing foresight to International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) via experiential scenarios deployed at IFRC's biennial strategy meetings.

This post is an abridged version of a conversation appearing in the recently published Journal of Futures Studies special issue Design and Futures, Volume I.

Anab's sense of the work as "slow critical activism" really resonates with me, and her candour here, talking about the behind-the-scenes challenges of maintaining a design/futures business that is both viable and principled, is super generous and helpful, I think, for the many newcomers eager to figure out how they can practically make this sort of thing a part of their work lives.

***

SC: How do you situate your practice in relation to futures and design?

AJ: I think we are situated somewhere in the middle. We have a two-pronged approach. We do foresight and horizon scanning – that big, meta-level stuff – but we simultaneously ground it with material explorations, ethnography, research, prototyping.

Obviously we come from a design/art background more than futures. Our schooling was often about what the implications of a certain technology on society might be. And over the years, we’ve studied the more traditional futures methods a bit, not quite as much as a futurist would.

SC: What are some projects or initiatives that you’ve been involved in that you consider exemplary of your approach?

AJ: Our approach has changed a lot. We often used to work around a technology, so we would pick something like quantum computing or optogenetics, and try and understand what its potential is, but also poetic implications that the scientists or the technologists might not have explored.

And we’ve moved from that to thinking more socially, politically. We’re very interested in the implications of living with climate change, so for a recent project, Mitigation of Shock, we really wanted to understand how to bring that future that is so abstract around climate change - especially in the Western part of the world - making it real and conceptually visceral, but also not dystopian.

SC: So you’ve been at it...

AJ: Nine years.

SC: I’m interested in how you imagine the work that you’re doing against the backdrop of an increasing number of people operating at this intersection. If there is a “you are here” point on a map of bigger activities going on, where do you locate yourself?

AJ: Oh, that’s a good question. We keep asking that ourselves.

'Speculative design' has become popular, the term; although we have never actively used that term so far. We are afraid of labelling the work we do within a specific discipline, because for us it’s changing all the time, and we want to have the freedom to change. So we just call ourselves designers, or artists even.

Where people are interested in our work, or want to commission us or hire us, they are not thinking about us as speculative designers or critical designers either. They’re thinking: "We need to think about the future, but we don’t know quite how to make it visceral enough to get people to understand the consequences."

Outside of the world of design, not so many people care whether we call what we do speculative design or not. Some people call us a think tank, some people call us a research unit, some people call us artists.

SC: What are you grappling with in relation to these practices at the moment?

AJ: Lots! We’ve gone from being tiny to growing quite a bit, and then, recently decided to consider more carefully where we go next, and stop just producing project after project after project. I think we are trying to understand what meaningful change looks like for us.

We keep getting emails from people, and we know that the work affects people and gets them to think differently, but how can we materialise it without using this language of evaluation and impact and measuring? Because these are not things that can be instantly measured. Something that you’ve done to provoke people could affect them and get them to think differently after years –– but how do we begin to surface that?

I see it as a form of slow critical activism. If our work becomes a catalysing force for people to imagine things they would not have been able to imagine otherwise, that’s powerful. But then what? We are at that stage right now.

Currently I think our work is moving in two directions: one, with people whose idea of the future we may not agree with personally, but who have a lot of power and influence to affect change at a large scale. Our work with them focuses on helping them consider broader, unintended consequences by enabling them to think differently and more broadly. Secondly, we work in the public sphere, triggering public imagination.

Organisations who have power and influence and can actually affect decisions around climate change or education, are so outcome driven, that their key question around any futures always seem to zoom in on: What are the outcomes we get, and what’s the impact, how will this affect our strategy?

SC: And what do you tell them?

AJ: We don’t really have a clear answer. We can say, okay, we did this with the UNDP, and that led to the opening of this completely new department where they’re thinking about alternative financing. Or we did this, where it affected a decision or policy change. Examples are few and far between where there is a clear, linear, obvious trajectory of 'impact'.

People want concrete stuff, and the thing is, there isn’t a concrete answer. There isn’t a concrete outcome, to be honest. The outcome is the process by which you will start shifting your thinking.

SC: What do you think are the most important things for people who are interested in this area of work to be aware of?

AJ: One of the questions I always get is, "How do you actually make money, and who are your clients?" and it’s like, it doesn’t seem plausible that we could even be doing work and be paid. We’re not set up to be making profit, but we are alright!

We could earlier this year have gone easily from eight to twenty people. But we realised that scaling in numbers is perhaps the wrong way of thinking about 'growth' for our studio, and the scale lies in the nature and ambition of each project, and the way it can influence a decision or change perception. The bespoke nature of our work means we cannot adopt a cookie cutter approach to our services. No brief is ever the same. And having a flexibility of staff and overheads to support such work is very important. We might have big ambitions, but it’s not dependent on the scale of our practice.

For a designer, it’s so tempting to have 20, 30, 40 employees, to become 'the office'. It is in the model. I am often asked: "How big are you? How many employees do you have?" And they will actually decide whether to give us work or not based on my answer. So yes, sometimes it’s tempting to scale because scale is a seen as a visible sign of success.

SC: I really like this unwillingness to settle for an inherited definition of success. Instead it’s striving for a certain quality of impact, or a certain kind of cultural presence.

AJ: We tried it, and we’re both not managers. Well, we do have to now, but we really enjoy the actual craft of storytelling, making, building, designing and all of that. So we want to find a way we can continue our practice.

SC: Have you ever done a futures process for your own organisation?

AJ: No! We should, shouldn’t we?

***

The full version of the conversation as published in JFS can be found here.

Thanks again Anab!

Related:
> Design and Futures, Volume I
> I Design Worlds (Liam Young in JFS)
> Experiential Futures: A brief outline
> On getting started in Experiential Futures
> An Experiential Futures interview
> Ghosts of futures past
> Killer imps (RCA Design Interactions)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Bringing futures to Stanford d.school


I recently did a 'mini-residency' at Stanford, aimed at bringing futures concepts and methods into the d.school (aka Hasso Plattner Institute of Design).

Instigating the collaboration was Lisa Kay Solomon, a d.school designer-in-residence; co-author of a leading book on designing and facilitating strategic conversations, Moments of Impact; an alumna of Global Business Network's influential scenarios practice; and a wonderful friend and colleague I first worked with when we were both professors in the Design MBA program at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco.

Our point of departure was a shared understanding of how design can become more effective in shaping change when harnessed to concepts and frameworks from the futures/foresight field, enabling engagement with more diverse and longer-term possibilities.

The larger project of integrating foresight with design, actively putting the two practices and communities in dialogue, has been central to my work since the mid-02000s (much of it documented one way or another at this blog). It was at the heart of my doctoral project in Hawaii, as a futurist at Arup, as a professor at CCA, and then at OCAD, ArtCenter, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as many visits and projects with other institutions over the same period.

It's now also central to my day to day at Carnegie Mellon University. Helping emerging designers work with large-scale transitions in mind, we're embedding futures methods into every design program; undergrad, grad, and PhD.

The Journal of Futures Studies (JFS) special double issue on Design and Futures, just published in open access, is another big step in this more than decade-long exchange of design/futures practices.

Lisa sums up the motivation beautifully:

The future doesn’t have to be something that happens to us. By embracing a posture of long-term thinking, new processes that make futures concrete and accessible, and a wider set of practices that collaboratively question, imagine, and communicate new possibilities, we can catalyze a new movement of futures-centered designers to shape a better tomorrow for generations to come. [emphasis in original]

So we worked together over some months to figure out how to make a short visit bring what we hoped would be the greatest value to the widest range of people.

On my first evening at Stanford, we did a deep-dive with some key d.school folks into how futures and design can connect.

Next, I ran a day-long workshop with around 40 attendees from academia, education, nonprofits like the World Economic Forum, and businesses like Salesforce and Microsoft; a mix of locals and participants who flew in for the occasion. We stepped through an intensive introduction to futures concepts and approaches, including The Thing From The Future as a warmup, and centring on the Ethnographic Experiential Futures (EXF) process, co-created with my colleague Kelly Kornet (and recently published in that JFS special issue), as a guiding structure. Riffing on EXF seemed apropos because the framework was partly inspired by and explicitly builds on some important and underutilised futures work –– Ethnographic Futures Research, a pioneering 'anticipatory anthropology' method developed in the 01970s and 80s –– by the late Robert Textor, who had been a professor of anthropology at Stanford.








Teams get used to dropping down the experiential futures ladder using The Thing From The Future, then focus on a single member's future scenario, elicited in more detail using EXF. (Photos: Stuart Candy)


Divided into small groups, each selected one of their number as a "futuree", whose mental model of a future scenario that they deemed both possible and important to consider was then surfaced and elaborated through a semi-structured interview process into a more fully-fledged scenario, which the team then translated or dramatised in a five-minute experiential scenario staged at the end of the workshop. That is, each used design to breathe life into the specific imaginary one of their members. The idea was to give people a chance to practise creating and staging experiential scenarios, starting with a vague imaginative outline and dropping down the experiential futures ladder to specific, concrete and compelling instances of how these futures might look and work in action at 1:1 scale. Processes using this same structure can be –– and have been –– used for concretising images of the future of individuals and groups for all sorts of purposes spanning the political, strategic, therapeutic, educational, exploratory and entertaining.

A fantastic panel of respondents joined us for the workshop's closing chapter, to share in and probe at the participants' experiential scenarios –– Sarah Stein Greenberg (d.school Executive Director), Scott Doorley (d.school Creative Director), Olatunde Sobomehin (Founder/CEO of StreetCode Academy), and Nathan Shedroff (Executive Director of Seed Vault, and in a previous life the founder/director of the Design MBA at CCA where Lisa and I had first met as faculty).






Each working group designs, dramatises and discusses a short experiential scenario based on a future supplied by their randomly selected "futuree", and then the panel responds. (Photos: Stuart Candy)


The day went out with a bang. For the evening event, The Future's Happening, Lisa and colleagues had orchestrated an array of participatory futures-themed activities, attracting hundreds of seasoned design/futures practitioners and curious new initiates from around the Bay Area. We also had a panel discussion, which she moderated, featuring three visitors to the school who each brought different perspectives on how futures and design can come together. Lisa has just published a series of articles emerging from this terrific, far-reaching conversation, each focusing on the contributions of one of the panellists: Olatunde, me, and Long Now Foundation Board Member Katherine Fulton (whom I'd first met years before, on stage, when we were paired up for the Long Now's Long Conversation event).

The Future's Happening was an incredibly exciting and energetic occasion – since then receiving a volume of overwhelmingly positive feedback. Invigorated and encouraged by all this, we are now working on next steps for integrating futures further.






The Future's Happening, an evening with a couple of hundred attendees from around the Bay Area, included hands-on activities as well as a panel discussion. (Top two photos: Stuart Candy | Bottom photo courtesy of Lisa Solomon)

Meanwhile, in a nice synchronicity, David Kelley –– a founder of the d.school and also of IDEO, and as it happens, an alumnus of Carnegie Mellon University –– spoke at our CMU School of Design commencement ceremony last month.

He addressed the graduating cohort on some of the disciplinary 'superpowers' that he sees designers as having in spades: "Painting a picture of the future with their ideas in it"; "being routinely innovative [and] comfortable with ambiguity", and a "holistic, human-centred approach [that] really lowers barriers for other people to come in and collaborate along with us".

The message to the grads culminated with a provocation about these newly acquired superpowers:
Design has moved from the kids' table to the adult table, very recently. ... So my challenge to all of you is, how are we –– how are you –– going to use this new position to make a better world?

This ethics-based call to action is important and timely. It's a message that the design community, fortunately, seems prepared to discuss more and more often; recognition of its powerful, if often under-examined, role in shaping worlds. And the emergence of futures as a transdisciplinary companion to design practice, not just 'thinking', provides a lot of practical ways to answer that call more effectively.

Involved in the futures field since the 01990s, I realised many years ago that it needed to connect to other, more embodied, kinds of practice in order to become truly effective as a cultural force. As I said when Lisa inquired about the background to this hybrid work during our panel discussion:
The beauty of bringing together design and futures methods is that it takes these conceptual infrastructures developed in the foresight field over the last half century, these handrails for thinking differently at a conceptual level, and knits them to the language of materiality, of making things real with design. You bring the kind of top-down of futures together with the bottom-up of design, and they meet in the middle in this glorious way. Each one contains something in its DNA that the other has historically lacked.

It's coming to be much more widely appreciated that futures and design hold a key to aspects of each other's further development, in education and practice alike. And it was very exciting to have this chance to help an influential institution, one that I've long admired, and that has done so much to mainstream awareness of design, take steps in this direction of putting futures in a place where it has potential to do so much good, as a core competency in design education.

Many thanks to Lisa, Sarah, Scott, and all at the d.school and beyond who made this remarkable confluence possible! And here's looking forward to the next...

Related:
> Design and Futures, Volume I
> Design is Storytelling
> Bringing futures to the Royal College of Art (02009)
> Strategic Foresight at California College of the Arts (02011)
> Experiential futures at OCAD (02017)
> A Vocabulary for Visions in Designing for Transitions (Carnegie Mellon, 02018)
> Ethnographic Experiential Futures (pdf)