Thursday, August 21, 2008

Findability features FoundFutures

Earlier this week I was interviewed by Peter "Ambient Findability" Morville for his blog, about working at the intersection of design and alternative futures. (I recently rediscovered and responded to a post he wrote over a year ago, in which he expressed an interest in the interweaving of user experience strategy and futures studies.) We talked quite a bit about the ongoing collaborative project FoundFutures which fellow futurist Jake Dunagan and I have been running since 02006, with the help of a stable -- if stable is the word for these people -- of brilliant designers.

The resulting post appeared today.

I'm grateful to Peter for initiating a really interesting conversation.

As regular readers of t.s.f. are already well aware, there's an orientation in these pages toward how design and futures thinking are being (and can continue to be) woven together. One of the biggest challenges in synthetic, generalist, or transdisciplinary inquiry lies in semantic mismatches, so that people discussing essentially the same phenomena using different terms may never become aware of each other's research or ideas. Traditionally this has been a boon to the academy, in that people could become well-known, admired experts in their respective fields without ever having to take into account the challenges of other folks using different terminology in the next building over. Increased connectivity of people and subjects are rapidly breaking down those walls (notably, via tag-based taxonomies which allow you to have your semantic cake and eat it, so things can easily belong in and be accessed via multiple, previously siloed, categories).

So these disciplinary and linguistic divisions both impede and enable new discoveries: each is a different perspective, a different way of perceiving or knowing the subject.

Swings and roundabouts, my friends. Swings and roundabouts.

Consequently each discussion around design and futures with someone whose experience brings them to the intersection from a different angle opens up new (that is, new to me) insights, search terms, and avenues of inquiry. Peter's principal areas of expertise are information architecture and user experience. Several of the links he included in his post open up frontiers I look forward to exploring:

> Victor Lombardi's thinking on "tangible futures"
> The EU initiative and report Design for Future Needs
> Nathan Shedroff and Davis Masten's project Postcards from the Future

Coincidentally, I'd scheduled a meeting with Nathan (an experience design expert) in San Francisco yesterday afternoon, and we enjoyed a highly interesting exchange of ideas, many of which took the form of trading isomorphic insights arrived at via slightly different avenues. Thus, the beginning of another promising thread in this effort.

The Great Design-Futures Conversation continues. All are welcome.


Anonymous said...

Congrats on the conversation. However the idea that people just use different terms for the same things next door does not take into account that they can be talking about very different things. It is not merely a this-equals-that dictionary needed, but the true and authentic "task of the translator". See the essay by the same name from Walter Benjamin for more on this.

Cheers, Jeff

Stuart Candy said...

Thanks for this comment, Jeff. I'm sure Benjamin, as a Berlin-born scholar and poetry translator, had interesting things to say on -- as well as in -- translation. :-)

Anyway, your point about differences is well taken. Still, the fact that different terms/frames can denote similar (even identical) things is to my mind more noteworthy than the idea that different terms can refer to different things. The latter plays to our common sense, whereas the former condition is the stuff of which revelations are often made.

To clarify: my point is not to advocate developing simplistic interdisciplinary equations of the "this-equals-that" variety you describe. Instead, I'm in pursuit of expanded understanding -- which (and I think we agree here) requires just as much attention to the differences between disciplinary perspectives and languages as to their similarities.