Value Replacement Therapy at the UFS summer school

For the second year I had the pleasure of facilitating a design workshop as part of the Urban Futures Studio’s summer school, Futuring for Sustainability. This year the super-condensed-half-a-day-online workshop offered participants a taste of how designers speculate about the future from the designed artefact outwards.

My co-conspirator Lenneke Kuijer and I talking to a screen. (photo by Hilde Segond von Banchet)

In the first part of the workshop I helped participants perform what I call ‘value replacement therapy’: they selected an urban technology, and based on Schwartz’s overview of basic human values, tried to figure out what was the most dominant value associated with the technology. Participants then chose an alternative value (again, relying on Schwartz’s work) and redesigned the urban technology to reflect that alternative value. The last step in this part of the exercise was to imagine and animate the kind of future world within which the newly designed technology would be popular or could scale up.

Behind me is the Nureva Span interactive board on which participants created collages representing their design space. (photo by Hilde Segond von Banchet)

In the second part of the workshop my co-conspirator, Lenneke Kuijer, guided participants in considering how the newly designed technology would be used in everyday life. Participants reported on the new technology as anthropologists, and wrote short newspaper articles from the future (a technique I have used successfully before).

The results were quite outstanding, given the very short time participants had to dive into the brief and come up with concrete designs. Groups redesigned a bicycle to function as an environmental sensing agent; created a public bench that recharges the energy of those rich enough to use it; reimagined urban vehicles as safe spaces in an ecologically declining city; suggested gardening as a form of electoral renewal; and redesigned garbage bins to reflect neighbourhood spirits and inspire better waste disposal practices. No less important, participants seemed to enjoy the creative freedom of the exercise despite the tight timeframe and the challenges of collaborating across continents and timezones.

On Value Dynamics and Embracing Future Uncertainty

I’ve had the honour and pleasure of participating in the symposium that marked TU Delft’s 178th birthday. This year’s symposium was organized by the Delft Design for Values Institute, and included keynotes from Batya Friedman and Marco Steinberg (both received an honourary doctorate).

(photo by Roy Borghouts)

My short talk, one of three ‘pitches’ on the topic of value dynamics, argued that future-proofing (the idea that designers can fully hedge against future uncertainty) was both hubristic and uninspiring.

what if instead of framing design as anticipatory problem-solving, we considered it a form of imaginative wayfinding? What if instead of trying to tame the future, designers embraced its uncertainty?

The entire symposium can be viewed here. My talk starts at 1:22:20.

In conversation with Ibo van de Poel (left) and Batya Friedman (right).
(photo by Roy Borghouts)

Beyond Smart Cities Today

Together with Jan Misker of V2_Lab for the Unstable Media, I will be giving a talk in the Beyond Smart Cities Today symposium, organized by the Centre for BOLD Cities (a collaboration between Erasmus University, Leiden University, and TU Delft). The symposium is headlined by Rob Kitchin, with keynotes by a host of super interesting speakers (program here as PDF).

The talk is titled Alternative Imaginaries for the Smart City. Here’s the abstract:

The rise of the smart city as a dominant urban development paradigm has raised concerns about the public’s capacity to make sense of the technologies and policies involved. Accordingly, most efforts to engage the public with the smart city tend to focus on demystifying urban technologies – opening up the technological “black box” for public scrutiny. But what if we consider the smart city not only as a collection of intelligent technologies but as a social imaginary – a set of collectively held beliefs about the world and how we can act on it? What new opportunities for art- and design-led interventions emerge if instead of concentrating on the technologies we have, we focused on the city we want – on what urban scholar Saskia Sassen calls “cityness”?

In this presentation we will illustrate some of the possibilities, challenges and benefits of engaging with the smart city as a social imaginary, with an eye on translating the SHARED principles for public engagement into concrete activities. We will discuss several current and upcoming Dutch art and design-led interventions that aim to disclose, problematize and pluralize the social imaginaries that guide the development and deployment of urban technologies. We will do so while drawing a distinction between interventions that imagine alternative smart cities for, and those done by, the public.

The symposium takes place Sept.18-19, 2019, at the New Institute in Rotterdam.

Speculative Design for Sustainable Futures – in Delhi

This week I am in New Delhi, facilitating a workshop on sustainability futures with 18 masters-level design students at The Design Village. The workshop’s rationale:

At its core, sustainability invites us to consider how complex socio-environmental systems may develop over time. In this sense, sustainability is really about the future: how we may satisfy the needs of future generations and leave them with a world no more damaged than the one we inherited. But since the future is undetermined, we are better to consider a plurality of futures or, better yet, a plurality of sustainable futures. This reflects the fact that what sustainability means in theory and in practice may change depending on the time, place, and identity of those pursuing it. There is no single future, just as there is no single sustainability. This is no less true about India, a country of many contradictions – the site of growing economic progress and prowess but also of abject poverty; a hub of technological innovation but also of ancient knowledge, values and ways of life. What sustainable futures mean for India is a unique, necessary proposition.

The experience so far has been incredible! It’s so refreshing and inspiring to work with students from an entirely different background, and with different design foci: product, fashion, graphic, and spatial design.

To align them all, I’ve defined the workshop’s goals as follows:

Drawing from global standards (such as the MDGs) and local conditions and traditions, this workshop will provide students with the tools and skills required to research, conceptualize, and evaluate design for sustainability futures. The workshop will allow students to dive deeper into the complex relations between design and sustainability, and develop a future-orientation that would enable them to anticipate, communicate, and start addressing future sustainability challenges. For this purpose, the workshop combines techniques from Futures Studies and interaction design, and grounds design work in local-specific contexts (values, norms, culture, and so forth).

The workshop consists of three stages: (1) Research into the specific challenges that are associated with sustainability in the Indian context; (2) Development of future scenarios that respond to those challenges in an imaginative way; (3) Creating and evaluating prototypes that communicate the challenges and chart possible solutions. I hope to share the results here in a later time.