A Spectrum of Possibilities

At the conclusion of last year’s Interaction Technology Design (ITD) course, and in anticipation of Dutch Design Week 2018 in which we had two projects exhibited, our team produced a catalog of all 34 projects. The catalog can be downloaded here (PDF; 53mb).

This is the introduction essay:

The velocity, tenacity, and complexity that characterize our times raise a significant challenge for designers and for those responsible for their education: how can we prepare the next generation of interaction designers to tackle the complexities and uncertainties that we face today and will face in the future? What kind of tools, techniques, and knowledge are necessary to untangle existing, and reshape future, sociotechnical relations? How can we encourage young designers to engage in their tasks with creativity, purpose, social awareness, and responsibility?

These questions motivate the project-based design course, Interactive Technology Design (ITD), part of the Design for Interaction (DfI) MSc program at Delft University of Technology’s Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. The course combines futuring techniques with fast-paced, iterative prototyping, aimed at creating tangible interaction experiences of speculative futures.

We have leveraged the 2018 edition of ITD as a vehicle for challenging our collective assumptions about the future of cities and citizenship. When big data is touted as the foundation of “smart” cities, and when new technologies ranging from self-driving cars to genetic engineering are bound to impact every aspect of urban life, a critical view on the consequences of these developments becomes more relevant than ever. Taking future Rotterdam as a case study, and in collaboration with the Horizon-2020 CAPS project, Open for Citizens, 34 teams of ITD students have designed and prototyped interactive “tools for urban citizenship”. The resulting speculative futures presented in this book open our eyes to the effects that ubiquitous big data, combined with new futuristic technologies may have on the social fabric of our cities.

The site and ‘real world’ context for the course’s speculative exploration is a future Rotterdam. A diverse, dynamic city, Rotterdam is considered a hub of social and technological innovation – truly a future-facing city. At the same time, the city is struggling with serious dilemmas concerning cultural diversity, immigration, socioeconomic inequality, and more. Each group of students was assigned one of Rotterdam’s neighbourhoods and given an urban theme: energy, housing, health, natural resources, food security, and mobility. Groups explored their assigned neighbourhoods on fact-finding excursions, and used their findings to design prototypes that reflect the neighbourhood’s character and address its specific challenges. Early prototypes were exhibited and tested by locals during the Future Flux Festival.

All in all, the 34 projects featured in this catalog provide us with a glimpse of what the future may hold for Rotterdam, but they also provide us with a window into the future of design. As the projects make evident, future designers may still be expected to solve complex problems, but as those problems become more and more ‘wicked’ – hard to define and difficult to untangle – communicating the future in provocative, imaginative ways will become inseparable from designing sustainable solutions for it.

We hope you find the projects as thought-provoking and inspiring as we do.

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