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.

Dreaming Forward (talk at Utrecht Winter School on Earth System Governance)

I’m delighted to take part in the Utrecht Winter School on Earth System Governance next week.

The 2018 Utrecht Winter School on Earth System Governance is designed to function as an incubator for early career researchers working with the new earth system governance research agenda. The aim is to critically reflect on the new research agenda and start taking it forward by facilitating early career researchers’ work connected to this agenda.

I’ll be speaking on a very exciting panel titled Anticipation and Imagination alongside Joost Vervoort (who’s also one of the Winter School’s academic directors), Maarten Hajer, and Aarti Gupta.

My talk is a first attempt to articulate what I find to be an important challenge for critical designers: making connections between the imagination as a faculty of the individual, and the more collective, social imaginaries. Here’s the abstract:

Dreaming forward: from the designerly imagination to social and political imaginaries.
Design is synonymous with the imagination. Designers imagine new products, new services, and new environments, how these could be used and by whom, and how they may lead to new, lucrative markets. Design is also quintessentially future-oriented. Designers appeal to the future as a means by which to concretize and test their ideas, effectively approaching the future as a container for innovation. But what happens when the designerly imagination takes social issues as its object? How are designers implicated in future-making or worldmaking, and how may the designerly imagination influence the more collective, social imaginaries? The talk charts initial answers to these questions by surveying the intersection of design, futures, and the imagination.

(Gustave Courbet, Paysage de Mer, 1869)

New book out!

My first book, Interactive Media for Sustainability, is now officially out and can be purchased on the Palgrave/Macmillan website. It is part of the Palgrave Studies in Media and Environmental Communication series.

From the publisher’s webpage:

Interactive Media for Sustainability presents a conceptually rich, critical account of the design and use of interactive technologies to engage the public with sustainability. Treating interactive technologies as forms of mediation, the book argues that these technologies advance multiple understandings of sustainability. At stake are the ways sustainability encodes the complexity of interrelated social and natural systems, and how it conveys the malleability of the future. The book’s argument is anchored in a diverse set of theoretical resources that include contemporary work in human-computer interaction (HCI), social theory, media studies, and the philosophy of technology, and is animated by a variety of examples, including interactive simulations, persuasive apps, digital games, art installations, and decision-support tools.


Design in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

The Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering is holding a symposium, Design in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, on March 12, 2018. The preamble:

The rapid rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) poses fundamental challenges for the creative industry. Although AI technologies are being adopted at an ever faster pace, Design as an academic discipline has so far failed to provide a convincing answer to the opportunities and challenges of AI.

This one-day symposium brings together design researchers and educators from the TU Delft Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering with the aim of sharing experiences and shaping future activities at the intersection of Design and AI.

IBM worked with Rio to design a command center that integrates over 30 city departments to improve emergency response management and collaboration across the city. Weather forecasting and predictive analytics capabilities use information to decide how to best react to current events and how to best plan for what is likely to happen in the future in order to minimize impact on citizens.

My own contribution focuses on the social consequences of AI in the context of smart city design. Here’s the abstract:

From opacity to legibility: AI in the smart city

In this short talk I discuss design responses to the potential implications of AI – an integral element of the smart city suite of technologies – for public involvement in urban design. My concern, as implied in the title, is that AI constitutes a ‘black box’ whose opacity may prevent the public from taking a more informed and active role in city-making.

I will first situate AI in relation to two important orientations, directions or ‘pulls’ in smart city design: the first is the imperative to design flexible, multi-stakeholder, open-ended platforms (“infrastructuring” in Ezio Manzini’s terms), and the second is the growing shift in ownership of urban infrastructure from public to private actors (what Keller Easterling calls “extrastatecraft”). I will suggest that it is becoming difficult for the public to identify the presence of AI and intervene in its development given the way much of the former takes place ‘under the hood’, so to speak, and much of the latter takes place in exclusive commercial settings. I will then illustrate two design responses to these developments. The first, Smart City Panorama by Studio Richard Vijgen, is an art-design installation that was part of the Data Embassy exhibition during Dutch Design Week, 2017. The second is the AI Mayor, a speculative design created by students during last year’s edition of the DfI masters class, Interactive Technology Design (ITD).