Limits to Growth? Speculative and Critical Design Summer School 2017 at LCC, London

We wrapped up the 2017 edition of the Speculative and Critical Design Summer School in July. Last year, we wrote up the outcomes and reflections on the process. This year, we also produced a short podcast, introducing some of the ideas of SCD, Limits to Growth and design education with Georgina Voss and Anab Jain. This time, with a more specific theme — The Limits To Growth — we invited the participants to share their thoughts. — Tobias Revell

Arthur Guouillart and his group working through some futuring exercises.

The Speculative and Critical Design Summer School was a fantastic experience. We started with an in-depth introduction to the field, continued with lectures and practical insights from professionals. These lectures were amazing for exploring the context of the practice: how one can do speculative and critical projects as a designer, an artist or a company, but also how to apply it to other disciplines like engineering. It was really thought-provoking to discover how this approach was transferable to many fields and narratives. It was really fruitful to question the political aspect of design during roundtables with the speakers. Analysing the role of data in policy making was especially eye-opening.

In addition, the material that Tobias gave us to explore further questions was also something I learned a lot from. My to-read list grew dramatically during this week! I really enjoyed exploring the future mundane and how to carefully place subtle clues along a storyline. I think this really changed my view on world-building and how to appreciate fictions with these backgrounds.

Fictional data vis workshop with David Benque and Ben Stopher.

When it comes to the usual tropes used for creating such fictions, I think it would also have been helpful to dig further into concepts such as cognitive dissonances and how to use them. However, this week wasn’t all just sitting and listening, the workshops every day were in straightforward applications of the practice where all of us could embrace this new mindset. I very much appreciated how hands-on the exercises were. Having a rapid film-making workshop was also a precious experience to have for my next “quick-and-dirty” prototypes. I also found “pen and paper” activities really profound, like the data visualization workshop. Making up data and graphs as exquisite corpses was an interesting surrealist experience. I also think it could lead to really innovative ideas and I keep practicing it as an inspiration tool. The future-mapping techniques like the futures cone are helping tools I often come back to now.

The experience became even more intense the last two days when we had to produce a short-movie in two days around our perspectives on the theme: The Limits To Growth. This was a great application of everything we saw during the week. I personally think that the theme could have been unveiled with some activities like mapping the common fictions and narratives around the limitations to growth. This could have lead great to keep a common document from our research. I would recommend the course to anybody curious about the field, or just willing to challenge the naïve cultural narratives around the Future and take a new perspective on his own practice.

Arthur Gouillart

What was particularly significant to me, was learning that although SCD is about provoking thought and questioning into various issues through design, it is imperative that the designer takes full responsibility for the concepts they portray within their work, ensuring they do not encourage or introduce negative and destructive futures thinking, that the audience could potentially adopt.

Instead of validating people’s negative behaviors, designers need to present positive sustainable alternatives.

I especially enjoyed the variety of perspectives and disciplines presented to us through the speakers. This was extremely valuable as it gave us expertise we usually may not have access to and also introduced us to a diversity of new concepts that can now be applied to any practice. I absolutely loved this inter-disciplinary and hybrid approach to learning.

It was further beneficial to meet and work collaboratively with others from various disciplines. I found the group brainstorming sessions very useful, as it was insightful to see other’s thought processes and methodologies.

Prevalent within the six days discourse and currently within my master’s project research, are notions of privilege and where this places SCD as a design and communicative tool. Especially inspired by Ramon Amaro’s lecture on logic frameworks, I am beginning to look at how logic is formed, especially around issues of un-sustainability, and how to move beyond that logical framework to create new flourishing systems. I was extremely inspired by Ramon’s questioning into how our pre-disposed frameworks are created, and how we can create alternative SCD paradigms that aren’t biased.

I am now questioning how we can imagine alternative futures that are diverse, and even if there is such a possibility of ever being completely inclusive. Specifically tied into my practice of sustainability & fashion design, I enquire as to how SCD can be used as a medium to communicate alternative sustainable fashion futures that are all-encompassing and acknowledge the privilege to be even able to create such work. Additionally, and as I work on my thesis project which will entail a SCD practical component, I wonder how to present my work that goes beyond the academic sphere.

Georgina Voss’ lecture brought with it further enticing questions, especially looking into notions of ‘What makes a thoughtful object?’ This has me wondering around concepts of the energy we infuse our objects and systems with. Here I learnt that good SCD requires a heavy reflexive framework, in order to successfully communicate and execute ideas.

I have only been exposed to SCD this year through my MA course and this short course, but I have already felt that I would like to continue using this methodology to communicate the pertinent issues of our time, predominantly focused around issues of sustainability for the fashion industry.

Ania Zoltkowski

Stacking up a few stats at the outset. 11 bright minds. 1 intellectual powerhouse of a course leader. 6 neuron-firing speaker presentations. 4 speculative design films for keeps. The LCC Speculative and Critical Design Summer School was an intense joyride into the world of speculative and back.

Hailing from fashion marketing background, my introduction into this space was through a course unit at London College of Fashion. This course was the ideal top-up.

With not a second to lose, in 6 days, course leader, Tobias Revell, ensured that we collected a variety of tools, theoretical and practical, pertaining to speculative design.

If I were to plot the summer school schedule on a graph, a freewheeling chat with designers David Benque, Ramon Amaro and Dr.Georgina Voss would scale the highest peak. We went from examining preposterous futures to divination. The collective brains of all students worked overtime to chew on a heap of mind-blowing concepts laid out for us.

In terms of techniques, an exercise on visual illustration of data by Ben Stopher is yet another highlight. He pushed us to look at infographics through the lens of abstraction, and that would reveal invisible patterns and hidden connections.

All this thought sparking would result in a design fiction film at the end of the course. Joseph Popper’s fun workshop primed us for the task. My group, despite initial hiccups of not pushing the envelope enough, created a film, Three Women and A Baby, set in a dystopian world with limited resources. Men were no longer needed to procreate. Due to acute resource scarcity, the Ministry of Birth Control only accepts applications from three or more parents.

In the words of designers Dunne & Raby, speculative projects help ‘to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life.’

This new-found way of thinking has given me an opportunity to imagine future scenarios or parallel worlds that I would have never thought of otherwise. Only an expanded mind can aim to find alternatives to existing capitalist driven structures, and to design for sustainability.

With speculative design occupying a vital space in the contemporary design universe, I find this approach highly relevant for fashion design studies. It encourages one to think profoundly and can have far reaching consequences for the fashion industry.

Having caused significant adverse impact on the environment, especially during the last few decades, the existing fashion machinery is in need of severe overhauling to make it sustainable.

An imaginary or a parallel world, created through speculation, throws up a multitude of ideas and inspirations. Whether an established practitioner or a student, one has an opportunity to produce speculative design work that critiques and challenges the current fashion landscape.

— Molshree Vaid

After a month off in holiday mode, my brain is forming ideas from the fun and rigorous 6 days of SCD Summer School. is bobbing up into my consciousness. The techniques that I was new to such as quick and dirty rapid prototyping, future visualisations and futures poker. The latter Futures Poker, a set of cards developed by Strange Telemetry, 5 of which were dealt to each team and we had to create a scenario around them. They forced several conditions, places in time, locations upon us. Imagine being in 2100, a pandemic of Hikikomori exists and all machines have emotions and feelings?

I only heard about Speculative design as a methodology at the beginning of my MA last year, when I was asked to frame my work in a critical space. As for illustration being a practice that is mainly brief led, but many practitioners now are using research through design I can see the value that SCD had in interrogating the practice of illustration and pushing it to its boundaries in fine art and design space. My MA sits in this boundary and I find it problematic sometimes where sometimes fall down the crack between disciplines.

I my work I develop narratives for illustrations, think about characters, composition, symbols, objects and how they play against and or complement. our Limits To Growth brief led myself and my other teammate, Ania to develop our story The Measured Energy Initiative. A ‘quick and dirty’ almost two day turnaround got us making, thinking and filming. About the same time as an editorial illustration is made in. Communication and simplicity in colour, line and character.

My assumptions and idea of SCD had expanded and changed for me. I initially thought that I would need some science knowledge as I recently finished a project where biological principles were important. But I am surprised by how illustration is a bedfellow for this way of working. Base your ideas from what is happening now. In the news. In illustration draw from life. Because a speculative fiction pack so much more punch if it is from the seed of reality. Then extrapolate out possible truths.

I think that the quote at the top of the course resonates with me, SCD is a “way of thinking through the world”. We as designers have positions, rather than simply answering briefs, we have the ability to be illustrators as well as commentators. With filmmaking, with politics.

Liv Bargman