Back From the Future Through Speculative Design (Course Review)

These T-shirts were really popular in 2022.

In July this year, I attended a week-long summer school at the Copenhagen Institute of Interactive Design (CIID) called Artefacts From The Future. The course was positioned to:

“… inspire and provoke you in thinking of the impact of future technologies.
The output of this workshop will result in a series of artefacts, which could come from the future. The creation of ‘concrete’ artefacts will help you understand not only how to express intangible concepts but also supply you with a set of practical skills to help you take on similar speculative design tasks in the future.”

We were coordinated into groups, with each group assigned a technology. Our group was tasked with the exploration of driverless vehicles, researching the technology from a variety of angles, discussing a range of end states for autonomous cars (and other forms of transport) between now and 2050. From this discussion, we were told to choose an end state, for which we would plot key events (and headlines) to frame the outcome and then create artefacts to support these events.

It was an intense week, with research exercises presented at a rate that required focus and speedy documentation. Exercises were clustered around specific presentation tasks, culminating in an “exhibit” and peer presentation, initially to our class and then to visitors from the other two summer school classes running that week.

Have endeavoured to aggregate some of the class materials here and have included some observations below:

  1. We had much fun coming up with imaginary (but plausible) headlines to support a future end-state of driverless vehicles. We particularly enjoyed bringing Jeremy Clarkson into the news (“Driverless cars are for girls.”) and killing off Kim Kardashian (“#kimcarcrashian”)
  2. It taught me that Photoshop skills are hugely valuable even though I’m not a designer. There is nothing more frustrating than being able to see a product concept really clearly in your own brain, when you can’t easily transmit the image to someone else
  3. Creating artefacts was a playful way of bringing a vision to life and though it felt like the practical construction time was squeezed on course (as it might be in one week), the direction on building basic prototypes was useful
  4. Anticipating challenges to positive outcomes is an invaluable exercise and one that would be useful for client work in presenting innovative ideas that may extend a client’s comfort zone. Creating headlines (a type of artefact) that lead to a particular innovation (end-state) is an imaginative way of coaching someone towards your vision
  5. Taking a future iteration of a technology and exploring how the problem it solves is resolved today — is a great of ideating different feature sets and product concepts. In our case we had to research the role of a chauffeur (in different countries) and explore different types of pack animals. This way we ensured the broadest scope for exploring the potential of driverless cars
  6. Also enjoyed exploring the social and political implications of driverless vehicles. Would women in the Middle East (at least certain countries) be allowed to use cars on their own if the cars drove themselves? What should we do in cars if we don’t have to drive them? What does this mean for ownership? What industries will be disrupted?
  7. Two minutes of quiet ideation alone was really valuable to drive group discussion. It meant people could pursue their own trains of thought and ideas without worrying about the opinion of others from the outset
  8. It’s easy (as students) to worry about a “right and wrong” way of answering a question (for assessment). It was really helpful for the course leaders to act as mentors/shapers, keeping a degree of distance, but coming forward if we got “stuck in the weeds”
  9. I loved being a student in a new city, if only for a week. The exposure to new people, ideas, conversations, backgrounds and culture was hugely invigorating. Highly recommended.

Some of our “artefacts from the future”.

Women protest in Saudi Arabia, claiming they should be allowed to own and ride in driverless cars. | Poor Kim. | No danger of someone else stealing your driverless cab.
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