Speculating on Speculative Design

I had been noticing talk about this Primer Conference on social media for a few months and about a week before the conference I get a message that SCAD is going to send me and two others to San Francisco to attend. For the rest of the week, I cannot even begin to guess how many times I said,

“I cannot believe this is happening, I am going to San Francisco, I am going to the Primer Conference!”

On Thursday I packed my bags and at 7am Friday morning I was flying across the country to California & here is what happened.

San Fran Day 1

Blake, Marco and I arrived around noon on Friday, checked in, and I was STARVING. Blake and I walked to grab lunch and then wandered around town for a few hours. Around dinner time we all headed to Parisoma where there were lightning talks and a meet and greet panel.

Artists as Service Designer | Joseph Kappes

Joseph spoke about how artists are like service designers in a way. He went through a few examples.

  • Dominic Wilcox and The Inventors Project. Dominic went around to elementary schools and asked them what their life problems were. The students were then tasked to design a solution, and Dominic paired them with a local artist or maker to actually fabricate the ideas. Joseph spoke about how the value proposition was creating value and the service platform is to exchange creative inspiration.
  • Jenny ODell and The Bureau of Suspended Objects. Jenny collected people’s unwanted random objects and found the origin of the object. She then asked questions like “when did you realize you did not want this object? and why did you bring it here to today?” The service proposition here is creating closure opportunities.
  • Marina Abramovic and The Artist is Present. Marina sat in the Moma for three months (yes three months) and looked in the eyes of anyone who wanted to do so. They were supposed to be quite and people were getting very emotional and some came back multiple times.

It is definitely an interesting concept of an artist to be a service designer but these three examples prove that it could be true. They have service platforms and value propositions. Now I can not help but wonder, do they know they are service designers? If they knew would the project still be “Art”?

Nightnight. Putting the Web to Sleep | J. Paul Neeley

“The invention of the ship was the invention of the shipwreck.” -Paul Virilio

J Paul said, “a theory applied to everything is our only hope of saving everything. “ and he spoke about minimalism and truly finding what makes us happy. He did immense studies about all of the patterns in his life: moods, food, sleep, communication, etc. J Paul was an insanely inspiring guy who understood and preached universal responsibility. The project he shared was a code that one could put in their website to shut the website down for a certain amount of hours every night. This was to solve problems with technology. These problems for example are harming the population’s sleeping habits which is directly related to health problems.

San Fran Day 2

This was the main day of the conference. It was also the day that I texted my professor Ben Bush countless times telling him how amazing this conference was. To make the blog post a decent length, I am only going to write about my absolute favorite speeches.

Christian Ervin | TELLART

Christian started off by defining VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) which is used in business as a state of society usually referring of pure chaos. He then moved into asking the audience to take a survey and rate ourselves on two scales. “optimistic or pessimistic about the future” and “will you have high influence or low influence about the future.” He put these into a 2x2 map to show what quadrant most people were in. He moved into how the future is being tested currently in places like Dubai. In Dubai, they believe, “pull the future forward faster.” He broke the future down into categories and showed projects to relate. For example in healthcare they tested an arcade that makes you workout while tracking your health and for education: a program where you design plants though code. He spoke about things that definitely seemed Black Mirror, for example “EYESHARE” a social media where you can share what you are seeing and an AI robot that would be a friend or spouse or nanny but would take care of your home and play with you. Christian was the first talk of the day and he definitely blew my mind.

Paulo Cardini | Rhode Island School of Design

Paulo shared a project that he does/did at RISD and abroad. He spoke about products that are global and reproducing them for a local market. IKEA makes moose toys and sells them in India where the kids do not see moose they see Camels and kids blocks that build typical homes from what I grew up knowing what a house was (a square with triangle roof) and he redesigned them for the local markets (See Project Here). He redesigned simple Ikea tables to be more cultural for the community. Paulo teaches futures design at RISD and he spoke about how students would design things and then another student would say “…I live in the place that your future is imagined.” There are major cultural stereotypes about the future. Here in America we think of two different futures: White and Clean or Super Dystopian. Paulo shared a project with us “Souvenirs From the Future (I tried to find this online and I could not). Here he works with local students from around the world where craft traditions are strong. He makes them write a Sci Fi store, draw a visual narrative, create a futuristic design for it and then work with a local craftsman to build the product. He spoke about how the products were extremely cultural like masks that allow private conversations….I have to ask myself then, “what does that say about that society?” He called this PLURIVERSE. A world where many worlds fit. A future where many futures fit.

Agi Haines | Simulating Corporealities

Agi is researcher and sculptor. She uses design thinking to expand the future of medical design. She showed some of the history of medical design and many of her super awesome projects. She showed her simulacrum of babies, some babies had ports designed directly into them and some had wrinkles (for lack of a more intelligent word). These modifications allowed them to adapt to the conditions of the future. She showed images of some of the organs she made & these organs had the texture, color, and density of the real organ so doctors and surgeons could practice on them. Agi is also one of those speakers who are so incredibly passionate about their work that you have no choice but to fall in love with the work as well. I am someone who can not stand the thought of body insides and organs and fluids, yet this was awesome and inspiring.

There were many other speakers and each one of them was incredibly inspiring. If you want to hear more about the other speakers just ask, I have my notes from all of them.

San Fran Day 3

On Sunday morning, we woke up, packed our bags, ate breakfast, and headed to the IDEO Workshop. There we learned about IDEO’s methodologies and were randomly assigned to our design teams. Each team was handed a secret mission in a manila envelopes. In the envelopes, we were assigned three words from the card deck “The Thing From the Future.” and a futuristic topic. Our team was challenged in two or so hours to create and prototype and present our concept. My team created the “Cloning Bar.” A bar that one would enter to mix a drink that would bring them to a past event or person to learn from them. The idea was hilarious and fun to act out/ prototype. Other teams had great ideas like cookies that made one socially active or fashion that showed what topics you were voting for. Although, I do not want to spend time talking about my team’s concept rather how great this workshop was. Our team got stuck a few times but the IDEO team was constantly coming around to check on us and drop little bombs of inspiration or knowledge. They provided us with materials and snacks. But more importantly, the prompt was fun and creative. The role of the cards were random and each team had different cards creating different scenarios. This workshop was probably one of my favorite workshops I have ever participated in.


Overall this weekend was incredibly inspiring. I left with so many ideas for workshops and charrettes that could be held at SCAD. I cannot thank SCAD enough for sending me to this conference. A special shout out to my professor Ben Bush who is constantly pushing me to think outside the box! & Thank you to everyone at Futures Design Primer Conference for hosting a conference for students like me to be inspired at.


Originally published at www.mpreiss.com.