We live in a world full of complex, shapeless technology, that has far-reaching effects on our daily lives. Artificial intelligence and digital assistants have found their way to phones, speakers and even bits of our houses. Yet, it is only the big tech companies which dictate the future of these crucial technologies.
In order to use intangible and unprecedented emerging technologies in meaningful, exciting, and ethical ways, we must look at them through a human-centred lens. Designers have always been at the forefront of pushing for ethical, apt, and fun experiences, and they are highly skilled in navigating uncharted waters.
At Fjord Stockholm, we like to think of Speculative Design as a way of gaining insights from futures that are probable (and sometimes preferable!). Putting products and interactions in human contexts through storytelling is a great way of gauging ideas before actually prototyping them in full detail.
As Frederik Pohl says, “A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.”
The Signals pointing towards The Doohickey
1 — A push for augmented reality: Recently, big tech companies have been pushing for augmented reality (A.R.). Apple has made development for A.R. easy by releasing open software development kits, and has included A.R.-ready cameras in all their recent devices. Samsung, as seen in CES 2020, thinks it’s a great idea to have an A.R. assistant help you do daily tasks like exercising.
2 — Prevalence of assistants: A few months ago, in 2019, Amazon released a host of products from eye-glasses to microwave ovens, all equipped with their voice assistant, Alexa. Google is not far behind on this either. Many microprocessor manufacturers have been working in recent months towards making sure that strong AI programmes run locally on your device.
3 — Digital world has increased bearing on the physical world: From designated “Selfie-spots” and “Instagrammable places”, to places trying to get better reviews on Yelp and Google, and Cab Drivers changing their routines to account for Uber, the digital world has far-reaching and deep effects on societal behaviours today.
4 — Big-tech is too big: The biggest companies today are tech companies. Dwelling on the very democratic internet, their reach very often disregards geographies. Despite the efforts in the past few years to impose laws, the Big Tech companies seem to pay a minimal amount of taxes.
Fjord Trends 2020 x The Doohickey
As per tradition, 1200+ designers from 33 Fjord Studios around the world came together to put out a vision for the future of technology, design, and the human state of living: The Fjord Trends. Unsurprisingly, the trends make themselves apparent through The Doohickey.
The underlying theme of The Doohickey speaks about the 2020 Trends: “Many Faces of Growth”, and “Liquid People”. In recent times, people have started to demand responsible and ethical services from corporations, and the companies tend to provide them just that. However, one wonders if this commitment is only to drive sales?
The trend “Digital Doubles” is blatant through the film as Eliza becomes a representation of its users; and an inescapable interaction layer between people and services. Shouldn’t designers and technologists “Design intelligence” for pertinent solutions?
In the climax, the tech-giants are overthrown, for a realigning of fundamental ways in which technology perpetrates our daily lives.
Why should designers dream about alternate realities?
In order to know how things should be, it’s important to think about how they might, or how they could be. This point of view makes sure we look at everything through a critical lens, and we don’t take our current relationships with technology for granted.
Questioning “Why not?” (as opposed to “why”, as generally established in design) is a fantastic way of dreaming alternate social scenarios. Speculative Design helps us come up with outputs that are at the peak of desirability — we can ground these outputs in technical feasibility and business viability later in the design process — once we know what is the most desirable, ethical, apt thing to do for us as people.
How might we use Speculation in our Design Process?
Speculative outputs – whether they are trends reports, physical artefacts, or stories expressed in any media – are great starting points for design projects. Speculation can be done in the earlier divergent parts of the design process. Along with classic design research, speculative outputs are a great way of expanding upon the knowledge about a topic, and probing and judging the implications our own design deliverables before even making them.
A good speculation output could very well serve as an inspiration, moral compass or an ethos for a design project. Since they’re ‘peak desirability’, they can (or must) include sustainability and ethics related themes in their manifestation.
Trends meet Speculative Design
Fjord Trends are perfect starting points for a speculative design project. You’d simply pick a trend relevant to your liking (or to the particular industry you’re working with) to produce a speculative output. If you chose, you could produce a dystopian narrative — that can serve as a warning for what shouldn’t be, instead of what should be. Dystopias generally garner a bigger impact and reaction from the audiences than Utopias (As seen in Black Mirror, Her, Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle, or literally any Sci-Fi film or show written after the space age!)
We have more frameworks, methods, and processes where these came from! To have a chat with us about futures, visioning, and design, you can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
We’ve also scheduled screenings and talks about The Doohickey, and Speculative Design in general. Stay tuned!
We urge you to use The Doohickey as a conversation starter for your next design project if you find it relevant! :)
Follow where The Doohickey goes next, and see some behind the scenes content here bit.ly/thedoohickey
The Speculative Design frameworks in this article are developed by Viraj Joshi with heavy influence from Dunne and Raby, vHM Design Futures, and Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College, London.
Special Thanks to Per Yoshikai, Lena Edman, Fran Merino, Daniele Tatasciore; and the entire Fjord, Stockholm team. You guys are great!