noun: extrapolation; plural noun: extrapolations
the action of estimating or concluding something by assuming that existing trends will continue or a current method will remain applicable.
“sizes were estimated by extrapolation”
The Extrapolation Factory is a design-based research studio for participatory futures studies, founded by Chris Woebken and Elliott P. Montgomery. The studio develops experimental methods for collaboratively prototyping, experiencing and impacting future scenarios.
We met Chris during a workshop Designing Hypothetical (LARP design) in 2017 at the School of Machines, Making & Make Believe in Berlin, and we have been following with enthusiasm his work since. As part of our research process, we decided to interact with people that has influenced our practice.
IMOFT: At Extrapolation Factory, you value simulation as a method to create experiential alternatives — sometimes inspired by LARP methods, and sometimes by the tradition of simulation in tech institutions like NASA. Can you share some insights into your experience of bringing physicality to future exploration?
EF: Astronauts, the military and policemen are often training in spaces and environments that allow for familiarizing oneself with situations and discover challenges they might be facing. Flight simulators, Potempkin villages or setup situations in a Police Academy really allow for a different and embodied learning. As a designer, I am fascinated by the potential of designing immersive environments that allow us to live and experience and evaluate them in a lived future reality.
In our past workshops and events, participants have created fictional products for a future 99¢ store, stocked vending machines from an alternative reality, and created junk mail from businesses that don’t yet exist. Outcomes of the workshops cannot always be seen as direct solutions. However, they offer guideposts to start discussing ideas about how we could live in the future. We hope that participants take away the confidence to have tools at their hands to be able to express and shape constructive discussions around shared futures. We believe that collaboratively constructed futures provide alternatives to the narratives that have been colonized by powerful political groups, companies and Hollywood producers.
IMOFT: There is a famous quote from Virginia Woolf where she says: “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think”. Conversations about the future are so divided by the binary of utopia versus dystopia. What have been your interests and strategies to go beyond that binary? How do you navigate this conversation to be more focused on the studio’s goal of exploring ways to democratize futures?
EF: Also, as noted by Jim Dator, director of the Hawaii Research Centre for Futures Studies, “our visions for the future are often colonized by mainstream imagery. We are bombarded with flying cars in Hollywood films, corporate visions of the future, and reductive political rhetoric”. (Interview with Jim Dator published in Extrapolation Factory — Operators Manual)
What is missing, or meager to say the least, are forums for constructing alternative visions. Studying the way think tanks work and distilling these approaches make them accessible to both communities and individuals. Providing tools for visualizing dreams from all sorts of cultural perspectives opens up new rhetorical spaces for questioning our current world with greater potential for change. Participatory design process bears a unique position to open up opportunities for more diverse expressions to question what is, and what could be.