Speculative Design workshop: The Hyperconnected City

Workshop report of ‘Speculative Design for Business: The Hyperconnected City’, lead by Theo Ploeg and Mick Jongeling at Cumulus Park, Amsterdam on the 16th of April 2020.

Mick Jongeling
Apr 29, 2020 · 5 min read
Toyota’s Woven City designed by BIG will be an urban incubator for challenges of future living.

According to research from the United Nations: 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. There are already numerous cities that have started reinventing themselves to accommodate all these new citizens. Cities have become “smarter”, being able to monitor and profile the needs of their inhabitants to make the topology of the city more efficient.

These smart cities encourage innovation in the social and technological infrastructures and are presented as free, inclusive and creative cities.

Although there is tension in the debate when the smart city is smart enough, the science behind the measuring of citizens is almost natural to cities.

The city of Çatalhöyük, present-day Turkey, is a 9000-year-old settlement that shows traces of the practice of density planning. Archaeologists have dated it back to the Neolithic (New Stone Age) era. What made Çatalhöyük important, was that it might have been the first evidence of the existence of neighbourhoods.

Neighbourhoods are smaller self-sustaining parts of a bigger city, that should have a diverse population to support its community. Smart cities have exposed challenges and opportunities in their innovation agenda. Smart technologies should optimise their relationships with businesses, exchanging information freely and seek to reduce the divide between challenges cities sought to address with smart city projects and those that citizens and businesses consider priorities.

This city is called Hyper-Connected City.

The need for imagination and speculation

As much as we are trying to imagine a better future for our cities, we should recognize that we are still framing problems as optimal. “Design” in its broader sense, is very much rooted in isolated realities. In the common practice of design, speculative design can help us anticipate the future and help us rethink the world of today. Our approach to speculative design is to challenge prevailing structures and our relationship with our environment.

The primary purpose is to give designers and social scientists tools to reframe reality, to question our current system and come up with different alternatives that are both possible and preferable.

Speculative design inspires thinking, raises awareness, provokes action, sparks discussion and questions our own imaginative horizon.

Cow&Co (2017) by Urban Futures Studio questions the impact of local dairy production on livestock farming and city planning.

Small disclaimer: Due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, this 2-hour workshop was done via Zoom and Mural.

New Citizens in the city

A ‘hyperconnected city’ has citizens past cities have never had to think about. These are non-human citizens. Think about autonomous cars, delivery robots, intelligent surveillance systems but also the digital profile from every citizen.
All citizens need to rely on each other to work as efficient as possible, but how can we best co-exist if we don’t know each other's needs?

We used Mural.co for this workshop and asked all four teams to pick a work field

The participants of the workshop were introduced to four categories: Products, Services, Practices and Personas.

In groups, they were asked to pick one name from each category and ideally, this was done without any strategic thinking or planning. Picking randomly allows for more unexpected combinations and requires thinking outside of a known scope.

The majority of forecasting personas project Senior Citizens as dependent and sheltered in their homes. Our persona craved their independency.

Synthesizing the values for futures.

The 3Ms (or Micro Meso and Macro method) allow participants to list down as many of one form of the impact design can have.

  • Micro is the smallest type of impact and can be described as an artefact. These included services and products and are the extension of ourselves interacting with the design.
  • Meso is the second and is seen as the change of behaviour of an individual or small community. Think about these as personality traits, but also as mindsets or (shared) values.
  • Macro is the largest, and therefore, the hardest to achieve. These are the impacts on society or the world. Another word for calling this impact is called transformation.
The Micro, Meso and Macro Method (3Ms) as designed by Theo Ploeg.

The aim of this method is to connect Micro, Meso and Macro in the context of your specific challenge. The question was how the hyperconnected city would look like if the selected Ms became the status quo. Because the playing field was divided by picking the earlier mentioned Products, Services, Practices and Personas, each team started to shape a different aspect of a preferable future.

Some ideas that were listed included automated maid services that protect people from germs, self-sustaining local ecosystems that lead to a better human-nature relationship, blockchain-based wearables for health monitoring and a flying taxi service that would be used for mass evacuation.

The storytelling template was used to describe life in the city with the new designs being the status quo.

Results and Reflection

The teams presented their work with one short story and a descriptive image. In just two hours, teams had created alternatives they felt the city of the future needed to improve the quality of living for its inhabitants. There was also a coincidence that one proposed design was related to one of the participant's research projects and hopefully the two will inform each other in new designs. The major insights, themes and ideas were:

  • An increase is needed in the transparency of services in the city precincts.
  • The need to improve relationships between humans and non-humans.
  • Crowded streets can lead to complications for elderly and medical responders.
  • Natural resources can become a threat to the city’s existence if not taken into account when planning a city.

Although I might have allowed too much time in the beginning for gathering and exchanging ideas, I do believe collaboration and co-creation is the value of doing workshops in speculative design and not the outcome. The creation of plausible designs requires more thinking, more discussion and definitely prototyping. Although the workshop was limited by the online format, the participants brought energy and expertise that elevated the quality of the workshop.

Cumulus Park designs and facilitates innovation partnerships between companies in industries such as retail, manufacturing, and professional services. Every month, they have events that are open for everybody to join! check out their program on their website

The Digital Society School is a growing community of learners, creators and designers who create meaningful impact on society and its global digital transformation. Check us out at digitalsocietyschool.org.

Future Doing

Methods for Future(s) workshops

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