To Build a Brighter Future in Tech, Superflux Gives Tarot a Timely Update
Jain and her team at Superflux have dealt with questions like this for a long time. The design agency produces projects that “navigate the entangled wilderness of our technology, politics, culture, and environment to imagine new ways of seeing, being, and acting,” for clients like Samsung, Sony, and Microsoft and exhibitions at institutions like MoMA, the National Museum of China, and the V&A in London.
And they’ve turned to an unlikely tool — a tarot deck reimagined for the 21st century — as a new way to engage with these thorny challenges. Like classic tarot decks, their Instant Archetypes cards aren’t meant to be some sort of magical, fortune-telling medium. They’re a set of images that can help us consider options, discuss meaning, and reflect on responsibilities. Traditional tarot enthusiasts interpret the world through the symbology of pentacles, queens, and chariots; the Instant Archetype deck offers concepts like innovation, drones, and hackers that are more familiar to 21st-century designers, technologists, researchers, and students — “anybody who is finding the present too complex right now.”
“We feel it’s time to reimagine these timeless tropes for the new normal. These are the symbols and icons that shape our technological, political, social worlds today.”
A tarot deck might be too mystical for many corporate consultants, but Superflux frequently takes unconventional, theatrical approaches. They partnered with Mozilla to make a series of sci-fi shorts about voice assistants that tell jokes and negotiate cable bills. They pitched a conceptual, AI-powered NGO to over 1,000 professionals at a major international development conference. They created a Vienna Biennale installation exploring how educational and cultural institutions can help build new and improved labor norms.
Jain hopes her work can help people engage with the decisions that, piece by piece, compose our collective future. “We [at Superflux] really see the future as unfolding right in front of us. We don’t arrive there; we build it from the actions and decisions we take today. In that sense, there is no future. There’s no reset button. We’ll live with the consequences of the decisions we make today.”
“Every day we ask ourselves why it’s so hard for people to embrace the idea that there are various futures,” says Jain. “The future is uncomfortable. It’s easier to believe that it will be just like the present and we can carry on, because that’s a comforting narrative. It’s hard to imagine a future in which we’re experiencing all the worst effects of climate change, for example, because it asks you to make scary decisions.”
“What we really do is design questions,” says Jain. “There are more questions than answers. We have a lot of doubt and existential questions, and we do these projects to come up with ways to address those questions. How can we find the right vocabulary, methods, time, space, and resources to do that in the rush of everyday life? How can we feel empowered to make better decisions, or more hopeful decisions? We think of this reimagined tarot deck as a toolkit for people to look at the world from different perspectives.”