Spectacles of the future — Part 3
The making and re-making.
Finding a balance between what can be and what should be
Design Fiction is a technique pioneered by the Near Future Laboratory which helps explore, understand and ultimately prepare for the future. Design Fiction works by presenting slightly skewed versions of normality in order to provoke debate and discussion (Near Future Laboratory Shop, 2021)
To spark the questions around larger conversations regarding energy efficiency and carbon neutralization, we set about to create some tangible artifacts from the near future. We spoke to the people on the streets to understand their opinions and thoughts from the future and what are their fears regarding the same. We were fascinated by the co-evolution of humans and technology, how technology is changing and how it is changing people. However, we found it very difficult to depict that In form of a physical object. As designers, we were so used to thinking out of the box ideas and narrating that in the form of a story that then it came to dropping that idea on a table as a physical object — I felt stuck, lost, and confused. We were persistent in thinking how technology would work and how it would function so we blindsided the “what” — What is the object? What purpose will it solve? What conversation will it spark? Learning — don’t overthink ideas — if they are good enough to spark a conversation that means it has some potential.
The tangible qualities of these sketches helped us draw attention and spur the imaginations of many, as expressed by the motto “Always bring something to drop on the table.” (attributed to David Kelley).
In my last blog — Spectacle of the future — Part2, I mentioned the approach we followed — Research through Design. In this article, I will show how it actually went.
As we started our exploration with creating artefacts that ranged technology, policy, education, or scenarios. We speculated about our concepts and asked ourselves:
what do you do with this technology?
Will this run by itself ? Does this require a lot of explanation?
What type of conversation will this initiate?
Ban, Amplify, Create
We created a moodboard that depicted our preferable future. This was a combination of technology, behaviours, community etc. The exercise begins with the following questions
What will we have to Ban to reach the preferable future on the moodboard?What has to be amplified?What needs to be created?
Banning was quite easy as it went with fossil fuels and all the appliances that currently use them.
Amplifying was mostly about community energy storage, climate educations, and awareness
Create — this was a tough spot as making is not as easy as thinking.
We created a bunch of objects that cohesively talked about our preferable future. However, we did not integrate them with the existing system and also, we showed a lot of details. The purpose of the object is to spark a conversation and not to explain how things will work out.
Education is the incubator of the future
From all the artifacts we developed, we realised that there are already technologies in place to reduce Carbon emissions, however, we were keen to focus upon what will happen once the Fossil fuel stations are shut. During our research we already saw some predictions that Coal stations are going to shut down leading to a vast population of jobless people. We took that as our opportunity and made it our key focus area to build a concept.
“What if all the coal stations shut by 2025”
From the above object, we were proposing that universities of southwark should provide citizens integrated courses that teach practical skills and educate people about best environmental practices.
This can help people in this transition phase of seeking new jobs, and an opportunity for people to upskill themselves in ways that can lead to environmental conscious decisions in the future. This is also an opportunity for younger students to gain skills that will be valued a lot in the recruitment processes in future.
Soon after we created the artifact, we went out to test it with some stakeholders and also local residents. Where the artefact made sense to us, it was not provocative enough to start a conversation. The feedback received was positive but very generic like
“ Yes, all universities should address Climate change through their programs”
And some critical ones, “the scenario is true but there are no coal mines in the city”
“too many supporting objects is not conveying the purpose”
Without wasting time we went back to our white board for a quick iteration. We asked ourselves some simple questions:
How does a certificate make any difference?
Whom are we targeting?
Is education the only way to address climate change ?
How do we make it more provocative and relevant to the context of Southwark?
Artifact round 2
“What if all Construction and Energy professionals were mandated to take up-skilling training for the inclusion of the best sustainable practices in their jobs?”
In the second round we changed the narrative a little. We kept our focus on education but we selected our target audience. We asked ourselves:
What if Re-skilling becomes more fit for a purpose?
What if a new ‘power’ emerges?
During a feedback session, one of our tutors mentioned a scenario where she wanted to change her bathroom into fully electrical, but the technician had no skills to do that and hence she had to settle for whatever he knew. We derives our next concept right from this story. This provocation came from learning about the new technologies and infrastructures being introduced to lower carbon emissions in buildings and apartments. We found that despite all these advancements in this field, not many professionals are trained for these technical jobs. Our concept responds to this provocation by pushing these professionals to upskill themselves so they are updated with the latest technologies to help lower carbon emissions.
With the increasing number of choices available in the market, people get confused and heavily fallback on the technicians’ advice, and this “green license” will help the consumers to increase their trust and consider the suggestions made by the workers. For this to happen, there is a need for technicians, and other skilled professionals to update their knowledge and understand the new ways, to not only suggest sustainable approaches but actually execute them. The second prototype helped us articulate thoughts better. We figured a rising need and gave it s purpose.
Keeping it Simple
It took us several rounds to finally be satisfied with our future scenario. The constant iteration helped us stay raw and open to changes as it wasn’t a big commitment for us. The concept came down to a green license from a Solar panel windows and AI integrated smart meters.
We started this project with breakthrough innovative ideas from the future. We highly relied on technology and its working. But after each brainstorming round we speculated our ideas. We soon realised that all we required was a simple idea that could bring a larger impact.
The early stages of this project are quite exciting — as well as anxious — because it is unclear where exactly we will end up. Energy is an intangible element and creating an object to depict the future of it became almost impossible. We constantly complained about how to make energy. Well the answer was very simple. All we had to do was just show and not tell. We made supporting objects, played with roles and behaviours and just showed people to ask what they think of it.
We were never 100% committed to an of our concepts and that made scrapping very easy. As I had mentioned earlier, I learn better from failures.
In the end, our Design Fiction is a way to talk about a near future. It is not a specification, nor is it an aspiration or prediction. The work encouraged conversations about the kinds of near futures we’d prefer, even if that required us to represent near futures we fear.
Near Future Laboratory Shop. 2021. Near Future Laboratory Shop. [online] Available at: <https://shop.nearfuturelaboratory.com/> [Accessed 3 May 2021].