Designing Products of the Future Through Speculative Design

In design education, it is vital to bring future thinking into class projects

Mehrdad Sedaghat-Baghbani
Assistant Professor
Florida Atlantic University

Having a logical and possible image of the future keeps us safe from natural disasters and leads us to welcome new opportunities. Through speculative design, we can propose future scenarios that we prefer rather than one we just encounter. Benjamin Bratton writes that “Speculative design confronts an uncertain and ambiguous future and seeks to give it shape.” 

Design is a future-oriented discipline that goes beyond traditional realms of production and communication. It is expected that design plays a greater role of socio-technical intervention. Synchronizing design students and the educational system with these emerging demands has always been one of the main challenges of design educators. According to Dunne and Raby in their book Speculative Everything, designers should not just address issues of today, but also take a look into the future and ask, “How can we address future challenges with design?” In design education, it is vital to bring future thinking into class projects not only to introduce students to larger disciplinary conversations but also to provide them with critical tools to map a satisfying picture of the future as designer citizens. But it is important to understand that speculative design is not a prediction of the future. Rather, it creates a narrative of possible future realities that help us question the possible implications for all aspects of society. 

In the course of an exercise in problem-solving and macro approaches to projects in an undergraduate level visual design course at Florida Atlantic University, students were asked to speculate about a product of the future by analyzing a current advanced technology. By studying the path of emergence and the development of that technology to date, they were able to speculate about the direction of this progress over a period of twenty years. Being careful to avoid temptations for fantasy, they were able to envision a future that is plausible and probable, but not impossible. In a four-week long project, the outcomes were various future products for society that were presented as prototypes and posters by the students in the class. 

This presentation addresses the methods and processes we used to design the future as a Graphic Design class project, and it showcases several student projects in order to have a better understanding of the process.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.3: Florida Atlantic University on Saturday, April 10, 2021.

Typographic Landscape Ecologies

Joshua Singer
Associate Professor
San Francisco State University

Typographic Landscape Ecologies is an ongoing design research project that documents, maps, and visualizes typographic artifacts in the urban landscape as a way to explore cultural forces in the constructed world. The project presuppose a model of a semiotic landscape; a complex multi‐dimensional text or collection of texts in geographic space; the landscape as a collection of symbolically mediated phenomena understood only through representation. The typographic elements of the urban landscape form, through their invisible connections to the greater world of meaning, an ecology of meaning that constructs geographic space as real as its material forms.

Typographic Landscape Ecologies uses conventional research as a means to authoritatively document the landscape in an attempt to reveal patterns and relationships. The project uses experimental methods as a foil to the authority of conventional research as a way to generate speculative conclusions. Imprecise and questionable associations generate new semantic connections and new forms of thinking and knowledge. The illumination of new knowledge is the ultimate goal of research giving subjective and illegitimate conclusions value by revealing something not yet known. The work of the radical architecture groups Superstudio and Archigram, the design fictions of Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, the iconoclastic maps of Denis Woods, and the imaginary science of ‘Pataphysics offer examples of the ability of working data into new syntaxes, into alternative and speculative narratives, that can offer glimpses of other potentialities. In Typographic Landscape Ecologies this is demonstrated by the visual cross-referencing of aesthetic ecologies and cultural vectors, their overlay onto three dimensional virtual environments comprised of layers of historical maps that encourage us to read between the lines or layers of a cultural-semiotic space. This does not offer concrete answers, but rather poses new and unexpected questions.

This research was presented at the Affiliated Society Meeting: Design Incubation Special Program on Typography on February 23, 2018.

Alterpodium: Performing Disability

Amanda Cachia
PhD Candidate, Art History, Theory & Criticism
Department of Visual Arts, University of California San Diego

The Alterpodium is a custom-made, portable disability object conceived by curator and scholar Amanda Cachia in order to “perform disability” during international and national conferences, symposiums and lectures. Podiums, like other architectures of an ableist world, are often inaccessible to Cachia’s 4’3″ stature. In 2015, Cachia commissioned artist and scholar Sara Hendren and her students at Olin College of Engineering in Boston to design a podium. They developed a podium inspired by Victor Papanek’s “nomadic furniture” of the 1970s. The design collapses easily for transport and requires no hardware. This kit-of-parts makes it possible for Cachia to literally perform this prosthetic technology, pointedly building the disability object in front of an audience before she begins to speak from it, and thereby questioning the myth of neutrality in everyday furniture. The title of the disability object, Alterpodium, is a departure from

Nicholas Bourriard’s portmanteau conception of Altermodern, which contextualizes global art-making practices with an emphasis on individuality, singularity and autonomy as a reaction against standardization. While most architectural accommodations for atypical bodies are created for seamless, even invisible integration, the Alterpodium amplifies its structural workings, elongating and emphasizing the user’s opportunity to create an alternate, provisional world in public.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 2.4: CAA Conference 2016, Washington, DC on Wednesday, February 3, 2016.