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Speculative Everything

“Today designers often focus on making technology easy to use, sexy, and consumable. In Speculative Everything, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby propose a kind of design that is used as a tool to create not only things but ideas. For them, design is a means of speculating about how things could be—to imagine possible futures. This is not the usual sort of predicting or forecasting, spotting trends and extrapolating; these kinds of predictions have been proven wrong, again and again. Instead, Dunne and Raby pose “what if” questions that are intended to open debate and discussion about the kind of future people want (and do not want).

Speculative Everything offers a tour through an emerging cultural landscape of design ideas, ideals, and approaches. Dunne and Raby cite examples from their own design and teaching and from other projects from fine art, design, architecture, cinema, and photography. They also draw on futurology, political theory, the philosophy of technology, and literary fiction. They show us, for example, ideas for a solar kitchen restaurant; a flypaper robotic clock; a menstruation machine; a cloud-seeding truck; a phantom-limb sensation recorder; and devices for food foraging that use the tools of synthetic biology. Dunne and Raby contend that if we speculate more—about everything—reality will become more malleable. The ideas freed by speculative design increase the odds of achieving desirable futures.”

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On Speculative Design

“Speculative Design (SD) understands itself as progressive alternative perspective to mainstream Design culture (and as an alternative to other alternatives as well).1 It knows that “Design” is not some magic way of thinking (involving stick-up notes, sharpies and colored beanbags) that just makes things better by “building trust,” “understanding the customer” or “getting a seat at the table” or similar. Design is also the means by which pathological relationships to material culture are made more efficient and more delightful, and we are worse for it. Some may even conclude that the job of Design in the 21st century is to undo (much of) the Design of 20th. It may also be to re-claim and re-launch other frustrated Modern impulses that were dry-docked by century’s end, not only designing things —widgets, withdrawn objects, manifest subjectivities, formal forms, etc.— but also designing the relations between them: systems, supply-chains, encounters, obligations, accounting protocols, and so on.

As an alternative perspective, speculation is not ephemeral or disengaged. The prevalence of models for risk patterns, ideal options, and plotted-outcomes underscores that speculation itself is not a supplemental or marginal process. It is less “airy-fairy” than it is nuts and bolts: whether for commodities and equities futures, automated A/B testing, enterprise reinsurance or weather forecasting, the global economy functions by speculative models of the near or long-term future.2 But if so does this disqualify the speculative from the figuring of fundamental alternatives? It does not. Instead of concluding that the future (and futurism per se) is lost it we should commandeer modeling infrastructures for better and more vibrant purposes. For this, speculative models are rotated from one purpose to another: less to predict what is most likely to happen (deriving value from advance simulation of given outcomes) than to search the space of actual possibility (even and especially beyond what any of us would conceive otherwise.)3 That is, predictive models are adaptive because they need to be descriptive, but for speculation, models are prescriptive because they need to become normative. Between them we track different uses for contingency, imminence, simulation, navigation, resistance, governmentality, universality, neutrality, etc.4 That is where Design becomes designation.5″

New-Territories

New-Territories is a site dedicated to : Research as Speculation / Fiction as Practice / Practice as LifeSpan.

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Speculative design: A design niche or a new tool for government innovation?

“Throughout the 20th century the definition of design and design methodologies has evolved beyond just products and buildings. Today, its fundamental value goes further than aesthetics and is focused on user-oriented problem solving approaches that are understood by wider audiences – including some government agencies.

While science aims to explain how things are, design aims to explore how things should be by finding a solution to a problem and improving the current status quo. The problem itself can be something concrete like an unergonomic chair. But, the problem can also be as substantial as a public transport infrastructure or how a business should plan its goals. At either end of the scale, the aim of a design process is always to improve the future, which is why the future is often a dominant factor in different design activities.

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The Personal Augmentation Spa, above, was the first part of the exhibition that took visitors into the year 2035. Photo courtesy of Museum of the Future/Tellart.

 

Designing futures

Critical design, especially speculative design and design fiction, raises various “what if?” questions about the future. What if there ought to be a change? What if we would change? What if things were different? By creating scenarios around these “what if” questions with tangible and realistic objects, designers can fabricate an experience of that possible future. Looking forwards in time allows us to imagine problems that might still be beneath the surface or factors that are unknown but plausible or possible, demonstrated in the Futures Cone diagram below As explained by Nesta’s Jess Bland in an earlier blog, we imagined the cone as a torch beam for our report Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow: A modest defence of futurology. Borrowing heavily from Joseph Voros’ version of the cone originally developed by Clem Bezold, the light beam is divided into probable, plausible and preferable futures (a distinction Voros attributes to an article from 1978 by Norman Henchley).

 

Uninvited Guests – Superflux

 

Speculative Design

“Speculative design is a branch of critical design in which designers imagine how the world could be based on probable scenarios of the future (also know as ‘what if’ scenarios). This imagination is then translated or depicted through various forms of media and design in order to convey the new perspective on the issue at hand. Living in a world where the rate of scientific breakthroughs, the shift of political powers, and the innovation of technological artefacts happen so fast that they outpace the human’s reflex time to sit back and analyze the changes these systems are bringing to the life we live in, speculative design comes into place and acts as catalyst for discussion about the kinds of futures people really want (rather than the future companies tries to bring forth with their consumer-based products).”

 

Technological Dreams Series: No.1, Robots – Dunne and Raby

The Future of the University: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education

“To design means “to give form.” Usually the term “design” in relation to the University writ large describes the campus’s physical/architectural design. While what follows has a physical dimension, I am looking instead at the institutional and pedagogical form the University’s design might take. The nature of those designs shapes the behaviors of the students, faculty, and leadership; the curriculum; movement of knowledge, and kind of knowledge exchanged.

This exercise in speculative design — “speculating how things could be”2 — considers designs that critique our current moment but also suggest possibilities for what might be. Not all these designs are practical, but only in the sense that they challenge existing norms or would never pass regulatory muster, since they operate outside of and challenge those norms. But these designs also provide blueprints for new institutional forms (in at least one case, I am working to develop the design into an actual university), and there is no reason these speculative designs could not also be actualized.”

Speculative fiction

Speculative fiction is a fiction genre speculating about worlds that are unlike the real world in various important ways. In these contexts, it generally overlaps one or more of the following: science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history. It is often used as an umbrella term for science fiction and fantasy considered as a single genre.

The term is used this way in academic and ideological criticism of these genres, as well as by some readers, writers, and editors of these genres.

The term is often attributed to Robert A. Heinlein. Some readers and writers of science fiction see the term as insulting towards science fiction, and therefore as having negative connotations.

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Alternative Models and Modernities: The Past Present and Futures of Speculative Design 

‘”Speculative Design focuses on possibilities and potentials. It confronts an uncertain and ambiguous future and seeks to give it shape.

While Speculative Design teaches and uses Design best-practices and methodologies, its goals are more ambitious than traditional programs that focus on certain fixed outcomes. Instead of only optimizing what we do have, Speculative Design explores what we could have.

Today’s Designers need to be able to do more than solve known problems; they must be comfortable working with uncertain opportunities and capable of inventing the unexpected by giving form to the ingenious.

UCSDSD is based in the highly-ranked Department of Visual Arts, and builds on the rich interdisciplinary legacy of this program. It is also collaborative partner with UC San Diego’s world-class scientific and technological research platforms.

Four  areas  of  emphasis  for Speculative Design majors:
•      Public Culture  &  Urban  Ecology

•      Design Computing

•      Design Research

•      Media Design

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Speculative Designers

Dunne & Raby

“In opposition to the narrow role of consumer driven design in the development of existing and emerging technologies, design duo Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby use design as a tool to critique, discuss, debate and speculate. After 10 awe-inspiring years as Professor, Head of Programme and Reader on the renowned Design Interactions programme at the RCA, Dunne and Raby retired from their positions in 2015 leaving behind them a legacy of internationally recognised designers.

Currently, Dunne and Raby hold the positions of Professors of Design and Emerging Technology and Fellows of the Graduate Institute for Design Ethnography and Social Thought at The New School in New York where they continue to stimulate the minds of designers, industry and the public, investigating the social, cultural and ethical implications of technology by exploring parallel worlds and fictional futures in what Dunne and Raby refer to as ‘designed realities’.”

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Sarah Daher

It all came in different parts. Nature was always a fascination. As I grew up I saw how our technological development was disrespecting and abusing our natural environment. But technology also brought us so many unimaginable benefits. Therefore I started to question; how the same technology that we use to dominate the natural environment could be used to empower and to improve nature?

The scientific aspect came when I first saw Stephano Mancuso talking about plant intelligence. Then I found the scientific field of Plant Signaling and Behaviour, and what first started as a personal interest, suddenly became inseparable of my creative practice; a never-ending source of inspiration. Nevertheless, this is a conflictive practice. Knowing that plants communicate and even have some sort of intelligence shakes the physical and biological bridges we have built to separate us from them. It involves many cultural and philosophical values that shape our perception of the vegetal kingdom.

That’s why design, as an in between practice, can intermediate and through scientific research question this ingrained values acting as a changing factor in reality. By envisioning possible futures design can trigger our imagination and stimulate a different perception of reality.

Jinhee Park

Jinhee Park is a designer and artist, student from RCA Design Interactions MA, whose designs explore issues around our day-to-day life. Memory and perception are also questions that she addresses with her work.

For her project, The Breast Milk Fruit, she devised an artificially created breast feeding organ, for mothers too old or too busy to breastfeed their babies. Like a sort of a mammary plant, engineered from the mother’s stem cells and hormones, protruding fruits resembling breast that can be harvested and used to nurture newborns.

In a smart and playful design, that deals with modern life concerns like issues around age and fertility as well as biotechnology and stems cells  Jinhee opens another door for our improved futures.

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Why Today’s Inventors Need to Read More Science Fiction

“How will police use a gun that immobilizes its target but does not kill? What would people do with a device that could provide them with any mood they desire? What are the consequences of a massive, instant global communications network?

Such questions are relevant to many technologies on the market today, but their first iterations appeared not in lab prototypes but in the pages of science fiction.

This fall, MIT Media Lab researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner are teaching “Science Fiction to Science Fabrication,” aka “Pulp to Prototype,” a course that mines these “fantastic imaginings of the future” for analysis of our very real present. Over email, I asked Novy and Brueckner about the books they’ll be teaching, the inventions that found their antecedents in those pages, and why Novy and Brueckner believe it is so important for designers working in the very real world to study the imaginary. An edited transcript of our correspondence follows.”

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The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination

“The University of California, San Diego and the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation have launched a new center to understand, enhance and enact the gift of human imagination. The mission of the Center is to help society become more effective at harnessing imagination. This pursuit will bring together the inventive power of science and technology, with the critical analysis of the humanities, and the expressive insight of the arts.”

HYPERSTITION – Truth is Science is Fiction.

HYPERSTITION: A film on time and narrative. Of thoughts and images. On plants and the outside. Abduction and Recursion. Yoctoseconds and Platonia. Plots and anaerobic organisms. About the movement of thinking and philosophy in anthropology, art, design, economy, linguistics, mathematics, and politics. And back into abstraction.

“You’re always at the beginning and always at the end.” (Ray Brassier) HYPERSTITION: The retooling of philosophy and political theory for the 21st Century.

Featuring: Armen Avanessian, Elie Ayache, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Helen Hester, Deneb Kozikoski, Robin Mackay, Steven Shaviro, Benedict Singleton, Nick Srnicek, Christopher Kulendran Thomas, Agatha Wara, Pete Wolfendale, and Suhail Malik in 2026.

Appearances: Georg Diez, Anke Hennig, Tom Lamberty, Nick Land, Quentin Meillassoux, Reza Negarestani, Björn Quiring, Patricia Reed, Tom Streidl, James Trafford, Jeanne Tremsal, Alex Williams, and Slavoj Žižek.

 

 

Iris van Herpen

“The unreality of seeing.

For her LUCID collection, presented in Paris on March 8th, 2016, the Dutch designer Iris van Herpen explores the concept of lucid dreaming. Within a lucid dream, the dreamer is conscious of the dream state and therefore is able to exert a degree of control on what is happening.

“When I design, the draping process most of the time happens to me unconsciously. I see lucid dreams as a microscope with which I can look into my unconsciousness. In this collection, I have tried to bring my state of ‘reality’ and my state of dreaming, together,” notes the designer.

Both the models and the audience are mirrored as one in the show space, creating a close-up and intimate experience that is amplified by seventeen large optical light screens (OLF). Depending on the viewing angle, movement and proximity to the sheets, the perception of the audience that view the models is continuously shifted and deluded to reflect the fine line between reality and unreality. The visual alienation of the OLF was influential to van Herpen her design process.”

 

 

Speculative Music and Harmony of the Spheres

“With recent advances in brain imaging over just the past 10 years we know now that music is processed differently than spoken language. It is also not simply mathematics, nor physics alone, but in some ways it is a synthesis of all these things.  That is part of music’s incredible power, to synthesize so many ways of knowing into a holistic experience, such as what happens as we learn to play or even when simply listening.

“There is a principle in music which has yet to be discovered.”  – Sir John Herschel

The centuries old art and science of ‘speculative music’ involves seeing music in cosmic terms, and seeing the cosmos in musical terms.  This has been an active field of study in Europe for many years, centuries. For example the Pythagorean science of musical intervalic ratios considered beautiful or harmonius brought about the first major breakthrough in mathematics as relevant to understanding the proportions that seem to be at work in nature, man and the cosmos. This would eventually lead to astronomer Johannes Kepler’s Harmonices Mundi, The Harmony of the Worlds in 1619 and his Planetary Songs, which  had some historical precedence in Arab astronmy and elsewhere.”

Tradition and Innovation: Speculative Music and the Hexadic System

 

 

 

 

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