Few days ago we attended a very interesting event, a symposium (?) of the MyFutures project run by the Design Department of University of Delft together with a few partners. We have learned about this project last year, from our partners from STBY, but by then the information was very sparse.
Now there is a proper project website that explains the goals of the project and also reports on its key developments (MyFutures), but by the time we decided to go the exact scope of this endeavour was still pretty vague. Nevertheless, its key promise, as to develop the “Tools to support thinking about personal futures”, was obviously pretty dear to us in Summ( )n.
In short, the project is aimed to better understand how people (especially soon_to_be_old ones) think about their personal futures and what they do to make these futures ‘better’. If we replace ‘people’ to ‘companies’ that’s exactly what Summ()n does anyway (and we even thought about expanding our services to individuals, right from the start of the agency, though it’s still not happened).
Below is a short account of the event, and some thoughts along the lines (or rather ‘pictures’):
Worth noticing that the very first picture above has nothing do to with the symposium, it is just an announcement of a new building that is to be constructed near the Department of Industrial Design of UDelft; it was just a bid indicative that it was also about the ‘F-word’.
The next picture is already ‘warmer’ – this is the stand that (and people who) were greeting the visitors:
The stands also displayed the program of the coming (half) day:
A bit surprisingly, but the actual flow was fairly close to the described program: The event started (almost) in time, and indeed from the presentation by Froukje Visser, who explained both the nature of the project (research; multipartner) and its key goal (to develop better tools for people to think about, and to deal with their futures):
But Froukje did more than that, she also briefly introduced the first findings of a massive ethnographic research that has been conducted as a part of the project (and that will feed the development of – if not actual tools, then at least suggestions and recommendations thereof).
The next big part of the program was the presentation of Liz Sanders (whom I knew mainly as a founder of the design consultancy Make Tools and also a co-author, together with Pieter Jan Stappers, of the book Convivial Toolbox; as I figured, she lately joined the Ohio State University and so lots of her recent works are done with (or by) her students).
Quite naturally, Liz Sanders told about a few recent projects of her where she addressed the issues similar to the scope of MyFutures project. This included a recent project between the OSU students and a care center for elderly, when the team co-researched and then co-design a process that helped ‘seniors’ to better prepare for the future situations.
But the most interesting was her methodological take on the matters. Liz Sanders, together with PJ Stappers, are known for their scheme that outlines different relationships between ‘design’ and ‘research’ vis-a-vis the dimension of the expertise vs participation:
The above image is from their Convivial Toolbox book that was published already in 2013 and that in many ways framed a new creature called Generative Design Research (together with its toolbox). The task of Liz Sanders was to expand this design expertise to the domain of the ‘futures’.
I am not sure that I could reproduce here her entire speech and a full argumentation for the statement the ‘design’ possesses a special power that could help us to explore the futures better (Liz Sanders herself labelled it as ‘design wisdom’).
According to her, one of the main tasks of design is to create a ‘transdisciplinary design space’, the one “where people can tell future stories collaboratively, where they can visualize future environments collectively, and where they can enact future scenarios together with others” (the quote is from here own slide, see below):
In other words, design could enable our ‘collective daydreaming’, as it was demonstrated on another slide:
It all sounds cool & stuff, and obviously in many way repeats what we try to do with Summ()n for years, whether with our Future Probing approach or with a whole series of ‘playing with the future’ activities. However, it is the latter that posses many questions about the suggested ‘space for collective daydreaming’ to be arranged for us by design. We would argue that this space can not exist without the property of ‘playfulness’ (which is way more complex that the ‘Lego-level creativity’ of a typical design process). But by and large we would obviously support this way of thinking.
After a short break the stage was taken by PJ Stappers
who in fact very quickly gave it back to the students, to present their own ideas and projects related to the MyFutures project. We’ve listed at least four, if not five presentations, and I don’t have records of all of them. As often happens with student projects, some were better than others, but together they presented an interesting panorama of activities:
Due to a few technical bumps some projects had too little time to tell about their work (and sometimes the lack of presentation skills didn’t allow us to get the essence). All these projects were also presented in form of posters:
Overall, it was a very interesting event, and I later an extensive feedback about the complexity of dealing (playing) with the ‘futures’.