The Future of (Futuring About) Wearable Tech

I was planning to write this text much earlier, soon after I finished my short ‘field report’ about the WoW gathering in Eindhoven. Alas, things started to move a bit slower on this side. Anyway, it is ready now, even if in a very condense form, so read (and look at it) below.

As I wrote earlier, I was offered an opportunity to talk about the ‘future of everything’: of women, fashion, and yes, {smart} wearables, too. The only real constrain was that 1. it should be very short and 2. it shouldn’t be a ‘slideshow’ but a real conversation (itself a gross challenge these days!)

Following our approach at Summ()n, I didn’t plan, of course, to present yet another set of ‘trends’ accompanied with a few freakish pictures (a common currency of future gurus these days). Instead I thought to suggest a conversation about the very way we do our futuring, i.e., thinking about, imagining and eventually making the futures that we want. Following the constrains, I decided to bring with me not the ‘digital slides’, but some real (analogue!) artefacts to talk about.

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Evolving Patterns of Innovation

This is a relatively recent diagram, it was used by Philips for their Open Innovation initiative just a couple of years ago (the program if not discontinued, then at least paused now). It was quite a statement for the company back then, signaling the move toward more open, collaborative and people-driven innovation, a striking difference to the typically inward-oriented and technology-pushed developments before.

But life moves on, and there are already new practices emerging in the company, as I just learned from my conversation with Claudia Lieshout, former head of CultureScan program at Philips Design and now Creative Director in charge of “directing, coordinating, scoping, and conducting lifestyle trend research”. I can’t retell all the stories she shares, and also still don’t know many details myself, but from what I sense Philips is again on a mission, of innovating the ways they innovate.

This is not a news, in view of their recent re-branding exercise and the new (unwritable) slogan

Yet slogans aside, it was an interesting conversation; not sure if it will bring any immediate projects for Summ( )n, but a stimulating dialogue it was!



Today I wrote and ‘sent to all’ in Philips Design my last goodbye-mail, officially demarcating a new life phase from January. This new life will be very much with Summ()n, and I hope this project will really take off next year, when my lengthy divorce with the company will be over. Of course, it was also a hello-letter, signaling a new type of relationships with people, and with this very organization (we plan to do some projects for Philips Design, but already as the external vendors).

Due to the seasonal situation, it was inevitable a ‘Merry X-mas/Happy New Year’ mail too, and I sent the image above as a greeting card. Not a simple nice card, but a magical one too: specially from Summ()n, I embedded in it a portal to the future. If you gaze at the center of the card long enough (and with a right enough attitude) you can see you future there. Or a few, if you are lucky.

A Pancake Society

Yesterday I went to a meeting of a Pancake Society called by Josephine Green, who for many years was a head of the future research practice in Philips Design. Of course, ‘pancake’ here refers not to a “a thin, flat cake prepared from a batter and cooked on a hot griddle”, but rather to an emerging framework of the future societal organization. The framework has been developed and propagated by Josephine over the years, and her Pyramids to Pancakes story inspired and mobilized numerous followers, both inside Philips and in other companies and organizations.

As a matter of fact, it’s not quite easy to explain what the ‘pancakes future’ means. There is still no website or a portal of some sort where one can be referred to to learn about this framework. There are a few texts available (most notably, a short paper called Democratizing the Future [pdf]. But still, most of the knowledge exists in a form of her presentations and talks; she is a (hyper)active speaker and presenter, and as a quick google search shows, is seemingly everywhere, and often in a few different places at the same time. Her passionate and performative speeches ignite a growing number of the disciples, who are eager to seek and enable changes.

This meeting was a gathering of such enthusiastic followers, from various (more or less pancakish) companies and organizations who came to share their thoughts, ideas, experiences – but also feelings – about the changes in the world around, and in ourselves. But they came to not only share thoughts and opinions: the subtitle of meeting was “from inspiration to action’, and one of the goals was to start a new Thing-Do-Tank, to further promote and develop (to ‘cook’) new pancakes.

It was a very intensive intellectual debate, but also a warm and almost homey gathering. I enjoyed it very much and felt privileged to be with these people. But one of the consequences of this very special involving atmosphere was that I didn’t want to get my camera out and take ‘proper’ pictures. I feel that it would disconnect me from the flow, and managed to only snap a couple of shots with my iPhone. No usual image flow this time.

The hostess of the meeting, Josephine, has of course a very special meaning to me. In some sense, it was her who dragged me into a whole ‘future’ business, by inviting to join her newly shaped team at Philips Design more than ten years ago. We run many, many interesting projects during these last ten years when we worked together. She has been also incredibly supportive to my last adventures, into blending experience design, gaming, and co-creation with future studies, and as such can be called a blessing goddess of Summ()n. This doesn’t mean that she always ‘buys’ what I am trying to ‘sell’ (and vice versa), and our conversation often evolve into fierce arguings and heated debates; but this only makes them ever more inspiring and memorable. Lots of memories, indeed, and lots of learnings, too.

And a lot of stories had been told again this time again, about Frogs, and Princesses, about Paradigms and Transformations (and about Pancakes too, of course). But it wasn’t all about nostalgic reminiscences, it’s was about the futures too (more about the futures, in fact!) Perhaps, it is not a coincidence that we leave Philips Design at the same time, and I feel that’s only a beginning of something new, and foresee many interesting stories, and interesting projects ahead.

Food Trends Day in Evoluon

On November 23, the Dutch trend research agency ShootMyFood held its first Food Inspiration Day in the Evoluon congress center in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The event has gathered 500+ participants and was sold out long before the start, the largest success story for the agency so far.

Clive van Heerden, creative director of the Design Probe program, was the last speaker of the day. He shared with the audience the Philips Design’s approach of exploring possible futures by developing provocative design probes, and also presented three most recent probes related to food: Diagnostic Kitchen, Creative Cooking, and Biosphere.

The last probe, Biosphere, strongly resonated with the talk of previous speaker, Rob Baan, from Koppert Cress. Rob was presenting (in a very multisensorial way) his Architecture Aromatique, a novel approach to producing and distributing ‘natural tastes’. In a conversation during the after-conference party one of the participants regretted when she didn’t find the 3D printed desserts among the offered delicacies. The best feedback you can expect for the ‘presentation of the future’ – “we want this future, now!”

We are currently discussing with Philips Design a program of support for their Design Probes program, which will be using their community as a launch pad. More on that later on this blog.

Playful Innovation, or Shameless Self-promotion Galore

Philips Design has published its quarterly ezine, New Value News, with a few materials about ‘serious games’ and their use in design and innovation- see Playful Innovation (small intro and pdf) . This basically a short description of one of such games – Spark, a tiny, cute boardgame that helps in generating so called ‘insights’ during so called ‘ideation workshops’. This is not really a self-standing game, but rather an element of quite a rigid workshop structure, but well, it’s still fun to play.

Another publication, Playing with Futures, is a small piece about serious games as a tool to explore possible futures. There are few relatively well-known examples there, and another game developed by Philips Design (i.e., by Otto and myself), which we titled ‘Building Futures’.

[The] “game developed by Philips Design for Design Initiatief, a new Dutch organization helping businesses collaborate and co-create new future-proof solutions. In this game, different teams construct possible futures in an interactive and competitive way, using ideas as building bricks for their projects. Importantly, people not only ‘imagine’ new futures, but are also ‘live’ and ‘work’ in them – preparing and transforming themselves for new emerging realities.