Design Fiction at the Design Museum

This week we have taken over The Design Museum of London’s Instagram feed. We did this in coordination with the publication of our Ikea Catalog (of the Near Future) for The Design Museum’s current exhibition, “Home Futures” — running until March 2019.

We created eight tiny “Design Fictions” (two of them will appear as Instagram Stories — so keep an eye out..they may be the best ones) that will appear in their feed.

Why did we create these? Aside from the unique opportunity to work with the Design Museum, it gave us an opportunity to do what we enjoy the most: creating meaningful design fictions that reflect upon the challenges of life in today’s weird worlds. Those reflections are meant to be engaging enough that designers of all kinds, which does not include “technologists” nor “business managers” — will consider that their ideas for tomorrow may actually be really shitty, and they should go back to their workstations and workshops and try harder to make products, services, experiences that stand a better change of making a more habitable near future.

We look at design fiction as a form of extrospection — looking from today to see possible near futures based on present state. What might the world look like tomorrow if the assumptions about what’s “new” projected into the future? What are the procedures and methods by which we can project into the near future a new product idea or service strategy — and learn about where the idea might work really well, or how the service strategy could go horribly wrong?

Design Fiction is one of the ways we work with our partners and clients to learn from the future and apply those learnings and insights to make better decisions.

We hope you enjoy these little Design Fictions the Near Future Laboratory created for the Design Museum. You can see the full slate on the Near Future Laboratory’s Vimeo channel.

We encourage you to reach out to us and learn more.

Hello from the Design Museum

The Design Museum (London) has just opened their Home Futures exhibition. Our Ikea Catalog From The Near Future (2015) is on exhibition, with physical copies for museum visitors to peruse and take home.

The Ikea Catalog From The Near Future was done in collaboration with Boris Design and Mobile Life Centre. It was done as a workshop to teach Design Fiction — one of our approaches to investigating possible near futures by making things tangible, imminent and extant.

Why did we chose an Ikea catalog? Because it is one of the more compelling ways to represent normal, ordinary, everyday life in many parts of the world. The Ikea catalog contains the routine furnishings of a normative everyday life. It’s a container of life’s essentials and accessories which can be extrapolated from today’s normal into tomorrow’s normal. In this case, we projected a set of key technical issues, societal concerns, imminent artifacts and instruments into an unspecified “soon.”

Each of our Design Fictions has its moment as they project in a line from their present (in this case, a time in 2015 in Stockholm) into their near future. Much like the Design Museum’s “Home Futures” exhibition — which looks at predictions made in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s about the home of the future — the Ikea Catalog From The Near Future looked at the “Ikea Home” as we considered it from 2015.

The Home Futures exhibition runs at the Design Museum from November 7, 2018 – March 24, 2019. The catalog itself is a must-have, I’d say. Well-produced and fulsome in its representation of objects and artifacts.

More:

While we’re fans of the ‘catalog’ as a Design Fiction Archetype (cf TBD Catalog), we’ve also done Quick-Start Guides, Newspaper Supplements, Reports on Modern Life & Rituals, bespoke Design Fiction Field Reports for clients, all as ways to enter into a discussions about our future.

Hello World. This is Próximo.

An introduction and call for early adopters.

Ever since the slow death of Dopplr after its acquisition by Nokia a decade ago, the internet has lacked a dedicated space for people to casually share their travel intentions. Back in those days, it was also a feature of trip planning services like TripIt which since then pivoted to booking management for frequent flyers and real-time notifications when things go out of the route. With the ubiquity of smartphones, it made a lot of sense for social network platforms to propose services that focus on the instantaneous, the moments and the now. The fascination of the Big Now has been the major trend of the current version of the internet.

For some of us — regularly on the move — the practice of documenting familiar destinations and travel intentions demands its own casual and intimate space. This is what Próximo provides.

In consequence, I have observed people using multiple channels like emails, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp to share their travel plans and request knowledge about destinations from their online contacts. And almost inevitably, I have noticed how that information would get lost in the noise of overfed inboxes or get buried within minutes under endless social media feeds.

Próximo: Thoughtful Words with Pretty Maps

For some of us — regularly on the move — that practice of documenting familiar destinations and travel intentions demands its own casual and intimate space. This is what my recent pet project Próximo provides and I need your help to figure out how it can better cover that need.

Próximo /ˈpɾoɡsimo/ means nearby and upcoming in Spanish. I have conceptualized, designed, developed and deployed it thinking about travelers who perform any of these habits: the record keepers, the connoisseurs and the prospectors.

Habit #1. The Record Keeper

You regularly transform what you hear and see about destinations into reminders, notes or references. You have probably already tried Google Maps, Evernote or travel planning apps to organize them. Próximo offers a natural way to further support that practice. You can both provide context to your notes like in a travel guide AND easily map the relevant places.

Provide context to your notes like in a travel guide AND easily map the relevant places.

Habit #2. The Connoisseur

You have good tastes and your friends, colleagues and family know that.You respond to email/social media requests for personal recommendation about the cities and destinations you are familiar with. In Próximo you can write brief notes tailored to your vegetarian coworker, his sister on her honeymoon, that shopaholic colleague, the foodie friend on a weekend wedding anniversary without her kids or a cousin on a business trip.

Keep brief notes as reminders for yourself or tailored to a specific audience.

Habit #3. The Prospector

You ask around for ideas, suggestions or personal anecdotes to step away from the beaten path. You are also good at browsing the web for hours to spot that special sunrise place in Maui or that unique capsule hotel in Kyoto. In Próximo, you can keep notes of your research and invite friends to contribute with their thoughtful words, recommendations or stories based on who you are.

Disclose your travel intentions and invite friends to contribute with insights.

Call for Early Adopters

If any of these habits sound familiar and you feel intrigued, I invite you to try Próximo. Currently, it is web-based service hosted on proximo.world and you need a Google account to sign in.

It is built on the latest secure web frameworks and technologies (MEAN stack: MongoDB, Express, Angular, and NodeJS). You can delete your account at all time if you are not convinced or no longer want to use Próximo. Click the “Delete Account” in your “Profile” panel and all your data and texts will be deleted immediately.

Like an amateur painter I mainly create software like Próximo for myself. Keeping my hands dirty helps me think better as a professional. I am honored if a few people find the result compelling or inspiring. However, I never fall into the distraction that every idea must scale. This is human scale technology, built for a few, not the whole world. It is the best scale to learn.

I would love to hear from you or anybody you know who might be interested. Thanks for spreading the message. Feel free to comment or contact me.


At Near Future Laboratory we regularly engage into prototyping and envisioning exercises that explore how people negotiate their relation with time and space via digital technologies. For instance: Slow messengerHumansMementoOmata and now Próximo.

Introduction to ethnography & field research at the Angewandte

Context: this month I’ve been invited by Anab Jain to give the introductory workshop to the Design Investigations program at the Angewandt (University of Applied Arts Vienna). This is the brief.

Context

Among the means of framing and inspiring design projects, understanding people and their practices is a fundamental aspect of design projects. Product designers, interaction designers, or architects are often informed by “design ethnography”:

  1. concepts from the social sciences (Anthropology, Sociology) that help making sense of the world,

  2. “field research” methods that rely on observation, participant observation and interview techniques in order to understand social and cultural context.

Beyond the purely ergonomic and functional dimensions, such understanding is thus a fundamental component of current design in order to inspire, constrain, adapt and define the design space in an innovative and original way. Moreover, this understanding aims to overcome the stereotypes of a "user-centered design" that is often not sufficiently concerned with the complexity of individuals' uses and practices, as well as the major role of the surrounding context in the people’s motivations.

 Documenting trash, N.Nova, 2011.

Documenting trash, N.Nova, 2011.

Studio brief

In this studio, students will learn how to employ design ethnography in the context of a small project focused on the digital infrastructure of urban everyday life.

Surveillance cameras, routers, traffic sensors, mobile phone towers, WiFi antennas, cables such as copper wire or optical fibers, data centers, server farms... All of these correspond to the tangible underpinnings of the so-called “virtual interactions” people have with their computers and smartphones. The urban environment, more than anywhere else, is filled with such devices and the myriads of services they rely on, ranging from repair phone shops fixing broken screens and bloated operating systems, to maintenance teams changing underground cables.

 Networks of New York, Ingrid Burrington.

Networks of New York, Ingrid Burrington.

Although these technological components are fundamental, they are often invisible and unbeknown to most of us. Their existence, often dismissed as banal and purely technical, is, however both fundamental as they shape our social and political interactions.

Interestingly, there has been an increasing interest from designers, artists and social scientists towards them (see references). Based on a series of observation, interviews, and possibly research interventions (participant observation, use of non- working prototypes, probes), students will explore the potential of the digital infrastructure of the urban environment in product/service/interaction design. Can they be repurposed for other more inspiring usages? How can we combine these technical elements in order to build more habitable near-futures? Can one take advantage of existing flaws/limits? Can we protect citizens from their overwhelming presence?

Expected output(s)

Based on both the field explorations and the process of analysing the observations, students will have to submit produce two artefacts:

  • Output 1: a document that summarizes the research findings (map? poster? Brief fanzine?)

  • Output2: an object that presents their design concept about how to take advantage of the digital infra/network. This may be done through objects, a short film, a performance, a series of drawings or visualizations; it is up to the students to select the most appropriate resolution for their outcomes.

These two artefacts will be presented orally the last day of the workshop.

Readings and references

General inspiration for field research
Perec, G. (2011). Thoughts of Sorts, Notting Hill Editions.
Perec, G. (2010). An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, Wakefield Press. Smith, K. (2008). How to be an explorer of the world : portable art life museum. NYC : Penguin Books.

Field research methods in social sciences
Causey, A. (2016). Drawn to See: Drawing as an Ethnographic Method
, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Sanjek, R. (1990). Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology. Ithaca: Cornell University press.

Weiss, R.S. (1995). Learning From Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies. Simon & Schuster.

Field research methods in design/UX
Dourish, P. (2006). Implications for design, in Proceedings of the conference on Human Factors in computing systems (Montréal, Québec),pp. 541–550, ACM.

Gaver, B., Dunne, T., & Pacenti E. (1999). Cultural Probes. Interactions, 6 (1), 21-29.

Gaver, W. W., Boucher, A., Pennington, S., & Walker, B. (2004). Cultural probes and the value of uncertainty. Interactions, 11 (5), 53-56. Retrieved from http://cms.gold.ac.uk/media/30gaver-etal.probes+uncertainty.interactions04.pdf

Goodman, E., Kuniavsky, M. & Moed, A.(2012). Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research (2nd ed.), Morgan Kaufmann.

Nova, N. (2014). Beyond Design Ethnography. Berlin : SHS Publishing. Available at the following URL.

Portigal, Steve (2013). Interviewing Users: how to uncover compelling insights. San Francisco: Rosenfeld Media.

Digital/network infrastructures in social sciences/design/art

Arnall, T. (2014). Exploring 'Immaterials': Mediating Design's Invisible Materials. International Journal of Design, 8 (2).

Augé, M. (1995). Non-places: Introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity. London: Verso.

Burrington, I. (2016). Networks of New York: An Illustrated Field Guide to Urban Internet Infrastructure. NYC: Melville House; Ill edition.

Gabrys, J. (2016). Program Earth. Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press.

Star, Susan Leigh (1999): "The Ethnography of Infrastructure", American Behavioral Scientist 43, pp. 377‐91.

Sherpard, M. (2011). Sentient Cities: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Varnelis, K. (2009). The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles. Actar.

Sensor fail

IMG_6016.JPG

September 22, Lausanne (Switzerland). I guess sensor-based soap dispensers have been designed in order to provide a touch-free system that is supposedly more hygienic for its users. However, almost everytime I run across such device, there's a little bit of soap under it. It's the messiness versus elegance that always happen when one think technology would be an easy solution for a simple problem.

Professional repair shop

mbxlyon

September 12, 2017, Lyon, France. An afternoon spent in the repair shops near Place du Pont in Lyon. Although the ones catering laymen are on the main streets, I found this one devoted to professionals. The tinted windows interestingly allude to the opacity of the process and, perhaps, the necessity to avoid showing what happens behind.

Ethnographic experiential futures

exf

Stuart Candy recently blogged about this design framework he and his colleagues use:

"ethnographic futures is more descriptive; looking for what's present but often hidden in people's heads. Experiential futures is more creative; rendering these notional possibilities visible, tangible, immersive and interactive, externalising and concretising representations of them for closer inspection and deeper discussion."

Why do I blog this? Currently looking back at our research process at the Laboratory. This one's kind of close to our interests and approaches.