Designing the Future: Inspiration from dConstruct 2015

Where do you start?

February 2016
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This post was published originally here

dConstruct is part of the Brighton Digital September events. This year’s theme was “Designing the Future” where designers from diverse backgrounds and disciplines shared their thoughts about the coming future from different angles with thought provoking talks.

The day started with Brian David Johnson who talked about the 21st Century Robot project and Futurecasting. One word resonated in my mind from his talk: Imagination. How do we push imagination and translate this to our work? How do we teach this to organisations? To quote Brian: “Science and technology have progressed to the point where, what we build is only constrained by the limits of our own imagination… If we can imagine, we can build. How do we then push our imagination?” Questions are often more important than answers.

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Where do you start? 

Magical UX and the Internet of Things by Josh Clark was around  the same concept: “This is not a challenge of technology, it is a challenge of imagination”. Josh also communicated the need for meaningful design, by aiming to add insights, not only data. Here is one of the magic tricks we saw during the talk, amazing!

Matt Novak spoke about Paleofuture and shared samples of his collection Past visions of the Future. A great look into the future from the past, an exploration of our greatest hopes and darkest fears, and myths and misconceptions about historical futures. Matt also showed us beautiful old images, like this representation of telemedicine in 1925. The Jetsons, an American animated sitcom from the 1960s, were also protagonists. Matt emphasised that: “The future won’t all come at once and it won’t be in the form we imagined”.

John Willshire added more questions: “Who is designing the future? How do we design the future we can’t see?” His cheerful presentation moved into a more specific design area: Metadesign. “How do we design a world of designers?”

Science fiction movies and robots were main aspects of the talks. Chris Noessel taught us some interaction design lessons from science fiction and the influence of science fiction on the real world, through different movie samples. Another fan of sci-fi movies, Ingrid Burrington used The Terminator as a metaphor to talk about the system which reflects around time travel, the system of powers and the natural resistance to them, to confirm that: “The future is not set”.

Nick Foster gave an inspiring talk about the future mundane, and encouraged us to design for that, rather than for the 1% that represents the heroes in the movies. Carla Diana then reminded us that “As designers we’ve seen things that other people don’t see, it’s our job to help them to see them”. She shared some very interesting insights around distributing design through 3D printing (How we can design something today, and in 24h our design could potentially be distributed around the world).

Another vision into the future was given by Dan Hill, on how to design better cities: “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?”, He also questioned “What is the city we want?” It was a very insightful talk about the relationship between technology and cities, and how the two can be combined to build better spaces for living.

Mark Stevenson, author of An Optimist’s Tour of the Future proceeded to warn us that the future is approaching quickly, and much faster than we can predict. He launched an interesting question: “If the technology allows it, is it ethical to do it?” stating that “Not all technology is good or bad”.

The Brighton Dome is a great venue. I also liked the activities that ran during the breaks; one of them offered the opportunity to send a card to your future self in 5 years time! The speakers were brilliant, and all contributed to shape a 360 degree view around the future, by sharing thoughtful insights –  no predictions though!

A doctor’s diagnosis “by radio” on the cover of the February, 1925 issue of Science and Invention magazine

We can’t predict the future, and neither can the experts. We build the future with each step we take and every decision we make, which is why we need to work on shaping the future right now.

The future is about building a better world. It is putting our efforts in to shape the world for our children, grand children, and great-great grandchildren, and not waiting for them to solve our wrong decisions. The future is about doing the right thing now, making an impact, and being creative as designers. It is working in our imagination, pushing the boundaries, believing the impossible can be achieved, and being optimistic about what we can achieve. We can’t take this for granted, which means we need to leave our comfort zone and fight for it. Don’t wait for the future to arrive, but start building it now.

(You can find all the audio recordings of this year’s talks here. It is really worth listening to them!)