Exploring multiple futures

Book Review: Design Anthropological Futures

Edited by Smith, R.C., Vangkilde, K.T., Kjaersgaard, M.G., Otto, T., Halse, J., Binder, T.,  2016, Bloomsbury


This is an approachable and inspiring academic book of essays, case studies, and reflections on the emerging field of Design Anthropology. It pushes further beyond the techniques and methods of the first, seminal book to introduce the practice in 2013, “Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice.” Here many of the same contributors dive deeper into the concept of “future”– or “multiple futures,” a concept which they propose to be more accurate. This collection shows us that Anthropologists can integrate the collaborative making aspects of Design to move beyond observation of the current state of a society or system and begin to understand what may be possible, plausible and preferable in the future. The editors write, “The approaches presented in this volume are acutely attuned to political issues, socio-economic differences and their effects on future-making practices in situated contexts.” Illustrating how the sensitivities of Anthropological ways of knowing can strengthen our perspectives on how co-designed futures are received by those who interact with them in context.

As a practicing design researcher/design thinker in industry, I find this book to be more provocative and philosophical than “Design Anthropology.” The older book was a thoughtful take on how to bring more Anthropological practice into any Design Research practice to level-up your skills. “Design Anthropological Futures” is a handbook for those who are already working on exploring and shaping the future. In Chapter 6, Halse and Boffi describe their methods in this way, “Interventionist speculation blends the techniques of invention with techniques of description; it carries an attitude that oscillates between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ (p. 89).” For me, this book is exciting in its thoughtful examination of how to explore future experiences that are more daring and complex than what applied Anthropology is typically working with, and more situated and politically-aware than what Design methods typically extend to. This, to me, is the next generation of tools for exploring big questions in holistic contexts.

Emergent Strategy + Transition Design in a poem by Wheatley

 

Turning to One Another

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
Ask: “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.
Notice what you care about.
Assume that many others share your dreams.
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.
Be intrigued by the differences you hear. Expect to be surprised.
Treasure curiosity more than certainty.
Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
Know that creative solutions come from new connections.
Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.
Real listening always brings people closer together.
Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.
Rely on human goodness.

Stay together.

Margaret Wheatley

Design Interventions: study, make, observe, adapt, remake

Transition Design challenges are not the “Tame Problems” of capitalism that impose artificial boundaries and do not consider social and environmental concerns. Every challenge we take on as designers is likely to exist within a changing system.

Our proposed solutions may be quickly outdated, or inconsiderate, if we deliver them as confident, final solutions rather than the tweaks to a living, human system that they are. Learning the mindset of “intervene, observe, adapt” or “seed and catalyze” may be a useful addition to all of our design toolkits.

 

From a Transition Design short course lead by Irwin, Kossoff and Tonkinwise

https://design.cmu.edu/content/transition-design-everyday-life-cosmopolitan-localism-and-systems-level-change

Transition Design: studying what came before and what is to come

“The Anthropocene is the outcome of multitudes of uncoordinated design decisions, almost none of which take account of the scale, in terms of space and time, of designs’ collective consequences.We are not adequately seeing all these sociotechnical systems. We are missing the designed relations between these systems and our various habits and values that are proving so resistant to change toward more sustainable futures.”

— Cameron Tonkinwise, Professor

Read his snarky call to action here:

https://medium.com/@camerontw/design-thinking-yet-again-because-maybe-it-could-actually-be-useful-perhaps-even-necessary-b20d004a3a6d