In the Symposium DE14, we want to create a discussion between various design and futurist experts who we believe are developing language and tools used to “think out loud about the future” with areas from experience design to scenario planning playing a role.
The Data Ecologies series has been running for over a decade as a workshop/symposium/discussion dealing with connections between abstraction and reality, the fictional and the actual, the description and the implementation.
Looking into the future, we see possibilities, predictions, prognoses, analysis, numbers, trends, a spectrum between the preferable and the plausible, the possible and the probable. What we rarely see, are ideas and descriptions about how these futures might affect our daily lives. As Toffler or Dator puts it, the future seen by experts versus the future we see for ourselves in everyday life. What will planning a vegetable garden in a world after an average 2.5 degrees temperature increase look like? How will we go shopping for food, furniture and devices when cheap shipping has disappeared? What will living by European rivers look like with the prognosed increase in flooding?
In the Future Fabulators project we are looking at speculative futures and what they offer, promise and threaten. We are looking into ways to bring those abstractions down to a more comprehensible representational reality of what they could look like, feel like and act like. In Data Ecologies 14 (DE14) we want to dive into a discussion of how this process of concretisation works, how we talk about and design experiences of possible futures. We want to explore how to meaningfully engage others and ourselves in this process rather than get lost in a maze of messy statistics and internal, inexpressable mental images.
Stuart Candy stated the challenge most astutely when he talked about “bringing the future from the abstract to the concrete experience” as a way of dealing with how we think about the futures. The future can only be co-created; no single entity is responsible for making the future happen. Thus, how we talk about these developments is vital; without being able to share visions, dreams, possibilities, plausibilities and probabilities with one another, we are unable to resiliently plan for possible futures. This is the core challenge of Future Fabulators and in DE14 we wish to look at the language and tools that are used to think “out loud” about futures.
We believe there are a number of fields that explore these and related issues, that can inform and support our approaches, from which we can learn, and that these fields can all, hopefully, learn from one another. Experience Design, Experiential Futures, Prehearsal, Scenario Building, Scenario Planning, Transmedia Storytelling and Design Fiction are the fields that we have chosen to concentrate upon. These practices are closely tied, interwoven and impossible to define clearly as separated from one another. We feel that noting some variation in parameters along axes that differentiate between various fields might help us work out those differences in approach and how these might be valuable, useful or applicable. Some of our chosen fields have not been designed for future speculations, but all can be tools for thinking about futures.
We identify Experience Design as an underlying technique, which informs all fields in our survey. Experience Design offers tools and techniques to imagine, describe and suggest experiences which don't yet exist. These experiences don't need to be located in a distant future but are imagined and described for a near future. What tools are used by the designers of tomorrow's devices, systems and services in order to imagine what they will be like and how they will be experienced? Which of these tools allow themselves to be used to explore worlds further away and more speculative? How are moments of engagement found, observed, imagined and planned for? How can these practices can be used to inform the following four design practices?
These four practices occupy different positions on a scale of fiction, story, immersiveness and community, perhaps falling within the spectrum outlined by Noah Raford's “From Design Fiction to Experiential Futures.”
Design Fiction is a term coined and much later defined by Bruce Sterling, then paraphrased by Candy as a term that “can be applied kind of retrospectively to a lot of different speculative and especially visual activities.” Design Fiction practitioners are looking at the way that fictions, typically what are termed science fictions or speculative fictions, explore ways the world may be, just around the corner. A standard example is set design for science fiction film. This design is often embedded in a story happening in a future everyday life. Design Fiction attempts to build coherent images of possible futures to be displayed and thus thought about.
Experiential Futures take the Design Fiction further, as we understand it, by creating an immersive story, a time based space, with an active and populated future fictional storyworld filled with devices, media-enhanced objects, systems and people who are using them. There might be just a story, there might be everyday life. The process of authoring and building experiential futures is strongly community-oriented, playful and reflective, it is about groups experiencing spaces that investigate their own futures. Transmedial Storytelling has emerged as a technique to embed stories across multiple media, multiple spaces, multiple timelines, in order to create a more immersive experience. The storytelling aspect indicates a stronger version of narrative and telling, where multiple medial spaces are used to multiply the routes to the narrative receptor. The practice is based on distributing in-world story elements such as objects and insider information, with which a spectator can experience parts of the story. Transmedial Storytelling is not centrally about the future, but the techniques are easily applied to imagining the future.
A Prehearsal is much like a Experiential Futures with the important difference that the players within the space are experiencing it themselves, transplanted into the fictional scenario. This first person experience makes the value of such processes, with the implicit levels of improvisation, subjective responses and built in life history, more personal and meaningful. The stories may be more mundane, but this is precisely their value: the exploration of the future of everyday life.
Lastly we take on board two areas of Futurist Concretisation: Scenario Planning and Scenario Building. These techniques are used to bring ideas from the zone of the possible, from ongoing trends and plausible changes, and interlink them in more coherent, cohesive worlds based upon a collection of interconnected influences. These are also to be found in Design Fiction and Experiential Futures practices. Note that we have artifically divided the process of concretisation, with Scenario Planning being more abstract than Scenario Building. This is once again an artificial differentiation in order to discuss a spectrum of activities.
Scenario Planning and related futurist techniques are used in corporate planning and other contexts in order to take the huge array of influences on what might happen in the future and extract a few essential ones. From these influences, a selection of possibilities are built up as scenarios which seek to take the abstractions of large and small scale trends and turn them into more concrete storyworlds.
Scenario Building is a term used to describe the process of taking storyworlds, scenarios, developed using various futurist techniques, and turning them into more concrete scenarios along with local histories, the accidentals and incidentals that make that particular scenario special, including all the lines that lead up to the scenario that has been developed.
DE14 aims to bring these design strategies together to enable us to look at ways that futures can be discussed. The process of de-abstraction or concretisation that is made possible can be broadly applied, coming from a wide spectrum of practices.