Crafting stuff to engage people with the future

(Picture taken from Wired Magazine Artifacts from the Future)

Peter Morville at findability has a nice short overview of Stuart Candy's "guerilla futurist" research which takes the form of artifacts and experiences "from the future". He basically used "postcards from 02036 and plaques honoring those who suffered and died in the great pandemic of 02016". The point of this, is as follows:

"these exercises in ambient foresight and anticipatory democracy are intended to engage the public in creative thinking about possible and preferable futures.

By creating immersive experiences that provoke an emotional response and are difficult to ignore, futurists can elude the dryness that can be associated with the two-dimensional text and statistics of traditional scenario planning.

These experiments are also answers to a question at the heart of Stuart's research: how can we study human behavior in contexts that don't yet exist?

This question is clearly relevant to those of us in the design world as well. Our work requires both insight and foresight. Whether the design horizon is three months or five years, our deliverables bring imaginable futures to life."

Why do I blog this? as a researcher in the field, I am both interested in the relationships between design and foresight as well as how to engage people (be it entrepreneurs, designers, researchers, "users", policy-makers) with the "future(s)". Artifacts such as the one crafted in the examples above are interesting way to achieve that and it serves what Candy calls "the interweaving of user experience strategy and futures studies".

(Images from Jason Tester at the IFTF)

Having visited the Institute For The Future several times, it echoes with what Jason Tester (former design student at Ivrea Institute of Design) termed "human-futures interaction". It emerged from the "prolific experimentation with formats for sharing our forecasts and processes for engaging groups in discussion of their implications"

"We're building maps in different structures to convey a future shaped by multiple interwoven trends, we're illustrating new possibilities with provocative artifacts-from-the-future and movies that give our forecasts an up-close, human perspective, and increasingly we're crafting experiences that immerse participants in future life or simulate important new behaviors and skills. (...) a larger framework is starting to emerge. (...) As a concrete example, there are two fundamental processes within human-computer interaction that I believe would advance human-future interaction—the important and linked ideas of user testing and rapid, iterative prototyping. "

This is very close to some recurring thinking at the near future laboratory as the possibility to prototypes and try out new things is at the core of the think/make design practice. It does not mean that the created artifacts should be evaluated to regular usability testing, but instead that it can be used to explore reactions, acceptations, détournement and re-appropriation or the probability for people to wish for other avenues, as well as simply engaging a conversation about alternatives for the future.