Leaps in the dark
Envisioning worlds that are yet to exist is an exercise fraught with challenges. Chief among them is knowing where to start. For these often ambiguous, immensely technological pursuits—every direction is a leap into the dark.
One approach is to start with problems that exist today, project what symptoms might arise from them in the near-future and then work backwards to create preventative solutions. Whether from user research or community engagements, ‘listening’ to problems is a powerful tool for those in speculative design, explains Alison Lentz, who leads Strategy on Cerebra–an internal Google team working on the design of intelligent systems.
“Implicit in ‘rehearsing the future’ is ‘whose future are we rehearsing?’. “Listening to the people whose problems we are attempting to address is critical,” says Lentz. “Nobody should be designing someone else’s future without involving them in the conversation.”
Another area of debate within speculative design is whether it is an act of predicting the future or shaping it. And while the old mantra that the best way to predict the future is to create it might ring true, Lentz believes that this is not always the case and that some outcomes are inevitable.
“Some aspects of our future are more probable or inevitable... The key question isn't 'will that happen?' It's how do we get there and what do things look like on the other side?” says Lentz. She gives an example of the recent shift towards personal privacy and how tech companies will have to rethink their current approach. It is not a question of whether or not this will happen, but rather how tech companies will handle it and the downstream effects.