Interview: Susana Soares
Speculative Design practitioners – Susana Soares (Portugal/UK): Technologically Fluent Citizen, towards a critical technological fluency via speculative practice.
Photo by Miguel Ceia
Susana Soares employs design to explore future technological implications for public engagement and empathy. Her projects involve developing collaborative frameworks between design and emerging scientific research. She is Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University. In addition she has held research fellow positions at IMPACT!, the Royal College of Art, and Material Beliefs at Goldsmiths, University of London. After completing a BA(Hons) in Industrial Design at ESAD, Portugal she graduated with an MA in Design Interactions from the RCA. Susana has lectured internationally and presented her work at Networkshop (Caltech University), Creative Engagement / Medi(t)ation of Survival at MoMAK (Kyoto) and Headspace: On Scent as Design (organised by Parsons and MoMA). Her work has been published in design and scientific publications such as Wired, New Scientist and Nature, and exhibited at MoMA, MoMAK, Science Gallery Dublin, Southbank Centre and the Royal Institution in London. Susana’s work is in the permanent collection of MoMA New York.
How connected was your education with the Speculative Design (or related) approach you are using in your work today?
Between 2005 and 2007 I was attending the MA in Design Interactions programme at the Royal College of Art. This was the first batch of designers under Dunne and Raby’s leadership. Both students and tutors were trying to make sense of how Speculative Design could be positioned in relation to the various disciplines of design and how we could continue our practice. We went through many iterative descriptions such as Design for Debate, Critical Design, Design Fictions, Diagesis Design, Disruptive Design, Design as Engagement… depending on the media you used, the aims of your project, and the level of collaboration with other disciplines, the project would lean towards one of the above.
My personal approach also went through many iterative stages and it’s best described by DiSalvo and Lukens in “Towards a Critical Technological Fluency” as using Speculative Design as the opportunity to imagine and explore possibilities that contribute to the development of technological fluency and construct societal awareness, motivating and enabling political action through public engagement.
Could you please select one of your favourite Speculative Design projects and tell us what you like about it?
Although Bee’s is probably my most known and dearest project to date, Insects au Gratin evolved to be a multi component ecosystem with tangible impact, addressing beyond gallery context – a common glitch of the Speculative Design approach.
Insects au Gratin, Photo by MUDAM
Initially looking at the nutritive and environmental aspects of entomophagy, combined with 3D food printing technologies, it expanded to sustainable food systems being investigated by a consortium of three European universities and satellite projects such as Print Not, Waste Not and the Future of Carnism. Although the notion of printing food wasn’t and isn’t new, it drew the attention of different audiences to reevaluate eating habits. Since 2011, we’ve collaborated with chefs (including Nordic Food Lab), food scientists (Dr Ken Spears), engineers (Dr Peter Walters), entomologists (Dr Max Barclay) and students to empathise with sustainable behaviour change regarding food systems. Apart from exhibitions contexts, the team engaged in several workshops including Who’s the Pest? at Wellcome Trust, giving the “technologically fluent citizen” (1) avenues to co-experiment, raise important ethical questions and engage in change. The project was exhibited and published widely in design and non-design publications such as the media section in Resilience, Science as Culture, and Meat Hooked, and recorded for Sky News, BBC Radio 4, National Geographic and Vice.
If students asked about the practical or professional applications of this type of design, what would you say?
We live in a world in which change is the only constant. Uncertainty, unknown and transformation are the key words that describe present and future social, political and economic circumstances.
What kind of skills do we need to flourish within such a context? Resilience, empathy, elasticity and sociability.
Speculative Design helps us to deal with change and the unknown. How? Through depicting various future scenarios, promoting the understanding of complex issues, engaging in a dialogue about different views, highlighting ethical questions, collaborating with different disciplines, and fostering social participation.
Please suggest up to three key metrics for evaluating the success of a project.
• Establishes empathy towards a certain subject,
• Highlights ethical subjects,
• Stimulates social action.
- “Scientific citizen” was a term used by sociologist Mike Michael in “‘What Are We Busy Doing?’: Engaging the Idiot”, Science, Technology, & Human Values 37(5), pp. 528-554. I have merged Michael’s and DiSalvo’s terms.
Bee’s face object, Photo by Susana Soares