Interview: Hyphen-Labs

February 26, 2020

Carmen and Ece from Hyphen-Labs, an international collective working at the intersection of technology, art, science, and the future: “Speculative Design moves away from a ‘one size fits all’ design school model.”

Hyphen-Labs is a design duo using technology to explore absurdities that emerge at the intersection of technology, art, science, and the future. Global visions and unique perspectives drive the studio, designing meaningful and engaging ways to explore emotional, planetary-centered and speculative design. In the process they challenge conventions and stimulate conversations, placing collective needs and experiences at the centre of evolving narratives.

How connected was your education with the Speculative Design (or related) approach you are using in your work today?

We have always been influenced by science fiction, emerging technology, material science and the natural world. As architecture and engineering students, our tool box included 3D design, simulation and fabrication through a design thinking framework. Ongoing research introduced us to experimental thinkers and visionaries like Superstudio and Archigram whose work left an impact on our aesthetic and practice. In 2016 we were introduced to the field of Speculative Design through the works of Dunne and Raby and Superflux. In the summer of 2016 we identified our own speculative future that we wanted to explore and applied a design practice framework to each prompt. Through these exercises we imagined alternative scenarios to the mainstream utopias and dystopias and put ourselves and our futures into the discipline.

Could you please select one of your (own) favourite Speculative Design projects and tell us what you like about it.

NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism (NSAF) is probably our most speculative project. The VR experience transports viewers into a NeuroCosmetology lab, a reimagined black hair salon, placing the viewer into a black woman’s body giving a glimpse into a speculative future of black women pioneering brain research and neuromodulation through the culturally specific ritual of haircare.

In NSAF, fashion became a platform to create a movement of resistance. Making a textile that can be worn to maintain control over one’s biometric intellectual property establishes a dynamic that gives individuals—not corporations or the government—control over the outputs of data produced by the body.

NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism (NSAF)

One of the objects in the collection is HyperFace, a collaboration with Adam Harvey. HyperFace’s pattern exploits the openCV (computer vision) algorithm. This is a new type of camouflage that aims to confuse computer vision algorithms. The goal is to reduce the confidence score of facial recognition and detection by flooding it with false faces, decreasing the algorithm’s inherent ability to discern an actual face among a sea of false faces. Wearing a counter-surveillance scarf on one’s head was meant as a nod to the tignon laws which served to identify, categorize, and subjugate black women.

We are huge fans of Pinar Yoldas’s work: Ecosystem of Excess for its biological vision. Salome Asega’s Iyapo Repository is a resource library which houses a collection of digital and physical artifacts created to affirm and project the future of people of African descent. Dunne & Raby’s United Micro Kingdoms for its creative use of different mediums to approach one problem and Matt Malpass’s book Critical Design in Context frames speculative from a historical, theoretical, and practical vantage point.

If students asked about the practical or professional applications of this type of design, what would you say? (Or What are the practical or professional applications of this type of design?)

Speculative Design moves away from a “one size fits all” design school model. Our internet experiences consist of scrolling through personal algorithms exploiting our emotions and offering us empty, double-tap solutions. Globalization has saturated all of its channels isolating us from critical design. Speculative Design allows space for multi-discipline collaboration and engagement, its foundation is based on the skillset of an industrial or product designer and its potential can balloon as iterations are created and ideas refined. The narratives that emerge for each individual can be extended through multiple layers, including the medium itself, object design, creative writing, digital/interactive engagements, workshops, virtual reality experiments, and soundscapes. Many projects incorporate a multitude of elements to use design as a platform to tell the story and create the story we want to see.

In your opinion what is the purpose of Speculative Design? Please suggest up to three key metrics for evaluating the success of a project.

Speculative Design offers a lot of interesting ways to respond to the present; its varied parameters allow us to reimagine alternative futures, respond to existing problems and re-mix existing ideas within new contexts.

That said we think a few important elements are:

Prescribed to Death

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