New Reflections on Speculativity

July 22, 2019

Overview of the Speculative Design approach with the reflections on the personal practice by the SpeculativeEdu coordinator Ivica Mitrović.

We live in a time when the world as we know it is disappearing, together with our faith in the future. The period of the so-called Anthropocene (or Capitalocene), also called the period of the “New Normal”, “Postnormal” or “Hypernormalization” is marked by new uncertainties on all levels, for individuals, society and the planet. Design, as the wheel of modernism, has itself partially participated in the establishment of a period that is opening possibilities for extreme catastrophic scenarios in the near future – more so than ever before in human history.

Until recently, design mostly played an uncritical supporting role to industry and technology, creating prototypes and narratives to communicate the ways in which new technologies would affect our lives in the future.  Scenarios that are generated in this way almost never deal with the possible negative implications of introducing a new product into our lives, but serve the owners of these technologies to market them more persuasively. Moreover, new technological phenomena provide numerous possibilities in the context of which design becomes a fundamental distinctive element of new products, their connections with users/buyers (for instance, designing experiences or designing lifestyles by using technology), i.e. their market success. New products, systems and services developed in such a context can have dramatic consequences for society. For instance, the concepts that Uber and Airbnb rely on, based on design approaches among other things, have shaken up the economic and legal system as well as the labour system in numerous cities and countries in a very short time period, with many of the consequences still unknown and uncertain.

Once again, modernist myths of the revolutionary role of design as a discipline that would change the world are revisited. Every day we witness new design competitions dealing with / solving major world problems, and we often hear about how new disasters also present new opportunities for designers. Ironically, one could reach the conclusion that designers are the only ones who can break the cycle of capitalism. However, these approaches often avoid effecting political change in systems and radical change in the educational models on which classic modernist design is based. They are most often reduced to individualism, “strengthening” the individual, with design primarily seen as a source of new competences and, consequently, a rise in productivity.

We call such a phenomenon “Western Melancholy”, marking the process in which a designer focuses on the consequences of the current situation instead of dealing with the causes of a particular problem.

Problems created by technological growth are once again attempted to be solved through innovation, which usually results in more design and the production of new technologies and gadgets. In the context of design, we call such a phenomenon “Western Melancholy”, marking the process in which a designer focuses on the consequences of the current situation instead of dealing with the causes of a particular problem. It is most often embodied in the concept of the creative genius, scientists and “experts” who are the only ones possessing the necessary knowledge and wisdom to save the planet from self-destruction.  “Western Melancholy” can also be understood as the ultimate consequence of our (design) community’s acceptance of the inability to stop the devastation of the environment and climate change, which is possible only by confronting the dominant social and economic models responsible for such problems.

Western Melancholy, Oleg Šuran, Ivica Mitrović, 2018

At the same time, more and more designers are taking up different design approaches, many of which bring such traditional practices into question and depart from the dominant perception. These so-called new designers are active on the margins of traditionally defined disciplines, as well as removing the borders between them. They are establishing links with diverse scientific fields in order to be able to critically reflect on the role of technology in our society. They are re-thinking the role of technology in our everyday lives, by focusing on the implications rather than the applications of technology. The interaction with digital technologies shaped English Critical Design in the late 1990s, and throughout the 2000s, in collaboration with other emerging technologies (primarily biotechnologies), it has steered it towards speculativity. In a collaborative process, Critical Design practice speculates on new technological, but also social, economic and political constellations of the future.

Speculative Design is one of the most significant examples of these new design practices. Through imagination and critical thinking and by using design as a medium, Speculative Design practice inspires thinking, raises awareness, examines, provokes action, opens discussions and has the potential to offer alternative directions and positive shifts that are urgently needed in today’s world. It is also significant that we can view this practice as a reflexive approach that provides designers with the opportunity to reflect on the issues they are dealing with, and, even more importantly, the practice itself. Through critical investigation, the creation of objects that generate a story, or through a story that is embodied in artefacts, Speculative Design attempts to anticipate the future, but at the same time assists in re-thinking and understanding our present moment.

We can find the roots of the current wave of Speculative Design’s responses to technological progress (i.e. nanotechnology and biotechnology, hybrid urban environments, ubiquitous technologies, automatisation, etc.) in the radical architectural and design practices of Italy in the 1960s and 1970s. These radical practices used the language of consumerist culture to speculate on the possible impact of technological developments on the future, and to critically reflect on the social, political and economic relations of the Western world at the time. Its impact was without a doubt political, focusing on criticism of the educational system of high modernism, with attempts to introduce alternative educational models. The scenarios were often radically dystopian (in opposition to modernist utopias), in an attempt to use shock to open up a space to critically re-think the world around them.

It is therefore easy to see why Italian radical practices of the 1960s and 1970s have become the major historical reference of Speculative Design practice. The core characteristics of the radical approach, the resistance to the mainstream practices of high modernism and the so-called “international style” (as the basic ideology of the time) and technological domination, focusing on social issues and re-thinking the profession, mostly through a political prism, remain the basic inspirations of speculative and critical practices to this day. In the same way that radical design confronted or put into question the paradigms of high modernism as the dominant ideology of that time, new (Speculative) Design practices today attempt to confront the dominant consumerist ideology.

Traditional vs Speculative Design, Oleg Šuran, Ivica Mitrović, 2015

Speculative practice moves away from the consumerist role of design and uses speculation about potential futures, and, through the medium of design, deals with current social, economic and political relationships as well as our relationship with the natural environment. It also intends to move from the role that design has in presenting market-ready solutions and attempts to restore design’s foundations, such as discursiveness (analysis, reflection, examination of various possibilities, anticipation, etc.). Speculative Design practice has close connections with technology, which is not viewed as neutral, but rather as reflecting diverse political and ideological constellations within a society.

Approach, Specialisation or Field?

Although they have become part of a wider cultural context, Speculative Design and related critical practices are still developing today, and discussions on definitions, their role, accompanying methods and education are ongoing. Within the same speculative practice, there is continued reflection and a need for constant development. For instance, David Benque speaks about the issue of a lack of developed criticism within the field, the lack of criteria that could determine the quality (or lack thereof) of speculative projects. Are media attention and large audiences enough, or is something else needed – such as action? Tobias Revell also emphasises the dilemma of how to measure the success of a Speculative Design project which, according to him, is not defined by the number of devices sold or the amount of money raised through crowd funding services. Recently, James Auger opened the discussion on the need to reexamine the dominant metrics of successful (“good”) design projects, taking as an example the ten principles of good design by Dieter Rams, i.e. their relevance in the present.

Speculative Design education in Europe survey, SpeculativeEdu, 2019

By defining Speculative Design as a closed practice, i.e. as a design specialisation with accompanying methods, we risk falling into a trap that could bring into question the fundamental openness of Speculative Design, which is characterised by not belonging only to the design context and a particular set of rules or methods. Speculative Design practice should be, above all, understood as an attitude, an approach open to various methods, tools, techniques and instruments as well as other practices and disciplines. The initial research of the educational space carried out as part of the SpeculativeEdu project within the speculative and related design practices also shows that most of the programs favour a predominantly open approach to the curriculum. Educators point out the advantages of an open concept that offers diversity in its approach, but at the same time they emphasise the usefulness of defining individual specific methods within the practice.

Speculative Design is a critical design practice that encompasses or is related to a series of similar practices: Critical Design, Design Fiction, Future Design, Antidesign, Radical Design, Interrogative Design, Discursive Design, Adversarial Design, Futurescape, Design Art, Concept Design, Transition Design, and so on. The recent online survey by Sjef van Gaalen of the names of design practices oriented towards the future gathered 80 different names, from “Radical Design” to “Post-critical Design”. The previously mentioned mapping of the educational space shows that in the European context study programmes, in addition to the name Speculative Design, most often use the terms Critical Design, Design Fiction, and to a lesser extent Future Design, Critical Practice and Near Future Design. It is also evident that study programmes and courses that include the practice of Speculative Design are most often a part of other design specialisation programmes. They are usually integrated within Interaction Design programmes, but we also find them as part of Graphic, Product or Fashion Design programmes.

Many designers have not given their practice this name, though it appears to belong to this field. There are also practices outside of the design context, from peripheral or related artistic and architectural fields that use similar concepts and approaches. Additionally, some practitioners intentionally avoid labels, feeling that any design practice should initially include speculativity, a critical approach and transitivity (on different levels).

It is exciting to view the exceptionally wide range of topics on social networks that are related to this field and that show the entire scope and complexity of speculative practice. Also interesting is the entire spectrum of the understanding and interpretation of the relation between Speculative Design and similar practices. For instance, Design Fiction can be interpreted as one of the possible genres or as a method or tactic within Speculative Design practice, and English Critical Design, as Anthony Dunne defines it, as one of the possible approaches. Viewing the relation between the object and story, artefact and narration, is also one of the possible and usual mechanisms of understanding the relation between Speculative Design and related practices.

Mapping Speculative Design Practices, Elliot P. Montgomery, 2018

The mapping presented by Elliot P. Montgomery, based on the survey respondents from the design community, also shows that activities of the Speculative Design practice are much wider in scope than (English) Critical Design and Design Fiction. It is interesting to view this mapping in the context of the recent Reconstrained Design manifesto and its criticism of the limitations of today’s design practice. Namely, it is evident that Speculative Design practice is mapped in the part of the spectrum marking practices of an open concept, in close relation to artistic practices.

In a mapping from 2008, Liz Sanders describes Critical Design (as the then current discursive practice) as a practice in which the designer takes over the role of the expert and control over the entire process. The shift away from the design practice oriented towards users is understandable since the emergence of Critical Design as such was a reaction to the then dominant design practice, which despite being user-oriented was still part of the dominant technological (and consumerist) paradigm, which manifested in constant and unnecessary iterations of existing products.

An Evolving Map of Design Practice and Design Research, Liz Sanders, 2008

However, the existence of collective and participatory approaches within the Speculative Design process is definitely an element that has potential in the future development of speculative practices. Namely, speculative and critical practice is in essence still oriented towards the individual, and often poses the question of whether the process itself is directed exclusively at “the people”, does it take place “with the people”, or does it merely imply thinking about “the people”. Pedro Olivera finds that it is essential to involve as many participants and stakeholders as possible in the speculative process to create plural narratives about the future. The active participation of the “common” people in the design process results in overcoming the situation where they are just a passive audience expected to engage and get involved only after the perception of a completed design project. The participatory approach opens up possibilities for people to think about, imagine but also to act in creating their preferable futures.

The preliminary results of the survey carried out as part of the SpeculativeEdu project also shows the main educational objectives that university programmes including speculative and related practices want to achieve. These primarily refer to projections of the future, i.e. strategies that allow students to act in new social and technological contexts that do not exist yet. Also prominent is the importance of developing a critical view towards the relation between design, technology and society by examining the traditional role of design in society. In the context of the design process, programmes point out the significance of research activity through a project-oriented approach in interdisciplinary and collaborative projects.

Speculative Design Practice Today

Speculative Design practice today is very much in fashion. More and more designers are adopting speculative and related design approaches into their everyday practice. We are witnessing the growth of media content that follows this practice in specialised and mainstream media. The number of books and publications that deal with speculative and related design practices is growing, as is the number of studios creating visions of future technological scenarios. Companies are hiring designers to imagine future trends and surveys on the adoption of upcoming technologies. Speculative practice is integrated into mainstream technological projects, humanitarian projects, and even state infrastructure projects and future energy projects. There are a growing number of mainstream conferences and exhibitions that deal with futures via speculative fiction, and which are not intended only for expert audiences. The importance of connecting speculative practices and the business world is also often stressed. The exceptional popularity of the series Black Mirror at the level of popular culture has shown the potential of speculative practice and has successfully brought it to a wider audience.

The European Commission sees speculative practice as a tool for opening up a discussion on the domestication of new technologies in the European Community.  Greenpeace uses Design Fiction to raise awareness on environmental issues, and the military speculates on future scenarios of warfare. Even the World Economic Forum uses methods of Speculative Design practices in its discussions of potential economic futures, and Google’s April Fools’ Day jokes take the form of satirical speculative projects. As a result of the popularisation of Critical Design practices oriented towards the future, an increasing number of new study programmes are being initiated that indicate speculative practice as their central concept and a tool for “changing the future”. The two that have received the most media attention are The New Normal, an educational programme of the Strelka Institute in Moscow, and the master’s programme University of the Underground in Amsterdam. Both have emerged outside of the traditional European academic context, and are considered by potential students to be hype study programmes.

Gossip Chain, Blockchain4EU Workshop, Enrique Encinas, James Auger, Jaya Klara Brekke, Juan Blanco, Carlotta de Ninni (Photo: Julian Hanna)

The popularisation of Speculative Design, which is becoming a mainstream practice, also brings the danger of overemphasis on stylisation in the production itself. In their practice, speculative designers very often deal with high-fidelity fictional artefacts or emerging technologies by focusing on the aesthetic of the future. Unfortunately, they sometimes neglect wider social implications or aspects of political engagement. If we look into student production at final exhibitions following the end of study programmes, there is a noticeable trend; some student works appear as exercises in style, relying too heavily on the aesthetic of English Critical Design (“the RCA aesthetic”) or the dystopian narrative structure of Black Mirror. Although some successfully communicate speculative concepts, with such stylisation the Speculative Design practice falls into the trap of producing boring and predictable works that are very often also self-possessed and hermetic. It seems future scenarios are more attractive to students than facing and fighting austere reality, or are at times even used as a way of avoiding directly facing  the issues that affect them, i.e. the reality of production in the existing corporate industrial and media landscape. In fact, as Martin Avila notices, by using the label “speculative”, they show an avoidance of the concrete and the now, as if the future has not always been a part of the present – a reflection and projection of the present.

The criticism of speculative practice shows all of its weaknesses and suggests a frequent inability to step out of the dominant (capitalist) system from which it emerges (and through the critique of which it is trying to emancipate itself).

Matt Ward has also noticed the “hunger” of big corporations (and markets), which tend to consume professionals with relevant knowledge and skills required for creating scenarios about technological futures. This type of popularisation of the practice has resulted in a process as part of which Speculative Design is being appropriated by corporations with the goal of promoting their visions of the future and the accompanying technological products. Appropriated by the system, speculative practice again becomes a practice supporting the status quo – rather than examining it, bringing it into question and changing it. The criticism of speculative practice shows all of its weaknesses and suggests a frequent inability to step out of the dominant (capitalist) system from which it emerges (and through the critique of which it is trying to emancipate itself).

Critics of the currently dominant approach to speculative practice characterise it as “privileged and Eurocentric” and criticise its complacency and detachment from the real world, as well as its escape into dystopian scenarios. They point out that despite the practice’s claims that it surveys the wider context and offers alternatives to the existing status quo, it does not actually manage to view things outside of a Western perspective, in accordance with other and different social contexts. A particular subject of criticism is its almost “clinical” action in the context of “rarefied environments” such as museums and galleries, which often results in a renewed fascination with technology. In addition to the already mentioned danger of slipping into “Western melancholy”, Speculative Design is also criticised for its lack of political engagement and strong activism, i.e. its inability to face the “real issues”, such as growing chauvinism, fascism, as well as racial, class and gender inequality. It is emphasised that dominant speculative practice actually addresses a future where social structures remain intact, and is in this sense conservative. By focusing only on technology, the argument goes, speculative practice actually diverts attention from the real issues and challenges.

Such criticism of speculative and related practices speaks to their popularity and media perception, since it could be said that a large portion of the criticism is common to design as a whole (e.g. decolonisation, privilege, elitism, appropriation, etc.). Design has, as Dejan Kršić points out, always been a signifying (discursive) practice that generates, analyses, distributes, mediates and reproduces social meaning. Good practices of Product Design and Graphic Design have always comprised a discursive and critical, and even a speculative component. For instance, the educational approach at our Visual Communications Design Department has always been based, thanks to one of its founders, the educator and designer Tomislav Lerotić, on the critical approach. Although it has never been labeled as Critical or Speculative Design, it undoubtedly comprised elements of these design practices. For Cameron Tonkinwise, “designing that does not already Future, Fiction, Speculate, Criticize, Provoke, Discourse, Interrogate, Probe, Play, is inadequate designing”. Silvio Lorusso further points out that dealing with the question “what if” actually represents the basic mode of design (and human) existence. Although it is understandable that harsh criticism is directed against this design practice precisely due to its stressed critical component and an expectation of radical action on its part, such criticism can be directed against the entire field of design as a discipline.

“Netflixisation” of the Future / “temporal loop”, Oleg Šuran, Ivica Mitrović, 2018

The dominance of dystopian scenarios within the speculative practice, which are themselves a reflection of the “netflixisation” of the future, a result of the dominance of dystopian media productions and the (demand of the) consumer society of the second decade of the 21st century, leads to the issue of projecting expectations of the future back to the present. That is, projections of desired futures directly impact the present, creating a sort of  “temporal loop” stopping any possible radical improvement. The present to which dystopian futures refer very often generates the same dystopian futures. Trapped in such a “temporal loop”, we can hardly generate different or positive visions of the future that we need today. Such a future no longer offers us multiple possibilities and different paths, and becomes only one option. The danger is that in this way speculative practice is returning to the limitations of consumerist design, the critique of which was the basis for its emergence.

Design and architectural utopian visions have always dealt with not only artefacts of the future, but also with anticipating hypothetical social contexts in which such objects are found. Utopian thinking in the design context also includes the re-thinking and initiation of social processes (and stakeholders) with the goal of bringing about social change. However, within the discipline itself, the perception of the importance of recognising design as a fundamentally discursive, critical and (self-)reflexive field is unfortunately disappearing. Pedro Oliveira, in a conversation about design and activism, claims that these prefixes attached to the design practice are very often just attempts to escape responsibility for the design profession and the fact that design always needs to be discursive and critical, i.e. that design implies political activity. He additionally problematises the position whereby Critical Design becomes a kind of “political branch” of the design practice and undertakes the exclusivity of political activism. Ignoring the fact that any design activity implies political consequences (or stands as the consequence of a particular political context) represents the fundamental problem of the design profession today. As the researcher and educator Ramia Mazé points out, design practices can never be neutral – there are always critical and political issues, alternatives and futures involved. The design theoretician Matko Meštrović also writes about a strong link between theoretical and ideological thought in design. Political consequences of design activities are easily recognised all around us. This is particularly evident with speculativity, which in the context of design and architecture has always had deep social implications.

Speculative Design practice has the potential to reinforce the discursivity of design because it provides mechanisms to overcome disparities between theory and practice and demonstrates that design is not just a practical activity of creating concrete objects or services. Rather, it encompasses reflection, historical references, documentation, analysis and other things. As such, it possesses exceptional potential for critical self-reflection on the design profession as such and in the re-thinking of (but also in participating in the creation of) potential futures that await us. However, for Speculative Design to maintain its avant-garde role, it is necessary to continuously think outside any tendencies towards becoming closed hermetically in its own world, and outside of the challenge of becoming trapped in “Western melancholy”, to be able to take a step forward and face the “real world” and to try to initiate real activities. It must escape the “temporal loop” and start thinking about different, non-linear, non-centralised futures.

We can understand Speculative Design as an open toolkit that is accessible to us, which has potential, that we can take and adapt to the context in which we live and work, our microenvironments, our specific topics and needs.

Speculative Design and related practices have shifted from academic and cultural production to mainstream design practice. Having emerged in the context of the Western world, i.e. in developed centres of the Western world, they represent a new design approach, with its still open set of techniques, instruments and methods. We can understand them as an open toolkit that is accessible to us, which has potential, that we can take and adapt to the context in which we live and work, our microenvironments, our specific topics and needs. Bruce and Stephanie Tharp point out that turning the discourse towards local communities that designers know well can help in identifying and overcoming new realities, such as neo-colonialism.

It is important that Speculative Design practice, primarily directed towards the future or new social contexts and organisations, establishes a critical and reflexive position on the historical misconceptions of Modernism. Cameron Tonkinwise emphasises that the current role of Speculative Design is to provide answers to the mistakes of the modernist project and to re-materialise visions of a radically different future in our everyday lives. As Margaret Atwood points out, dystopias require some counterbalance or positive visions of the future. James Auger notices that the media today, unfortunately, mostly covers projects offering visually attractive, dramatic and provocative dystopian scenarios. However, he believes that speculative projects can also provide new and positive futures. Furthermore, he concludes that if we are able to explore and describe such future scenarios, there is no reason why we should not try to realise them as well.

New Directions

Speculative and Critical Design practices have most definitely reached a turning point. On the one hand, they are becoming mainstream practices characterised by all the above-stated disadvantages, while on the other they face more and more critics accusing them of becoming new colonialist practices. Thus, we can say that the current position of Speculative Design is somewhere between the critique accusing it of being the agent of the new technological colonisation, and of the production of spectacular style clichés indebted to Black Mirror future visions (unfortunately in most cases lacking the brilliant satire). Many discussions and reflections within the practice are important activities that can contribute to the development of the practice by setting standards.  James Auger, as one of the pioneers of speculative practice, often says that this practice is still evolving with all the specific approaches and motivations for taking action within the speculative field. Matt Ward adds that speculative practice appeared as a result of dissatisfaction with the state of design and design education over many years and, as such, it emerged in its own (Western) context to confront the world and go further with all its advantages and disadvantages. James Auger underlines that the basic elements of this approach, such as examination and criticism, are universal and that they stand as ways of exploring and questioning the world with the use of design while at the same time trying to imagine how things could be different. We should also not forget, as Demitrios Kargotis mentions, that these new practices have provided new perspectives to designers and also opened design to a growing number of people.

Speculative Design ecosystem (via social networks), Salvatore Iaconesi, SpeculativeEdu, 2019

As a result of external criticism and auto-reflection within the Critical and Speculative Design practice, things have started to change. Educational institutions and practitioners are examining new approaches and ways to practice Critical and Speculative design. For example, Pedro Oliveira and Luiza Prado published a set of guidelines for decolonising Speculative Design, which have become a part of the broader design movement aimed at departing from the dominantly “Western” discourse in design practice. In Modes of Criticism, Francisco Laranjo publishes, among other topics, texts relevant to the Critical and Speculative Design practice approach. At the Climactic: Post Normal Design event at the Design department of Carnegie Mellon University, the extended Feral Experimental and New Design Thinking exhibition was organized with works from Asia and Africa that also comprise elements of critical and speculative practice but come from a different discourse and cultural context. More and more projects are focused on local communities and local historical references. For example, the exhibition entitled Tomorrows: Urban Fictions for Possible Futures showcased future scenarios in design, architecture and art projects in the context of Mediterranean urban centres, whose futures will be framed by “economic crisis, climate change and mass population movements”. Tobias Revell, as one of the longtime practitioners of the dominant Speculative Design practice which comes from the “Western” perspective, views the practice critically and points out potential different paths.

James Auger, in collaboration with Julian Hanna, initiated the Crap Futures blog that documents their work but also tackles discursive and reflexive topics linked to critical and speculative practice. As a result of their discursive activities, working with others as the Reconstrained Design Group they published a manifesto about the current state of design. The group sets out to shift the current trend of narrowing various directions of design discourse, questioning dominant assumptions of the practice as well as corporate influence while attempting to overcome the limitations of design thinking and practice. In order to find answers to a number of open questions within the practice at the Visual Communications Design Department, as the part of the Interakcije 2016: Speculative NOW! event, we organised a discussion aiming to rethink and critically assess current speculative practice and its role in the “real world”.

Reconstrained Design Manifesto, James Auger, SpeculativeEdu Future Friends Conference, Maribor, 2019

Speculative practice includes a host of new and different approaches that seem to be closer to the so-called “real world”. For example, Demitrios Kargotis and Dash Macdonald (Dash N’ Dem) focus on inviting the public to participate in the design process and act in the public sphere. For them, this practice, as they point out, is a way to overcome the limitations of Critical and Speculative Design. Through a collaborative design process, a kind of design activism, they are trying to give the power back to individuals who thus get the opportunity to think about how the world affects them and how to reimagine that via design. With such a participatory approach, Dash N’ Dem emphasise, it is possible to go beyond the limited outreach of the practice and involve a broader audience and not just the well-educated middle class. Their approach is focused on the local level, familiar micro-locations and collaborations with the people they know.

Based on similar principles applied to the Mangala for All project, Superflux studio applies ethnographic methods to communicate the Indian space programme to the “common” people. Georgina Voss observes that in this way it is possible to successfully communicate “big topics“ and open discussions with the local community by confronting global narratives about big technological “heroes” who will change the world. In The Welsh Space Campaign project, Hefin Jones applies a similar approach, or “speculative participation”, in which he, by understanding the specific context and working with the people involved in that context, speculates about alternative possibilities. In this project, through valorisation of traditional skills and local culture, he integrates the “common” people from Wales in the fictional Welsh space programme.

Somewhat further into the Atlantic, in the local context of the Island of Madeira, the previously mentioned Reconstrained Design Group, led by James Auger and Julian Hanna, is attempting to advance the practice of Critical and Speculative Design. They point out that their activities focus on returning designed fictional prototypes back to real life and finding ways to accomplish tangible social results. They also state that they intend to work on turning speculative aspects of the future into real facts by moving from imagination about “preferable futures” towards action on “how to realise the future”. The Newton Machine, a set of prototypes of a device for storing energy, emerged from that mindset. Prototypes are developed in collaboration with the local community with the use of local tools, technology and knowledge. Along this line of thinking and in the context of an immense urban centre (such as London) and a possible global disaster in the near future, Superflux studio develops concrete methods, tools and materials that citizens can use for overcoming future shocks caused by climate change through an experimental design approach. Similarly, the Turnton Docklands project by Time’s Up attempts to provide optimistic scenarios about life in Europe after environmental disasters of the near future. In this project, speculative scenarios focus on the positive aspects of dystopian futures, realised via new forms of social and political change.

Speculative Designers are also establishing better links with state institutions and working on real projects. For example, Strange Telemetry collaborates with public administration on large infrastructural projects. Another similar project of social importance involving speculative practice took place earlier at Lancaster University. The project applied Design Fiction to communicate potential scenarios around getting senior citizens involved in political processes. More recently, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies started collaborating with speculative designers on projects dealing with potential complex changes in the upcoming decades, such as new conflicts, climate change and new inequalities as well as potential roles of humanitarian organisations in such a world. As already mentioned, the European Commission recognised the potential of Speculative Design in discussions on the role of new technologies in society (albeit with questionable results in terms of concrete activities).

New educational approaches strive to combine Speculative Design practice and a more active political role of design in everyday life. The approaches very often refer to designer and activist Victor Papanek’s work in the 1970s and some more recent activities restating the importance of design’s political role in the world today, primarily in Tony Fry and Ramia Mazé’s work. A new design approach thus appears in the form of Transitional Design that strives to overcome existing limitations and problems related not only to Speculative and Critical practice but also to Sustainable and Social Design. It focuses on the balance between global and local levels of discourses and activities. To overcome criticism that Speculative and Critical Design embraces a neo-colonial position, Deepa Butoliya initiated the Speculative and Critical Design: Futures and Imaginings from the Margins study programme in the Design Department of Carnegie Mellon University. The curriculum focuses on the practices of “post-critical” and “post-normal” design and intends to make speculative and critical approaches more pluralistic, inclusive and practical with the objective of opening spaces for the marginalised.

For the same reason, we have initiated SpeculativeEdu, a European project dealing with education in the field of Speculative Design and related critical and design practices oriented to the future. By collecting, synthesising and exchanging existing knowledge and experiences, the project aims to create an overview of the educational landscape generated by these practices.

SpeculativeEdu Future Friends Conference, Maribor, 2019

When viewing the state of speculative and related design practices today, we can determine three types of practitioners: (1) pioneers of speculative practice (educators from the period of English Critical Design at the RCA’s Design Interactions from the early 2000s); (2) the first wave of practitioners (self-taught practitioners whose primary reference were these pioneers and alumni of the RCA from the period of the most intense activities of this institution), and (3) new practitioners (educated in the newly formed educational programmes in the field of Speculative Design).

Today, speculative practice pioneers are turning more and more to new realities, stepping away from simply initiating discussions and instead focusing on concrete activities. They are increasingly less interested in speculations, and more in activities and the real world. They accept the limitations of design practice (and the future as a concept) and the idea that design can save the world. In a sense they are leaving the field of speculation and entering new and different practices, disciplines and approaches (art, activism, social sciences and humanities, DIY approaches, etc.) that offer new spaces for their actions and the potential for more radical shifts. This transition process from projects to practice, from speculation to action, towards more pragmatic approaches oriented towards the present and the abandonment of utopian ideas of change, can be compared with the similar previously mentioned process brought about by neoliberal criticism of utopianism from the 1980s and 1990s. We can also view it as a sort of escape from the inability to cause large scale structural changes with existing actions.

The practitioners of the so-called first wave are essentially carrying Speculative Design practice today. They are the ones setting the standard within the practice, i.e. with establishing the discipline itself and its promotion as a specific design approach. They are interested in defining the standards that could determine the quality of individual works. They are involved in critical discussions and reflections of the dominant approaches within the practice. They are initiating new educational programmes and attempting to define sets of methods, tools and techniques determining the approach of Speculative Design. Outside of academic circles and production within the field of culture, they are working on projects related to the business world and clients who recognise the potential of a speculative approach.

The new practitioners are educated through newly established educational programmes based on the speculative approach. They are introducing new methods within the field and new ways of re-thinking the future, moving the practice forward. Less burdened by the criticisms of Speculative Design (which sometimes block the practice itself), they take different approaches, which tend to be inclusive, decentralised and proactive from the outset. In their everyday work, they use Speculative Design as a cohesive element connecting different disciplines and professions, different stakeholders, the public and experts.

Educational programmes are still primarily oriented towards the market role of design, often without a reflexive and critical approach to the practice.

Although it seems from the descriptions above that speculative and critical practices are now ubiquitous, if we look at the “real world” of education, outside the closed circle surrounding speculative and related design practices, the vast majority of mainstream educational programmes are still within the modernist design vision of the 20th century, marked primarily by a few central myths about the social role of design (which James Auger calls “real design fictions”): “(1) design is good; (2) design makes people’s lives better, and (3) design solves problems”. Educational programmes are still primarily oriented towards the market role of design, often without a reflexive and critical approach to the practice (with the exception of programmes that are turned towards the role of design in the public sphere, but are unfortunately also without a significant self-reflexiveness).

This is particularly evident in educational programmes outside of major urban centres of Western Europe, in the context of (permanent) transitions and/or “edges of Europe”, societies dominated by an extreme neoliberal model, where design students see the market as their primary motivation (but also existential need). These tendencies are particularly present in the practice of design associated with new technologies and the start-up world, a practice that, unfortunately, is primarily marked by a fascination with the consumerist role of design in which design is still primarily in the service of the market success of products. Such a situation is understandable insofar as it offers a chance for a better life, which cannot be achieved by the usual social mechanisms in the local context of devastated economies and social structures. In this context, educational programmes are fundamentally oriented towards pragmatic skills, which leaves limited space for critical and speculative approaches that do not have the traditional results of the design process: a product or service. Here, design is only part of a broader debate about the role and social responsibility of public universities (and education as a whole), i.e. the possibilities of resistance to the dominant tendencies of commercialisation, i.e. “education for the market”, orientation towards technical sciences, the STEM areas, innovation, and so on.

From Brief to Action, NEW REFLECTIONS ON SPECULATIVITY– Speculative Design and Education, Ivica Mitrović and Oleg Šuran, HDD Gallery, 2019

The desired objectives we are trying to achieve in this context through the educational process in the field of design are more than demanding. Namely, (1) it is necessary to move students away from the traditional orientation towards problem-solving and market orientation; (2) we then need to provide them with tools and methods for achieving a critical practice; (3) and finally they need to generate concrete activities in the real world. It is therefore precisely from within, through educational approaches and programmes and curricula, that we need to initiate and create change within speculative and related practices, and in design education as a whole.

Case Studies

In his critique of the dominant speculative practice, Silvio Lorusso notices two basic approaches to overcoming the problems of speculative practice and dissatisfaction with the impossibility of making change happen. The first approach he calls the “nihilist approach” which looks for a refuge in more abstract forms, such as text or discourse. The second one is called the “pragmatic approach” and is engaged in the local, specific context with appropriate tools and methods. Here at the Visual Communications Design Department at the Arts Academy in Split we combine both of these directions in our approach to speculative practice. In our discursive work we rethink contemporary design practice, and through this reflective practice continuously develop new approaches and methods for speculative projects. In our practical work, we try to place Speculative Design practice in “real” situations, in the perspective of the local community and in the local context, the one we know best and the one inside of which we can take part in the “real world”.

NEW REFLECTIONS ON SPECULATIVITY – Speculative Design and Education, Ivica Mitrović and Oleg Šuran, HDD Gallery, Zagreb, 2019

Let us take as an example the works presented at our recent exhibition New Reflections on Speculativity set up at the Gallery of the Croatian Designers Association (HDD) in May of this year. The main themes of the exhibition are two recent projects created with this approach: the project The Last Mediterranean Skipper, the final part of the so-called Mediterranean Speculative Trilogy, first shown at the exhibition How Will We Work? as part of the Vienna Biennale in 2017; and the project Life After Tourism, shown for the first time last year in the Split Art Gallery.

The project The Last Mediterranean Skipper employs the Speculative Design approach to tackle the growing phenomenon of automatisation in the context of one of the most popular professions in the local context – the skipper. The scenario speculates that the automation of sailboats has reached a high degree of reliability in the near future and by 2035 all commercial sailboats are fully automated. The profession of skipper disappears in the Mediterranean in the late 2030s. Over time, former skippers turn to jobs in ports, which are primarily related to the maintenance of sailboats, management jobs and tourism operator jobs. Guests sail on fully automated boats, following desired, programmed routes. We watch the surveillance cameras taken from the sailboat of the last Mediterranean skipper who is still trying to hold on to the identity and romance of this profession.

The works of the Trilogy were concerned with the reflections of major global changes in the local context, where they introduced Speculative Design practice as a new design approach that showed the potential to open a wider dialogue. It is significant that the projects involved experts who, as associates, also participated in the design process. Although in a global context some of the themes (smart city, rating systems and social networking, automation) are already widely and daily communicated, local contexts show that citizens and experts found the selected topics to be distant and did not think about them nor their implications in everyday life. The trilogy encouraged discussion, and awareness of the local community (experts and ordinary citizens) about a variety of possible scenarios of the future. The projects have also given hope for the ability of the individual and the community to act – people who, in this part of Europe and the Mediterranean, throughout history, have always found ways of subverting imposed dystopian scenarios.

As Dejan Kršić notices in our work (but also as a result of our work) we understand Speculative Design as a tool or a method for social exercises, and adoption of skills/competences/knowledge needed for better orientation in new situations and contexts of the near future. Even when they do not have a specific or “useful” result (i.e. they are not integrated in the existing capitalist system), the scenarios we generate through our practice or educational activities stand as a valuable accumulation of opportunities, skills, scenarios and hypotheses. Therefore, it is important to prepare concrete mechanisms, tools and techniques for action in the case of some of the possible scenarios of the future, above all those global dystopian ones that can hardly be influenced by local levels (such as climate, ecological, natural disasters, etc.).

The project that followed after the Trilogy, Life After Tourism, also deals with large scale global issues in the local context. The intention of the project was to use a Speculative Design approach in order to present possible alternative scenarios for the expected climate futures, scenarios that could prepare us for such post-apocalyptic futures as well as providing methods and tools that might assist individuals and the community in the construction of life after disaster. Peristil, the central ancient square in Split, in 2055 has been flooded by rising sea levels and has become a pool for mariculture. Surrounding buildings are used for production: drying, preserving, packaging and preparation for distribution. The project has been carried out as a functional mini mariculture, a system for cultivating marine organisms resistant to climate change – unicellular algae, brine shrimps and sea anemones. The cultivated organisms would be used for the survival of the remaining urban population, but also as a new form of economy, a new hope of life after the “disaster”.

As opposed to the Trilogy, which primarily dealt with opening up subjects, generating discussions and pointing to potential scenarios of the future, the intention here was to go one step further and offer concrete tools, techniques and mechanisms, as well as to detect the causes of new social organisations that might assist individuals and the community in the construction of life after the disaster, a new hope and beginning. Though the project could be criticised for its lack of real concrete action outside of the context of the project, the project did, in a participatory process between designers and experts of the Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, achieve a concrete and completely functioning system that, through its accompanying DIY documentation, offers detailed instructions for real action.

Life After Tourism, Ivica Mitrović and Oleg Šuran, 2018

As has been emphasised several times, the educational level, which needs to become more open and pluralistic, is the basic foundation of any change within the design profession. For that reason, ever since the beginning, in our Department (via the Interakcije platform), we wanted to translate the knowledge and experience gained in discursive and practical activities into the educational process. The new context and trends require different educational methods. Unfortunately, new approaches often tend to focus only on new market concepts, “knowledge economy“ and media specificities linked to digital media without taking into consideration reflections of the profession, political activism or consequences of design activities. Therefore, our educational activities aim to provoke reflection on design as a profession as well as encourage critical thinking and engagement in the local context – but also to provide tools and skills for activation, i.e. achievement of concrete changes in the world around us.

In the context of the aforementioned exhibition, reflections on the transfer of practical experiences and discursive discussions into the educational process, additional works have been selected that were created as part of the master study programme in the Visual Communications Department or at workshops of the Interactions series, and one work created recently at the workshop carried out as part of the SpeculativeEdu project at the Future Friends event in Maribor. Workshop models have proven to be particularly inspiring within multidisciplinary groups, where the critical and speculative approach is actually a cohesive element between different disciplines and professions. On the other hand, individual approaches at the master’s level have proven to be suitable for projects that, as Speculative Design, have an open approach to methods, techniques, tools and which, specifically for the needs of individual projects, form a corresponding set of necessary methods and tools.

Future Friends Workshop, SpeculativeEdu Future Friends Conference, Maribor, 2019

Museum of Native Dishes and Splitska dica were created at the workshop Interactions 2018 in Split, dealing with the subject of “life after disaster” (in the local context). Museum of Native Dishes represents a dystopian scenario of the future in which climate disasters have led to the disappearance of traditional cuisine and ingredients, and the traditional dishes and tastes become available only in the so-called Museum of Native Dishes. On the other hand, the project, Splitska dica (Children of Split), which, although dealing with a scenario of the future in which climate changes have brought about a prolongation of the tourist season, is still primarily focused on the present. The prolongation of the tourist season additionally aggravates the current urban issue of a lack of residential space due to apartmentisation, which affects the student population. The project offers models of student self-organisation aimed at achieving the students’ rights to accommodation, i.e. their right to a place in the future.

The work Fjaka (Let’s Party – DIY Politics) is similarly focused on the present/reality. The work was created at Interactions 2016. The participants designed their own DIY political party, and through the workshop process and a satirical approach familiarised themselves with the methods, techniques and language employed by political parties in their communication with citizens, aimed at critically reflecting on the personal understanding of politics. AAA (Amazon Actively Aging)/Maribor+ is also a workshop project, created at the recent workshop as part of a SpeculativeEdu event in Maribor. The brief of the workshop referred to the design of a new social system of the near future, i.e. a reflection of global “disasters” in the local context. Although it began as a utopian scenario of the City of Maribor of the future, a city safe for growing old and pleasant for dying, determined by global corporate futures and local migrations, it ended up as a dystopian one. However, even in the dystopian scenario, the local community still found a way to hack such a complex system and open up hope for a different future.

Nervo and The Future Is Unwritten were created through the educational process at the Visual Communications Department, through individual one-semester projects at the graduate level. Nervo also deals with life after the “disaster”, an environmental disaster caused by uncontrolled waste disposal, which turns into an energy crisis for the city. The scenario focuses on a bottom-up DIY project that still offers hope to the remaining population of the city. The Future Is Unwritten is primarily turned towards the present: in the context of the brief focused on an alternative (non-technological) present, it deals with textiles and materials, i.e. clothes, their meaning in the transfer of local traditions. In collaboration with local craftsmen, the project offers concrete artefacts of the future (present) that communicate coded messages and knowledge to future generations.

The Future Is Unwritten,  Alejandra Robles Sosa, DVK/UMAS, 2019

The brief as the initial point of the educational project, which is imported as a simulation of the client-designer relationship from the business world, today, in the context of self-initiated projects, has a whole new meaning and carries within itself the conceptualised attitudes and values of designers/creators. We can distinguish between three basic approaches: (1) an open type brief, in which the topic and approach are maximally open and undefined at the beginning; (2) a semi-open approach, in which a brief is partly defined; and (3) a closed brief, which is already firmly defined and does not open great possibilities during the process. The open brief is, above all, stimulating for the generation of different concepts. It shows potential in projects that do not only involve designers, but through this initial phase of dialogue and research use a speculative approach to achieve group cohesion through dialogue. The initiative has been transferred to the participants, and through the generation of concepts and dialogue the focus is primarily on discourse and reflection (the theme of the project, but also the role of the disciplines). However, this approach has its shortcomings, primarily because of insufficient time for better communication / presentation of concepts, and for adopting the necessary techniques, methods and tools.

A closed or structured brief allows for concentration on a subject or specific method, technique, tool, genre, etc. For this approach we can say that in some way it mirrors the interests and visions of the workshop leader, i.e. teacher. With the closed approach, especially in the workshop short form, it is possible to get works that communicate the subject well in a short time. For instance, Fjaka (Let’s Party – DIY Politics), as a five-day workshop project and structured brief, resulted in the adoption of a series of techniques, methods and tools significant for the Speculative Design approach, but also a clear and stimulating presentation. On the other hand, as semi-open, Nervo and AAA/Maribor+ were created through a brief that has defined the direction through the local context, scenarios of the future after the “disaster” and the newly established contexts of the near future, but has left the specific topics open as well as the form and manner of presenting projects.

If we view the relation between the object/artefact and story/narration, we can differentiate two specific approaches in Speculative Design. In the first approach, action is focused on designing objects, i.e. artefacts of the future, where the story is then built around the object with the goal of rethinking potential scenarios of the future. This also involves the audience, which generates, through the interaction with the artefact, scenarios of the future, in which this hypothetical designed artefact exists (the story is created around the object). The second potential approach takes the narration, i.e. the imagined world as its initial point, and the objects or artefacts are designed as props (so-called diegetic prototypes) aimed at achieving a persuasiveness of the story.  In practice, however, these two approaches most often intertwine, and it is in principle difficult to determine whether the focus of the design process is on the backstory or the object (as the protagonist of the story).

Speculative Design Practice, Oleg Šuran, Ivica Mitrović, 2018

Our personal Speculative Design practice, reflected in workshops and formal classes, has dealt with the same theme over the last year: the possibility of life, a new beginning, after dystopian scenarios of disasters (climate, economic, political, technological, etc.). Therefore, in the context of global and local action, all exhibition projects are focused on the local context, and the reflections of the global future in the local context. Whereas the Museum of Native Dishes generates a scenario that only warns about potential dystopian futures, Splitska dica, AAA/Maribor+ and Nervo go one step further and attempt to offer tools and mechanisms for survival in such futures. Although by viewing these projects it would seem that it is easier to begin a new life or a new, different and more just social system from scratch after a disaster than to initiate required drastic structural changes here and now, the works Fjaka (Let’s Party – DIY Politics) and The Future Is Unwritten are primarily focused on the present, that is they try to reflect and generate action in the present, whereby they directly and presently affect the future.

The educational approach as part of the platform Interakcije has always been primarily focused on process, and not polished presentations or visually attractive results. However, it is significant that Nervo and The Future Is Unwritten as a result of a design process have concrete results: Nervo has a prototype of a functional DIY device, and The Future Is Unwritten has clothes manufactured in collaboration with local craftsmen. In this way, the design of real prototypes is aimed at overcoming the critique of speculative practice as a practice that most often remains on the level of concept or a “nice” presentation, i.e. aestheticisation (which in fact does not achieve a departure from technology-oriented consumer aesthetics).

In the context of the already mentioned challenges of Speculative Design education, i.e. the complexity of the process, in which it is necessary to move students away from the traditional concept of design practice, then to provide them with tools and methods for critical practice, and finally to generate activities in the real world, we can first of all point out the projects The Future Is Unwritten and Splitska dica. Namely, both projects have achieved the goals of shifting from the market role of design to critical practice; through the educational process, a number of methods and tools have been adopted that can be used to raise awareness and open discussion; and they eventually achieved a certain (social) action in the real world (though still at the level of creators/designers/associates, i.e. within the context of the work itself). The most significant is the project The Future Is Unwritten which offered concrete techniques and instructions for action that could already shape scenarios of the future in the local context. It is also interesting that these two projects are particularly focused on a bottom-up and DIY approach.

Projects evolution, NEW REFLECTIONS ON SPECULATIVITY– Speculative Design and Education, Ivica Mitrović and Oleg Šuran, HDD Gallery, 2019

In the twenty years of its existence, from its emergence as English Critical Design, which was created in an educational environment as a reflection of the mainstream market and technologically oriented design practice, speculative practice has become a “school” or “method” or even “trend”, often criticised for its “universal solutions” and “privileged” position of the major centres of the Western world. However, speculative practice is still being developed, and discussions about its role, methods and metrics are ongoing. This is why it seems important at present to view the practice and its role in design education. This is also particularly important in a time of environmental disasters, extreme social inequality, technologically formed futures, the commodification of all aspects of life, migrant crises and the inability to change a system that is largely caused by such “disasters”.

Today, the fundamental challenge of Speculative Design, particularly in the field of education, is how to achieve a successful process that entails a shift from traditional design practice, via adopting critical approaches, to generating action in the real world. Namely, the goal is complex and requires a broad range of knowledge and skills that need to be adopted along the way. As Christian Zöllner and Sebastian Piatza from The Constitute collective point out, speculative practice today requires great knowledge  about “the world, cultures, histories and political circumstances”, but also a determination not to accept existing social and economic structures as immutable realities. An additional challenge is whether such activities generated through speculative practice have the potential to initiate specific social change.

The social (and media) context in which Speculative Design exists today is a context in which disasters are considered unavoidable, and which, as Ana Jeinić claims, creates limitations for transformative action since transformation is not seen as a product of organised or planned activities (towards the desired better world and the utopian horizon), but rather as a result of spontaneous subversive bottom-up actions (hacking of the systems) or new solidarities that have emerged from the need to survive. The popularity of dystopian scenarios of the futures also involves a danger pointed out by Naomi Klein. Discussing or portraying dystopian scenarios in books and films often leads to people’s understanding of catastrophic scenarios as unavoidable, which makes them passive instead of proactive. In such a constellation of possibilities, in practice and educational spaces, Speculative Designers act within closed local contexts, working from the bottom up, trying to initiate small changes, generate hope for a different future than the dystopian one that seems the most likely. Their role, in fact, is, as Ana Jeinić states, reduced to a catalyst role in spontaneously organised social practices, but without the possibility of wider structural social change.

These circumstances are particularly evident in the context of the “edges of Europe”, where designers only have the possibility to deal with the implications of global changes, which come from the Western world with a certain time delay, at their local micro level. This context is in the global constellations of power distribution located on the margins. Still, it is interesting that in the 1980s in that “periphery of Europe”, design theoretician Matko Meštrović, in his book Theory of Design and Environmental Problems, was very critical of the then “avant-garde” representatives of design practices of the West (primarily Victor Papanek and Benjamin Fuller), faulting them for their utopianism and rhetoric, and insufficient determination in questioning the dominant (capitalist) system.

However, the situation is similar with speculative practice in the context of the Western world that tries to provide marginalised groups and peripheral communities with the possibility of imagining potential futures by opening media space for them, providing them with technological literacy, and providing them with tools and methods to deliberate the future. Although such initiatives have an extreme significance in shifting the focus from urban centres and dominant communities of the West towards the “real world” and problems of peripheral communities that exist in the West as well, and achieve results by generating action in the local context, these still primarily deal with alleviating the symptoms and do not confront the wider level of the social order and structures that are, in fact, the cause of such marginalisations.

It is possible that one of these new paths could to combine traditional, pragmatic and solution-oriented design practices with new Speculative Design practices.

We should not forget that in today’s connected and networked world the future is primarily global and that it is not possible to live in an isolated bubble of micro-locations and communities, but also that local action has certain global implications (depending, of course, on the levels of power). However, such action still achieves (small-scale) shifts that increasingly include and activate marginalised and peripheral groups. Such bottom-up activities still can offer new hope within the global dystopian constellation. Perhaps the synergy of a great number of such similar local activities could show potential as one of the generators of global structural change. It is possible that one of these new paths could, as described by Jan Boelen and mentioned by Dejan Kršić, combine traditional, pragmatic and solution-oriented design practices with new Speculative Design practices. In such a constellation, as indicated by Boelen, critical and speculative practice could have the role of initiating discussion within design teams, which would then, in a participatory process or as stakeholders, work on scenarios of the future and on the achievement of such scenarios in collaboration with different design practices.

Speculative Design as a pedagogical tool, a tool for transgression and change, offers openness and the possibility of application in different projects and contexts. In the educational process, the speculative approach allows students to create a set of tools and a language for understanding the consequences of their design practice. Although it seems that such an approach should be standard in academic education, this is unfortunately not the case. Still the majority of education programmes in the field of design deal primarily with designing presentations, objects and services, and not with critical thinking and reflection. The educational system has changed, it has become faster and more massive. With the introduction of the Bologna Process at the level of almost the whole of Europe, students are younger and the number of programmes is increasing. The undergraduate level has become a continuation of high school education, which is particularly evident in the peripheral context of the “edge of Europe” where primary and secondary education was systematically degraded during the transition economy (which is still ongoing).

As an approach, Speculative Design is open, offering a stimulating set of tools, methods, techniques (not just to designers, but to related professions as well) which can be applied to the local context, adapted and improved in accordance with relevant criticism and reflections. It is particularly stimulating as an educational tool because it relies on criticism, reflection and a move away from traditional design practices. It has the ambition to generate activities and change in the real world. Speculative practice is not the “ultimate solution”, it will not change the world, nor will it eradicate dominant social and economic models, but it can initiate a series of changes from the bottom up (and not just deal with alleviating the symptoms) and bring back faith in the future and in imagining new horizons. The faith that it is possible, as Marcell Mars says, “to build a society against the chance that selfishness, power and brute force always prevail, and that it is worth going in the direction of solidarity and the creation of a better society”. Because, as Martin Avila points out, “speculating is a duty rather than a privilege”, and it is of utmost importance that this possibility (or privilege) is used for action towards creating better futures.

Discussion on education in the field of Speculative Design, SpeculativeEdu Future Friends Conference, Maribor, 2019

Based on the text “WESTERN MELANCHOLY: How to Imagine Different Futures in the “Real World?”, interakcije.net/dizajn.hr, 2018. Special thanks to Oleg Šuran, Dejan Kršić, Marko Golub, Julian Hanna, Kristina Tešija and Luciana Škabar on their comments and assistance with the text. Photographs: Interakcije, SpeculativeEdu, Matej Jurčević, Marko Golub and Nik Belec; taken from the indicated web pages.

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