Speculative Design and Education in (and Beyond) Troubled Times (ONLINE DISCUSSION)

May 5, 2020

A SpeculativeEdu panel discussion at Uroboros online design-art festival on Friday, 15 May at 19:00 (CET).

Since its rapid growth during the 20th Century, design has mostly played an uncritical supporting role to industry and the application of technology. In the current pandemic crisis we are witnessing a return to the dangerous notion that technology will be fundamental to our future survival, ignoring the fact that techno-solutionism (which also shaped mainstream design practices) got us into this mess in the first place. Both the systems in which designed artefacts are manufactured and the systems in which they function have changed irrevocably over the past half century, yet much design practice remains unchanged. The pragmatic, self-contained and skills-based nature of design education largely reflects this old-fashioned notion of design – blindly optimistic and frequently unaware of the larger complex systems in which design happens.

One (potentially) positive factor to emerge from the current crisis is how convincingly it has exposed the fragility of many of these systems, in particular the economic system of capitalism to which the contemporary design industry is so well-aligned. This exposé should provide an opportunity for a rethinking of the aspects of our systems that render them so fragile, so vulnerable to a single act of nature. What might design learn from and how might it adapt to this new perspective?

Is now the time to start building new horizons, starting from education?

Speculative Design (SD) emerged around 20 years ago to provide a counter-approach to mainstream market-oriented design and as such perhaps could offer some insights to help address this question. The academic context in which SD typically takes place facilitates a decoupling of practice from the market imperatives that constrain mainstream design, allowing for the development of a more expanded and responsible approach to design. But what new skills, knowledge and methods might such an approach demand?

Disciplines such as Science and Technology Studies (STS) and anthropology are far in advance of SD in their understanding of how complex social, political, and cultural values relate to scientific research and technological application; philosophers of technology have for decades been questioning notions of automation and our increasing dependency on technology; psychologists and social scientists are researching the impact of contemporary media (amongst other things) on humans and society.

For many years SD was known (and criticised) for its ability to create future dystopias. Now, as reality threatens to become more dystopian than fiction, might be the right time to move to a more constructive approach, to speculate on optimistic futures that could realistically be achieved. It may also be useful to look at how past experiences from SD practice could “close the loop”, and bring our knowledge and insights from interactions with the future to bear directly on our current activities and strategies.

We hope that SD has created a small foundation for design to move forward post shutdown – to discuss what is or should be the role of design in the 21st Century, and how we can educate students for the decades to come. In a sense we are all “paper architects” now – constrained by The Great Pause, kept away from our classrooms, workshops and studios. Therefore in this discussion we aim to give free rein to our speculative imaginations, set our sights on the future, and ask: What should the new design curriculum look like?

Daniel Charny (Kingston University)
Khashayar Razghandi (Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces)
Anne Lefebvre (ENS Paris-Saclay)
Andrea Gaspar (University of Coimbra)
James Auger (SpeculativeEdu) (MODERATOR)

MORE INFO AND REGISTRATION (festival is free): http://www.uroboros.design/speculative-design-and-education-in-and-beyond-troubled-times

Daniel Charny (designer, From Now On and Kingston University, UK) is a creative director, curator and educator with an inquiring mind and an entrepreneurial streak. He is co-founder of the creative consultancy From Now On, where clients include British Land, the Design Museum, Google, Heatherwick Studio and Nesta. His most recent initiative is the creative education think-and-do-tank FixEd. Charny is best known as curator of the influential exhibition Power of Making at the V&A, which drove him to found the award-winning learning programme Fixperts, now taught in universities and schools worldwide. Other projects include the Aram Gallery, the British Council’s Maker Library Network and the Central Research Laboratory accelerator. Charny is active internationally as a speaker and expert advisor, advocating his vision of design, creativity and making as essential tools to unlock a better future. He is Professor of Design at Kingston University.

Khashayar Razghandi (material scientist, Max Planck institute of Colloids and Interfaces, and Excellence Cluster Matter of Activity Berlin, Germany) is a scientist & engineer working at the intersection of Natural Sciences, Humanities & Design. Coming from a diverse educational background, and backed by a broad interdisciplinary work experience, his current research interests cover a broad range of projects at the intersection of Natural Sciences, Humanities and Design, under diverse yet converging themes of: I) Science and Design Collaborative Methodologies, II) Materials Sustainability, III) Activity and Matter and IV) Interdisciplinary Creative Processes & Teamwork Mediation and Education. At the core of his work lies a reflective hands-on approach to concepts like materials, structures, functions, activities, ecologies, contexts, and stances on one hand, and the values and challenges of such interdisciplinary practices on the other hand. Part of his current role revolves around mediation and education of such practices at the level of projects, between scientists and designers, as well as at the institutional levels, bridging between the relevant Research and Design Institutes and Industries. Consequently, he is engaged with various projects within and in between Matters of Activity Excellence Cluster; Max Planck Institute MPIKG Biomaterial department; Design in tech accelerator DesignFarm Berlin; ENS Paris-Saclay & Paris ENSCI-Les Ateliers Design Research, KHB Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin.

Anne Lefebvre (French contemporary philosophy and philosophy of technology, École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, France) is an agrégée de philosophie, a specialist in Gilbert Simondon’s theories to which she devoted her doctoral thesis (“From the Thought of the Image to the Image of Thought: the Philosophy of Gilbert Simondon in Light of the Problem of Invention”). Between 2013 and 2019 Anne was program director at the International College of Philosophy. She has held numerous positions related to the project disciplines of design and architecture including a researcher in residence at the Jan Van Eyck Academie – Fine Art, Design and Theory in Maastricht (NL) and Enseignant Chercheur at the École nationale supérieure de Saint-Étienne. She currently lectures in philosophy in the Design Department of the École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay (ENS). There she established and directs the Centre de recherche en design – a national research structure jointly run by ENS and ENSCI-Les Ateliers. Since the completion of her thesis, her research has taken two directions: (1) Contemporary French philosophy and techniques (beyond her reflections on image and invention she is particularly interested in the relations between life and technique); (2) The deepening of conception/creation issues in design and architecture giving a central place to the concepts of constraint and situation. More recently, this research has oriented towards thinking about the ecologies involved in the act or practice of design, between plural normativities and current transformations of production systems.

Andrea Gaspar (Anthropologist/STS, University of Coimbra, Portugal) is an anthropologist with a background in Science and Technology Studies, currently an integrated researcher at CRIA (Centre for Research in Anthropology), Portugal. She holds a PhD in social anthropology, awarded by the University of Manchester (2013) and a Masters in Sociology by the University of Coimbra (2006). Her research explores experimental modes of collaboration between anthropology and design. Her PhD, focusing on innovation cultures and practices, was based in an ethnographic fieldwork among a group of Interaction Designers in Milan. After the PhD, she worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute (2013) and at the Centre for Social Sciences of the University of Coimbra (2014-2015), in an STS project about digital practices in academic knowledge production. Lately, Andrea has been interested in speculative research: while working as an assistant lecturer at the University of Coimbra (2015-2019), she adventured with some experiences with teaching anthropology speculatively. She is now wondering what a speculative anthropology could be.

James Auger (designer, École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, France) is an enseignant chercheur at ENS Paris Saclay. His work explores ways through which practice-based design research can lead to more considered and democratic technological futures. After graduating from Design Products (MA) at the Royal College of Art in London James moved to Dublin to conduct research at Media Lab Europe (MLE) exploring the theme of human communication as mediated by technology. After MLE he worked in Tokyo as guest designer at the Issey Miyake Design Studio developing new concepts for mobile telephones. Between 2005 and 2015 James was part of the critically acclaimed Design Interactions department at the RCA, teaching on the MA programme and continuing his development of critical and speculative approaches to design and technology, completing his PhD on the subject in 2012. After the RCA James formed the Reconstrained Design Group at Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute (M-ITI) in Portugal, exploring the potential of the island as an experimental living laboratory through a combination of fictional, factual and functional multi-scale energy-related proposals and projects. This work was awarded the Cultural Innovation International Prize by the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) in 2017. Running parallel to his academic work James is a partner in the speculative design practice Auger-Loizeau, a collaboration founded in 2000. Auger-Loizeau projects have been published and exhibited internationally, including MoMA, New York; 21_21, Tokyo; The Science Museum, London; The National Museum of China, Beijing and Ars Electronica, Linz. Their work is in the permanent collection at MoMA.