FUTURE DOMESTIC LANDSCAPE

Keywords: design fictions, speculative design, future domestic living, plurality of futures

 
Future Domestic Landscape identity, using a background based on a still Bots - Collaborative AI for the Smart Home (Kevin Gaunt, 2015).

Future Domestic Landscape identity, using a background based on a still Bots - Collaborative AI for the Smart Home (Kevin Gaunt, 2015).

Future Domestic Landscape (FDL) was a 10-week project for the second year MFA students in Interaction Design (IxD), running at Umeå Institute of Design from 2015 to 2017, asking the students to produce design fictions (video & interactive prototypes) for domestic life 20 years ahead in time. Within this design space, the course produced 37 design fictions across the three years. A future domestic landscape refers to this collective output.

Having taught and co-coordinated the 2015 version with then IxD Programme Director, Niklas Andersson, I was since responsible for the course (incl. lecturing and tutoring) in 2016 and 2017, in close collaboration with the current IxD Program Director, Stoffel Kuenen.

In a pedagogical perspective, FDL set out to teach our students design fiction and speculative design as a craft, asking them to face some of the most pressing, unresolved questions in the field today, such as how to meaningfully engage the public in speculative work, as well as issues around colonialism and eurocentrism in much of the current work.

In a research perspective, and in line with the pedagogical aims, FDL was an experiment in prototyping a different notion of design fictions: a shift from a more singular ‘exceptional’ vision of the future, towards a pluralistic interweaving of different ‘exceptions’ to the future. Another way of describing this difference, is a turn away from design fictions as a form of desired self-fulling prophecies (selling a technology, electing a candidate etc.) Instead of hopelessly trying to ‘get it right’, FDL shows what happens when you saturate a design space with a critical mass of different, particular design fictions: the sometimes overlapping and clashing futures creates a space of navigation, enriching our notion of agency here and now, and heightening our awareness of what is at stake.

Check out the FDL web platform here

Still from  The New Natural  ( Jenni Toriseva , 2015).

Still from The New Natural (Jenni Toriseva, 2015).

Still from  New Age Privacy  ( Júlia Nacsa , 2015)

Still from New Age Privacy (Júlia Nacsa, 2015)

As an example of the interweaving effect, Mady Torres de Souza, one of the students in the 2015 course, acts as a mother in two different design fictions.

In the first one, The New Natural (Jenni Toriseva, 2015), Torres de Souza is using an epigenetic toolkit of soft toys, Three Wise Friends, to alter the environmental factors influencing the expression of the genes of her unborn baby. The examples shown in the video are her diet (the still above), the level of air pollution outside, and her stress levels.

In another design fiction, New Age Privacy (Júlia Nacsa, 2015), Torres de Souza is a concerned parent in a future where the home, for some techsavvy individuals, offers the last bastion against pervasive societal dataveillance. As one of these few individuals able to control what data is collected and shared in her home, Torres’ character eventually makes the painful decision to voluntarily share data concerning her young daughter’s learning difficulties with the local school.

Seen individually, the two design fictions raise important issues around genetic manipulation and privacy respectively. However, seen together they open a larger discussion concerning parents’ future ability to effectively shape their kids’ quality of life, both before and after they are born. As an audience we are invited to fill in the gaps, not only within each design fiction, but also in bridging them. Could it e.g. be the same child? What other difficult decisions have the parents had to make along the way? And how does the agency of the parents balance with the agency of the child, as time passes and the child grows up?

FDL 2016 exhibition.jpg
Above: FDL exhitions 2015 & 2016. While the students would find ways to field test their design fictions continuously during the 10-week course, each year concluded with a collective exhibit curated by the students, emphasizing the collective output with the red threads emerging from the whole.

Above: FDL exhitions 2015 & 2016. While the students would find ways to field test their design fictions continuously during the 10-week course, each year concluded with a collective exhibit curated by the students, emphasizing the collective output with the red threads emerging from the whole.

THANKS to all the super talented IxD students, colleagues at UID, invited guest teachers and critics, and to Humlab-X for hosting our final exhibitions. Also thanks to Toby Wheelan for designing and editing the FDL web platform. FDL is a project carried out as part of my doctoral research at Umeå Institute of Design, and is discussed further in my thesis (available here).