Designing for a Bleak Future

As we look towards some particularly dystopian designs in our speculative work, this NYT article caught my eye.

The article explores various ways of tackling our current problem statement: “How do you design for the future when the future you are designing for will not exist?” The tension between technological change and environmental planning is particularly evident in exhibits like “Resurrecting the Sublime,” which reproduces the smell of extinct flowers.

A 2019 installation view of “Resurrecting the Sublime,” which reproduces the smell of extinct flowers.
2019; Christina Agapakis, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and Sissel Tolaas, with support from Ginkgo Bioworks and Iff Inc., “Resurrecting the Sublime,” installation view at the Biennale Internationale Design Saint-étienne © Pierre Grasset

The furthered analysis of this exhibit and many others explored here is even more interesting at the intersection of speculative design x COVID-19. As author Saval notes, “the height of the Covid-19 outbreak this past spring gave birth to a booming speculative industry for designers — be they architects, urban planners or product developers — who began reimagining parks, homes and offices in a world whose rhythms would be controlled not by the stock market or the climate but by rising and falling infection levels.”

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