Concepts as vehicles for change
THE FUTURE IS HERE: A NEW INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION at the Design Museum from 24 July – 29 October
Before he set out to film Minority Report, Steven Spielberg gathered a select group of leading thinkers in science and technology for an ‘idea summit’. It was 1999 and the aim was to hang out for a weekend and come up with a realistic depiction of the world in 2050. One of the participants brought along a prototype for gestural control of computers. I imagine most of you can picture the result: Tom Cruise waving glowing gloves around…
Illustrations of Mo.mo - one of the concepts we have on display at the new Design Museum exhibition
They had no idea the impact their vision would have on product design – and how 10 years later designers would be still be bemoaning how the film has influenced the desire for certain kinds of interfaces. What this clearly demonstrates is the power of a good concept over how we imagine the future. And boy do we need some powerful concepts right now to help shape a different future.
As Professor John Robinson put so powerfully in the Guardian recently “our failure….is not a failure of information but a failure of imagination”. But there is no shortage of scenarios and visions of a sustainable future. The problem is that a) they are not done by an elite team and brought to life by Steven Spielberg b) they tend to be quite broad and rather political.
At Forum we have been experimenting with focusing on individual concepts as vehicles for change. First we identify a problem where a new idea might help…no shortage of those. Then using a combination of horizon scanning, to see where there might be new energy and activity, and ‘idea summits’ we try to build tangible concepts that show glimpses of how the future might be different. Interestingly these seem to be gaining more traction than scenarios or visions.
Whilst we might not have Steven Spielberg’s talent or special effects team we do now have an amazing array of tools to make individual concepts seem just that little bit more real. From animations to printed models the tools are getting easier to use and more affordable every day. At every stage in the process from sketches to full working mock-ups it seems that bringing these ideas to life and communicating them attracts people who are inspired to make them happen. If there is appetite for them they become more and more tangible …until they are actually built. These ‘prototypes’ work to suspend disbelief about what might be possible. Fairphone is a very recent example which has gone from a concept developed by Waag Society to a fully-fledged product that has now sold over 11,000 phones.
This is why we’re excited that a couple of our recent concepts feature in an exhibition opening at the Design Museum today. Wandular (a mobile for life), which came out of our FutureScapes project, and Mo.mo (a molecule scanner to enable easier reuse of materials), which came out of our Future Consumers project, will be on display from now until end of October. Find out more about the exhibition here – and if you’re in London we encourage you to take some time out to get down to the South Bank and explore the concepts.
We’ve also got other concepts in development: we’re currently building an Internet of Things Academy with Superflux at the moment and we’re keen to hear from people who’d like to work with us on it. Get in touch with us if you’d like to experiment with very different futures, test the appetite for change…and hopefully build something that will really make a difference.
- For information on the exhibition go here
- Read about the Internet of Things Academy in a recent blog by Hugh Knowles
- Find out about our collaboration project Consumers in 2030
- Browse our FutureScapes project page