We can’t go on like this. The industrial growth era is, after many centuries, running out of oxygen. Democracy and justice are fraying; automation threatens to redefine the role of the human; climate crisis will forever transform our planet and economies. Neither our infrastructures nor our imaginations are ready for the profound changes ahead.
It’s easy to succumb to fatalism, to feel powerless in the face of a world tipping off its axis. But this is no time for mourning. Designers and technologists will play an essential role in refactoring our outdated institutions and in prototyping positive visions of the future. In the process, we’ll have to reimagine design itself. User-centricity has blinded us to harms befalling society and planet alike, but speculative and futures-leaning approaches can lend us critical, inclusive perspectives on the world’s biggest challenges.
Cennydd Bowles, author of Future Ethics, will describe new responsibilities for design in a world on the brink: embracing the moral duties interwoven into making, becoming planetary custodians, not ransackers, and giving the many, not just the few, a stake in the future. We must not only depict brighter times ahead, but also navigate the hazardous roads that lead us there. Better worlds are possible, if we wish them.
New horizons for design, speculative and critical design, futures thinking and foresight, transition design, climate crisis, ethics.
Offered as a conference keynote or in-house presentation. Intended audience: designers, product managers, software engineers, futurists. This talk sits perfectly alongside the Building Better Worlds training workshop. Book both for reduced rates.
Notes, evidence, and credit
The infamous ‘Gaydar’ study: Michal Kosinski & Yilun Wang, ‘Deep Neural Networks Are More Accurate Than Humans at Detecting Sexual Orientation From Facial Images’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Feb 2018, Vol. 114, Issue 2. The authors published a Google Docs follow-up to the resulting ethical backlash.
Slaughterbots (2017), the Future of Life Institute & Stuart Russell.
‘Much worse’ quote from The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells.
Warming statistics from variety of sources, including The Uninhabitable Earth, Carbon Brief’s The impacts of climate change at 1.5C, 2C and beyond, and The three-degree world: the cities that will be drowned by global warming, and David Wallace-Wells on Twitter.
For more on climate mourning, see Roy Scranton’s NYT piece Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene.
Papanek quote from Design for the Real World (Thames and Hudson, 1985).
Mulching satirical paper: A Mulching Proposal: Analysing and Improving an Algorithmic System for Turning the Elderly into High-Nutrient Slurry, Os Keyes, Jevan Hutson, Meredith Durbin.
Personal climate tactics: there are many who question the safety of Malthusian population-limiting responses to climate. The topic has already been weaponised by far-right ecofascists, some of whom extrapolate it to virtually genocidal conclusions. It is, however, evident that fewer humans ought to mean fewer emissions. One estimate (Mike Berners-Lee, How Bad Are Bananas) puts the lifetime CO₂e impact of a British child at 373,000 kg, although this figure will of course vary enormously in other territories and with various carbon futures. The topic is highly delicate. However, it seems safe to agree that the choice to have a child is likely the most environmentally impactful you will ever make.
Transparent Charging Station by The Incredible Machine.
Frames (2019), dir. Farhad Pakdel. Part of the Screening Surveillance Project.
Social consensus statistics from Goldberg, M. H., van der Linden, S., Leiserowitz, A., & Maibach, E. (2019). Perceived social consensus can reduce ideological biases on climate change. Environment and Behavior.
Individual ➙ Collective ➙ System change model drawn from Jussi Pasanen’s astute post Individual change or system change is not the right question.
‘Who do you want to be at the end of the world?’ quote from Kelly Hayes on Patreon.