ArtCenter College of Design
IF: Journal of Interactive + Inclusive Futures

IF: Spring 2021

Foreword by Iddris Sandu

Table of Contents

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Iddris Sandu

Iddris Sandu

Foreword by Iddris Sandu

Good design is honest.

This is principle number six of the “10 Principles of Good Design” proposed by Dieter Rams. 

The text explains that good design does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it actually is. It does not attempt to manipulate people with promises it cannot keep. 

Yet in an age where technology is all around us, how much design is truly honest in this way? 

We might start with the question: “What does honesty mean?” In a world rife with digital technologies, does it mean integrity or the ability to invoke empathy? 

If it’s the latter, then how many products today connect us to our innate empathy rather than take us away from it? How many products allow us to extend our empathy to the digital world? 

For so long, our products have begged this question, yet we continue to create more and more fundamentally dishonest technology. 

We’ve been inundated with user interfaces and design solutions that have created illusions that raised more questions about our natural and cognitive ways of innerstanding than they’ve answered.

The way we interpret scenes, interact with objects, and even the way we store objects have all been reduced to screens, which are just linear input devices that translate our fingers into 2D intents based on pixels. 

For most of the lifecycle of our current technologies, we’re swiping, scaling, tapping, dragging or pinching a 2D canvas, a systemized gesture system that comprises the bulk of interaction for an entire generation. Confirmations of understanding are reduced to taps; approval or rejection become left or right swipes. This gesture system, not coincidentally, is also responsible for leaving most of its users feeling depressed and detached.

We’ve designed user interfaces that have been constricted to 2D, and they all crave our ever-expanding desires to want to interact with reality and one another. 

Fortunately, industries like augmented reality and spatial reality seek to replace constricted gestures with immersive and non-restrictive gestures, providing new hope for a new generation: A world where the virtual world respects (and is honest about its place in) your real world. 

In doing so, new operating systems, programming languages and spatial apps will be birthed from the ashes of our old systems. 

Technologies will become more aware, cognitive, responsive and adaptive and will connect us once more to a core of what makes us human: our empathy. 

This time, the technologies we create won’t sell us any promise of interfaces that disappear with gestures. Objects won’t be marked with memories, they'll be actualized within our realities.

This time, technologies won’t hide us from reality. They’ll work with our reality. 

And theyll be just innovative enough. Never too powerful, never too precious. And never manipulating us with promises they know they cant keep. 

This book explores the possibilities of honest technologies that choose accessibility over excess-ability, those that bring us closer to our empathy. 

But most importantly, these technologies bring us closer to one another than previous technologies ever have.

"This decade will be critical for the future of civilization, and designers across all disciplines need to become exponential thinkers to face the challenges ahead."

Designing Inclusive Futures by Julian Scaff

The year is 2021, and the world is at an historic inflection point. But the ideas and designs in this book are not about today. They take a much longer view, documenting the zeitgeist of the 2030’s. Nonetheless, we begin with an examination of how the events of today will send ripples into the decades ahead.

More than a year into the Covid-19 global pandemic, many people around the world are questioning the old ways of doing things. Why did we all commute to work in individual cars five days a week when we could do much of our work from home? Or from Starbucks? Or from the Cayman Islands? Why was it so easy to disrupt American elections using social media? Why is there still so much racism and misogyny? Why is there so much inequality? Why is there transphobia? Why does the stock market seem so divorced from the reality of the economy? Why aren’t we doing more to address climate change?

2020 was a year of friction, a clash of cultures and generations. While many of these frictions are traumatizing, they are also signs of progress. The Millennials and Gen-Zers are the most progressive and design-conscious generations in history, and Gen-Alpha will be even more so. We have these societal frictions precisely because the new world is rejecting the failed and outdated systems of the old world, and the old world will not go quietly.

I first learned about future studies under the mentorship of Dr. John Heijmans while completing an MFA degree at the Dutch Art Institute from 2004-2006. As a futurist, I am also heavily influenced by the methodology of Sohail Inayatullah, who invented the Causal Layered Analysis method; the design-as-futurecast philosophy of architect Zaha Hadid; the systems thinking of environmental scientist Donella Meadows; and the remixology as design of future narratives of musical artist Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky. One of my ongoing passions has been weaving these disparate methods and philosophies together with human-centered design methodologies in order to architect systems of exponential social and environmental innovation.

Exponential growth in technology is exemplified by Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors in computer chips doubles every 18-24 months. Why is this important? Because transistor density in computer chips powers software. And software powers lots of influential systems. In simple terms, the more transistors you have, the more stuff you can do. Therefore, the amount of stuff we can do in software doubles every 18-24 months.

What exponential thinking means is first remaining cognizant of technology’s exponential growth, meaning the rate of growth increases over time. Second, it means that we must learn to think in terms of decades and centuries rather than weeks and months in order to design technology that is truly human-centered and can have a positive impact on all people, and on the planet itself. This is inherently difficult because our brains have evolved to address immediate survival; to prioritize short-term thinking. But through a convergence of futures studies methods with human-centered design methods, we can train ourselves to become better long-term thinkers.

The case studies you see in this publication reflect my students’ engagement with exponential thinking methods. Over the past few months, they have studied forecasts, projected the impacts of technologies and social change over decades, created future maps, and ideated possible futures that are both plausible and desirable. At the heart of their concepts are not just cool gadgetry, but real attempts to redefine the human experience to be more connected, more equitable and more sustainable. 

Melody Abolian, Tim Myunghoon Kim, John Jaewoo Ma and Anthony Palileo have reimagined the future of identity. In their vision, we would own every biosignature of our body for our entire lives, and all those biometrics supersede old methods of identification. It’s a system designed for all people on Earth, not just the affluent. They considered not just the convenience of using biometric ID for things like shopping, but also how to provide refugees with identification that cannot be lost or stolen, and how to help the poorest billion people on the planet join the global connected economy.

Darae Kim, Yihan Luo and Ruoxiao Sun have envisioned a future where shopping, entertainment and social media converge in a concept they call “Shoppertainment.” Physical and digital spaces merge via AR glasses and an AI that essentially replace smartphones. The plummeting cost of chips and sensors coupled with the construction of global cellular and space-based wireless Internet will likely make these devices so cheap that most people in the world will be able to afford one. It’s also an example of a trend that I call dematerialization (a term I borrowed from economists), where new technologies enable us to do exponentially more things using fewer devices and less energy. Their vision also portends a world where there is less emphasis on materialism and more emphasis on experiences. These are both positive trends toward sustainability.

Dillon Chi, Elizabeth Costa, Charlene Dela Cruz, Xun Liu and Ziyi Zhou envision a future where virtual “blended identities” give us new ways to express ourselves. In this future, the world has undergone the changes of ocean waters rising. As a result, most people live their lives in one place and interact with others through a virtual world where they wear virtual fashions and accessories, which could massively reduce the billions of tons of waste generated by the fashion industry every year. Ultra-personalization will also influence the food we eat, as technologies like 3D-printed food and lab-grown meats are poised to replace traditional farming of plants and animals.

There are some common threads running through these visions. First is a concern for equity and inclusion — designing solutions for the world and not just the global elites. Second is systems-level thinking, marked by the breadth of the various concepts and direct examination of the interconnections between natural and human-built systems. And lastly is exercising exponential thinking, recognizing that the J-curve of exponential technological development means that the next decade will see far more change than the previous one.

This decade will be critical for the future of civilization, and designers across all disciplines need to become exponential thinkers to face the challenges ahead. Many of the old systems do not work either for people or for the future of the planet, and society’s old operating system desperately needs an update. The three projects in this issue of “IF:” are filled with hope, empathy and creativity — just what we need to navigate the difficult challenges ahead and design a more sustainable and equitable future for us all.

Glossary of Terms

Causal Layered Analysis or CLA
A methodology for future mapping used in strategic foresight and planning. The method makes connections between surface-level phenomena and underlying systems for architecting more desirable long-term future outcomes.

Delphi Method
A methodology of structured, collaborative forecasting technique that relies upon a diverse panel of experts addressing a defined problem space from different perspectives and disciplines.

Human-Centered Design
A broad range of approaches to problem-solving that involve the human perspective in all steps of the process.

Interaction Design or IxD
A research-based, human-centered practice of designing interactive products, services, environments and systems.

Inverse Thinking
A method developed by the ancient Roman Stoic philosophers, who called it premeditatio malorum or a premeditation of evils. By considering all worst-case scenarios, we can design systems that are more resilient and humane.

Iterative Modular Morphological Synthesis or IMMS
A process of mixing and matching technologies of today and combining the results with potential technologies of the future, and then repeating as necessary.

Science Fiction Prototyping
A range of practices that utilize science fiction narratives to explore the usability and social impact implications of future technology systems.

User Persona
An archetype of a defined group of people built with real-world data collected via surveys and ethnographic studies. User Personas are employed as interaction design tools to help designers cultivate empathy and create more humane solutions.