Speculative Design in the “Real World”



In order to discuss, critically reflect and re-think today speculative design practice, public discussion is scheduled for the Wednesday 19th of October. Invited guests will discuss the role of the speculative design in the “real world”.




The common reference of the speculative (and critical) design practice is primarily the radical architecture and design practice of the 1960s and 1970s. The founding principles of the radical approach; resistance to the mainstream modernist practice and technological domination, focus on social topics, re-thinking of the profession, often through a political prism; today figure as the main characteristics of the speculative and critical practice. The context of exceptional technological progress and ubiquity at the time when these radical practices emerged may be related to the present technological context (nano and biotechnologies, data-rich urban environment, ubiquitous computing and so on). As the radical design was challenging the modernist paradigm as the dominant ideology of the time, the new (speculative) design practices are also confronting the current social, political economical and environmental issues. However, it still remains to be seen whether the speculative practice has the potential to become the new, post-design practice, the “design after design, or yet another utopia and a historical reference.

Ramia Mazé underlines that design practices can never be neutral, there are always critical and political issues, as well as alternatives and futures linked to them. Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby emphasize the potential of speculative design for large-scale social and political issues, such as democracy, sustainability or the alternatives to the existing capitalist model. At the same time Naomi Klein warns that the present domination of dystopian scenarios in literature and films leads to a view where catastrophic scenarios are unavoidable, making us passive rather than proactive.

Critics of the currently dominant approach to the speculative practice, characterised as “Eurocentric”, highlighting its excessive focus on aesthetics (on the visual and narrative level), tendency to escape to dystopian scenarios, vanity, and separation from the real world. Cameron Tonkinwise underlines that many dystopian scenarios found in the present-day speculative fictions (of the Western world) actually (and unfortunately) have been already taking place in other parts of the world. He stress that the present role of speculative design should provide solutions for mistakes of the modernist project, and re-materialize, in our everyday lives, the visions of a radically different future. In an online discussion accompanying the exhibition Design and Violence showcased at the MoMA, the critics of this “Eurocentric” approach point out the privileged “Western” position stating that criticism is only possible outside of this comfort zone, by taking a position and organizing activities in the “real world”.

Hopefully, we see things slowly changing, students and new practitioners studying new guidelines and looking at new and different practices. For an example, in order to offer a new set of guidelines, Pedro Olivera and Luiza Prado have published a “Cheat Sheet for a Non- (or Less-) Colonialist Speculative Design” as a starting point for personal and introspective design practice. While James Auger and Julian Hanna in “Crap Futures” blog documents their work on the positive paths, seeking to produce tangible societal outcomes. Franciso Laranjo in his “Modes of Criticism” magazine, among other stories, constantly publishes comprehensive discursive and critical texts on speculative and critical practice. We also witness activities at the School of Design at the Carnegie Mellon University to re-stage “Feral Experimental and New Design Thinking” exhibition as a part of the “Climactic: Post Normal Design” event by adding works from the South Asia, East Asia and Africa.

Moreover, this year’s Speculative and Critical Design Summer School at the London College of Communication (led by Ben Stopher and Tobias Revell) approached the practice from the broad perspective “with the criticisms that were discussed in the context of the future of practice in a wider design context than academia”. In the practice we can also find approaches which can be taken as positive examples of the new speculative views. For example, Demitrios Kargotis’ and Dash Macdonald’s (DashnDem) work focuses on critical citizenship education and participation. They are working directly in the public realm. In our practice, at the Arts Academy in Split, the dystopian scenarios, in line with the Mediterranean approach (“from the edge of Europe”, removed from the European urban and technology centers), are being challenged from the humanist perspective.

Named examples from the discursive, educational and practical context brings hope that critique of this field will become more precise and, as David Benque states, will “start dissecting why a specific approach, or project is, or is not successful in its context”.

In order to try answering these open questions, as an extension of the “Speculative – Post-Design Practice or New Utopia?” exhibition at the XXI Triennale di Milano, the accompanied booklet included a series of interviews with the prominent international expert from the field of speculative design. As part of the Speculative NOW! event, and as a step forward, we want to focus, discuss, critically reflect, and re-think today’s speculative design practice. Therefore, we have invited noticeable practitioners, critics, educators and curators to Split in order to discuss the role of speculative design in the “real world”.

We are happy to host James Auger (former member of the legendary Designing Interactions department at RCA, now at the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute, co-founder of the Crap Futures blog), one of the pioneers of this design practice, Demitrios Kargotis (from the DashnDem design practice, London and Goldsmiths, University of London and Birmingham City University), Pedro Oliveira & Luiza Prado (from A Parede research platform, based around PhD study at Universität der Künste Berlin), Regine Debatty (founder of the cult blog we-make-money-not-art), Matt Ward (Head of the Design Department at Goldsmiths, University of London) and Mirko Balducci (co-founder of the italian multidisciplinary lab / network Nefula). Discussion will be moderated by the workshop coordinator – assistant professor Ivica Mitrović (Department of Visual Communications Design, Interakcije).