Some Possible Futures


Hancock and Bezold (a health researcher, and a social scientist/futurist) made a diagram sometimes in the 90s. projecting multitudes of the future into a forward moving plane, and called it the Futures Cone. It had four “layers”- Possible, Plausible, Probable, and Projected. Their intention was to predict models of the future to inform decisions in public policy. Subsequently, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, the ‘founders’ of speculative and critical design, added another layer- ‘Preferable’, to speculate on a future that is idealised and built on value judgements, and the futures cone became an important pedagogical tool for speculative design. And over time, other people also added their versions of the future to it, and it grew almost poetically into what it is today.

In 2014, Jon Sueda curated an exhibition called All Possible Futures to create speculative work done in the domain of graphic design. 

Here’s the text from the exhibition’s synopsis:

Speculative practices have existed throughout the history of design, most notably in architecture, but only a few graphic designers have positioned themselves in contexts where they are able to pursue explorations built on speculation and uncertain ground. This could be the result of numerous unsympathetic conditions deeply rooted in graphic design practice, including the commission structure within which most work happens. Traditionally, a client comes to a designer with a brief, to which the latter responds by offering possible options for solving the already-established problem. When a client has some kind of financial investment in the situation and wants a viable outcome, “What if?” is not often a comfortable starting point. Thus, speculative projects tend be self-initiated efforts, proposals within academic contexts, or simply unrealized inquiries.

All Possible Futures explores speculative work created by contemporary graphic designers. It encompasses everything from self-generated provocations to experimental work created “in parallel” with client-based projects to unique practices where commissions have been tackled with a high level of autonomy and critical investigation. The work highlights different levels of visibility and public-ness within the graphic design process. Some projects were made for clients and exist in a “real world” context, while others might otherwise have gone unnoticed: failed proposals, experiments, sketches, incomplete thoughts.
All Possible Futures also looks at how graphic designers have expanded the parameters of the field by consciously taking a transdisciplinary approach, and by considering physical interaction within an art-gallery context. The featured designers are both American and international, and all of them in one way or another consciously question the established boundaries of design concepts, processes, technologies, and form. They position themselves as authors of autonomous critical projects, and they maintain conceptually rigorous, research-based, historically informed practices.

The installation and exhibition design for All Possible Futures takes on the challenges inherent in presenting any show on graphic design: how to create a new space for graphic design to be understood out of its original context; how to enable visitors to directly engage with the materials on display; how to gather and present a breadth of contemporary speculative pieces, which take the form of both original physical objects and restaged installations; and how to speak simultaneously to peers within the design community and a wider audience.

To take my research forward, i posed another question on Instagram, asking people to look into what the future of design means to them...

The future clearly means different things to different people; but a common thread running through all these responses is a hope, or, a longing for a better future. Why is it that we consider things like accessibility, liberation, mindfulness, and fairness as something that belongs to the future?

What are the conversations we need to have that can help us form alternative presents where these ideas belong not to the future but to the present?