vHM Design Futures x Speculative Futures LDN 004
Getting the insider’s scoop from speculative design pioneers.
You have seen a lot of their work but never knew it was from them. Here are some high-level takeaways from vHM Design Futures’ founders Clive van Heerden and Jack Mama during our previous gathering hosted by the lovely Made by Many.
How to bring magic back to innovation and spark meaningful conversations?
Jack and Clive first met at the Royal College of Art in the early 1990’s and have been working together for over 20 years. During this talk they walked us through career highlights — spanning from concepts they developed at Phillip’s technology research labs where they created the famous Philips Design probes, all the way to some of their latest gigs.
Jack and Clive’s work bring the magic back to innovation that provokes meaningful conversations around those who witness it, helping to raise the company’s and consumer’s consciousness around our possible futures. They boldly challenge the status quo and open new windows in our minds, asking questions like, “what does a circular kitchen look like?” creating a Microbial Kitchen that utilises waste to fuel appliances. (supposedly they shipped dried dung directly from India because British dung wasn’t good enough :)
From probes being dresses that poetically respond to a wearer’s emotions to dishes downloaded and printed using edible inks to methane powered bacterial lighting, they provoke new ways that we view the future … and maybe build it too.
Here are some high-level tips and tricks we picked up from the master speculative designers during their presentation:
“You get paid for the insights about possible futures you produce, the understanding of consumer reaction to your artefacts — not for new solutions to create and sell.”
- Speculative design should be positioned for thought leadership in and outside the company to provoke new realities and push the current boundaries
- Projects need to push away from the brand as much as possible — and play!
- Gathering signals can be as simple as scanning daily news reports for anomalies, counter culture and new behaviours and then investigating them deeper as a springboard.
“We had to go outside in a way to go back in.”
Clive and Jack organised hundreds of workshops for Philips Innovation, flying in a broad range of experts to Eindhoven to create impact directly with Phillips execs.
- Create new methods on how cross-disciplinary collaboration works to generate the most interesting and rich outputs. The breadth and depth of experts and how they work together is crucial
- The power of an overwhelming response from the outside — gets the company’s attention. To invite this type of response you must be bold, even political.
- Real tangible probes, provoke conversation. They don’t have to cost a lot of money. They can be as simple as making a short film, publishing a fake newspaper or repurposing found objects.
- Like Clive said, “Apple wouldn’t have developed the products they did if they ran focus groups.”
As speculative design pioneers, Jack and Clive can look back at concepts they designed that were wholly unfeasible at the time, and yet have manifested into the norm in terms of products and services that we use today. Like how the duo explored use cases for wearables in the 90s, and then with the world witnessed the first commercial success of the iPhone apple watch nearly 2 decades later. All in all, the track record of their inspiring work serves as an interesting proposition supporting the value speculative design in bringing life to the forecasting of innovation, or even acting, as they believe, an essential part of “corporate social responsibility.”
For true innovation, we must take risks and move beyond commercially driven low risk approaches. Speculative design helps us push beyond the obvious and start to address and provoke responses to much bigger questions. The questions that activists like Greta Thunberg have elevated into the current zeitgeist that we all need to start addressing.