The Post-Apocalyptic “Checking Out” Future – Revisiting Speculative Design

Speculative Design - Slide 1

The Pitfalls of Speculative Design

When exploring the interactions between design and the future, one can’t ignore the field of Speculative Design.  Developed by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby at the Royal College of Art in London, this concepts uses design as a way to visualize possible, plausible, probable, and preferable futures.  The main goal of these projects is not to predict what will happen but propose potential options.  The work has come under a lot of criticism because it missed valuable opportunities to make real change with design.  Instead, the work acted as gallery pieces to be discussed and discarded.  It was all too fantastic; how can Speculative Design become more real?

Trends as Future Seeing - Slide 2

Futuring Through Trends

Raw data and trends have always been used in science and economics to predict the future.  By analyzing the present and visualizing how things progress over time, one has the opportunity to speculate on future outcomes.  The Dunn and Raby process largely ignored raw data.  What does our future hold if current market and environmental friends continue?  Is a world where things continue as they do now one that we want to live in?

Climate Change Trend - Slide 3

Imminent Climate Change as a Trend

Climate change is one of the most notable trends in recent history.  It is such a massively impactful trend that people ignore it or give up on trying to solve it.   The average global temperature is expected to increase by 2-11.5°F by 2100.  In the next 85 years temperatures are expected to increase twice as fast as they did in the last 100 years.  There are massive weather changes forecasted.  These predictions include heavier storms, more frequent rain, and more powerful mega-storms more often.  Sea level will rise; for every 2 degree increase in global temperature, 15% of existing ice will melt.  All these changes will impact our  food supplies, water resources, infrastructures, ecosystems, and even our own health.

Video Game Market Trend - Slide 4

Video Game Popularity as a Trend

The world of video games is a hugely successful entertainment industry, climbing steadily since the 1990’s.  The video game industry has grown  9.6% between 2009 and 2012.  That’s 4x faster than the growth of the US economy during that time.   The software game market is expected to grow 59% by 2018.  Some studies project 37 billion dollars increase in the next 6 years.  People aren’t losing interest in them either, far from it.  The  Entertainment Software Association reports that  59% of americans play video games and that the average US household owns at least one gaming device.

Marijuana Market Trend - Slide 5

Marijuana Popularity as a Trend

Although some may dismiss the market potential for the marijuana industry, the facts don’t lie.  Marijuana is the fastest growing US industry.  It earned 2.4 billion dollars in revenue during 2014.  That was a 74% increase over the span of one year.  The legal market for marijuana is projected to be worth 11 billion dollars by 2019.  If all states legalized marijuana, a prospect some studies expect to come in the next 10 years, the total market would be valued at 36.8 billion dollars.  That would make the industry 3 billion dollars larger than the existing organic food industry.

When Trends Collide - Slide 6

Post-Apocalyptic Future of “Checking Out”

If we project these trend into the future, where do they come together?  I present the undesirable, post-apocalyptic world of checking out.  The planet has fallen apart due to climate change.  All the biggest cities have submerged, weather is extremely erratic and dangerous, and the world has been forced to go into an emergency response mode.  The government, corporations, and citizens of the US are now forced to deal with the environmental challenges presented.  The government enacts rationing systems and strict curfews in order to keep the most people provided for and safe.  While the government is trying to ensure health and safety for the public, people on the individual level have encountered overwhelming levels of stress, guilt, and fear as their established world crumbles around them.  Their only source of joy (or even euphoria) comes from video games and marijuana.  People are desperate to avoid the harsh reality around them.

Future of Video Gaming - Slide 7

The Future of Design and Gaming

In this new world existing technologies become much more valuable.  Companies can’t afford to produce infinitely because all methods of manufacturing and sourcing materials has been influenced by climate change disasters.  People begin to stockpile devices, creating a daisy-chain of hard drives, monitors, and processors.  Design and Gaming have come together most recently in the form of virtual reality helmets.  These immersive goggles put the user right inside a virtual world.  In the world of “checking out” culture these helmets provide immersive other-wold experiences; they serve as a way to escape the present and engage with a game through multi-sensory stimulus. Cloud gaming will become commonplace; the government will control the internet and make sure that people are constantly fed video game content.  This pleasurable outlet is the only way for many people to maintain their sanity.

Future of Marijuana - Slide 8

The Future of Design and Marijuana

Marijuana has been utilized for its medical qualities in treating many ailments, from anxiety and stress to nausea and cancer.  With the recent growth of the legalized marijuana market tech companies and designers have begun capitalizing on the new problems and desires of its customers.  High tech, slick vaporizers have multiplied.  Some scientists are working once distilling the plant down to its active THC chemical, eventually making tablets for quick and easy use. Indoor marijuana growing labs are developing low resource alternatives to outdoor growing methods.  UV light is being tested for its unique growing potential.  Scientists are also examining ways to vary the chemical composition of different leaves for different health purposes.  These developments propose a future where marijuana growth and personal intake are optimized.

Embracing the Undesirable - Slide 9

Revisiting Speculative Design as Unpreferable

Obviously this future isn’t something we want for ourselves.  What value is there in designing a future that we want to avoid?  These types of cynical, apocalyptic futures are essential in identifying what we don’t want.  Many people struggle to rationalize the serious impacts that global climate change will have on us because we largely cannot see them.  We can use design, Speculative Design, as a way to visualize the potential paths we want to avoid.  As a conversation starter, “checking out” culture shifts speculative design discussions away from the artistry of a piece towards real, positive, visible change.


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