Reading Response 6 / Rachel Adkins

In this chapter of Dunne and Raby’s “Speculative Everything”, the opening paragraph starts with a brief discussion of the differences between design thinking and speculative-thinking, siting that the former is concerned mainly of solving problems in the here and now, while the latter serves as a way of “contesting official reality.” In other words, design thinking is about preparing for the future, whereas speculative-thinking is about creating a new type of future altogether.

On the other hand, Cameron Tonkinwise seems to disagree with this to an almost unbearable extent. In his “Just Design” article, he suggests that any kind of design, but specifically commercial design in his original discussion, that does not deploy speculative thinking and tactics is “unconvincing and irresponsible”. Essentially, speculative design should always be a part of any design process in order for it to have value, and does not warrant isolation as its own field of study. I don’t necessarily disagree, as I definitely feel there is a currently stagnation of mainstream innovation, as the pressures of capitalism have forced most commercial designers to constantly crank out new, and uninspired, product in order to sate consumers, as well as the pockets of those on top.

But other than agreeing on the notion that all designers should be thinking a bit more critically of the future, I simply cannot get behind him much further. Maybe it’s his post-everything attitude, and his line about “…artificial ecosystems of academic design research…” but this article just felt like a huge rip on everyone who places themselves in any of the fields he describes. I don’t think it should devalue someone’s work just because they give it a certain label, and feel that what they do should have a specialized purpose within the larger field of design. And besides, if one day speculative thinking does meet critical mass, in that all designers apply this methodology, all the time, every time, then what is to say that we won’t (continually) see the rise of another field of heightened design thinking.

On a completely different note, one of the big talking points in this chapter of Dunne and Raby’s “Speculative Everything” is the idea of micro-utopias, which I found particularly insightful, especially in regards to our current endeavors in class. They suggest that the “utopia” in the singular form cannot ever truly exist, because in reality, there essentially 7 billion different possible utopias the apply to each individual on Earth. It is summed up by a 1974 quote from Phillip K. Dick,

“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world, a world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. And that led me wonder, if reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are so me more true (more real) than others?”

From this, Dunne and Raby suggest the usefulness of individual, “micro-utopian” endeavors, that may only apply (or in other words, be desirable) to a small group of people, or even a singular person, but they hold a great deal of potential for inspiration, and provide a kind of jumping off point for actually thinking about a future in which these one-off ideas could be reality.

One project discussed in this chapter, of which I immediately responded to, is Joseph Popper’s “One Way Ticket”, and I feel it provides a good example of a kind of singularly applicable, “micro-utopia”. I personally find space travel endlessly fascinating and perpetually terrifying, and the concept of a no return, one-passenger trip into the void of space strikes severely on both of those cords. The imagery is straight out of a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but unlike the film, the end goal of the voyage is not so concrete; the craft isn’t chasing after any monoliths, or really anything for that matter. The project is presented in episodic videos that capture key points along the trip and aims to infer some of the “…unique psychological phenomena that could occur on a one-way trip.” One of the big considerations of this project is determining who would be the main subject of this experience, and what reasons might compel them to do so. Dunne and Raby suggest that perhaps terminally ill volunteers would choose to participate, or perhaps inmates serving life sentences, who would rather die for science than in prison. No matter the circumstances, this project is far from the romantic ideas we often hold about space travel and exploration, but it does present one kind of “micro-utopia” that almost undoubtedly provokes us to think about the repercussions and moral hang-ups we would have to address if this ever were to become a reality.