Emily Schaefer | Reading Response 6

The introduction to the last Speculative Everything chapter talks about how the “radical left” has relied too much on reason, and not enough on fantasy in their attempt to woo the public into joining their side. I kind of disagree with that, I think that a lot of people don’t take the left side seriously enough. I do agree with the point that we’re often stuck working on projects that promote capitalism, even if we want to do more left-aligned projects. Not that I’m “anything” aligned, but I can see how the system is at play.

Raby and Dunne talk about how speculative design has the power to blur the real from the unreal. I think that this is what I’m most attracted to with the subject, making “normal” things seem less normal. Cameron Tonkinwise would probably say something about how “good design should do that anyways” but the sad truth is that it doesn’t. We live in a commercial world, and not only have the authors of Speculative Everything been clear about this, they’re also the ones proposing how to successfully design with this in mind. That is what their whole book is about. We have a set reality and we can design our way out of it. You know why? Because “we all have our own realities”.

I very much admire how they literally speculate everything within their book, even questioning who is calling the shots on all of the designs we’re currently making:

They inspire us to question why the real is “real” and the unreal is not; who decides? Is it market forces, evil genius, chance, technology, or secret elites?

I almost wonder if we’ve become numb to design. Luckily, we haven’t had any World Wars lately, but at the same time, we’ve had nothing to push us to do anything amazing. I don’t think that sending emojis with facial recognition counts. So far, companies are in control of calling the shots, and most of them are shooting at the wrong targets.

One can’t help but wonder if ideology is at the source of true innovation in the sense that new ideas and thinking come from new and different ways of viewing the world.

With this:

Change can happen in a number of ways : propaganda, semiotic and subconscious communication, persuasion and argument, art, terrorism, social, engineering, guilt, social pressure, changing lifestyles, legislation, punishment, taxation, and individual action. Design can be combined with any of these but it is the last one – individual action – that we value most.

I often forget that real changes only happen after trials. I’m used to hearing change being talked about in a more positive light. I like to believe that change happens when “we all work together” and “pull ourselves up by our boot straps” so it’s very sobering to hear words like “guilt” and “punishment” being thrown around.

I wonder which of these “change factors” have effected me on a personal level, and especially with my designs. I wonder which of these are the most effective, and also ones I could apply to my speculative vision.

For the Cameron Tonkinwise article, I found myself Google searching if this guy was even a designer or not. He makes some really radical statements, which I was somewhat off put by, and then again, somewhat enlightened by. In all, I think the guy should’ve stopped after the first two paragraphs, because after that it was a little choppy. The farther you read, his paragraphs turn into sentences that bounced around from one idea to the next.

Anyways, I did agree with some of his stuff. I liked the beginning rationale statement about how design should be speculative in it’s nature. It’s just a name game, I don’t think that anyone meant any harm by specifying “speculative” design from other types. Raby and Dunne also believe that design itself should be able to do all of the things Tonkinwise is talking about, if only it were free from commercial agenda:

Can design achieve this, too, if it is decoupled from narrow commercial agendas? We think so. By embodying ideas, ideals, and ethics in speculative proposals design can play a significant role in broaden ing our conception of what is possible.

I also approved of his thoughts on how design can change the future by making it. I think in all of our hearts, we know that one of the best perks of being a designer is that we have the possibility make the future a better place. We all hope that we can use our skills for something amazing and life changing (I hope). After sifting through some of his rambling, I thought this was a fun statement:

“There is nothing whatsoever disturbing about dystopias. People pay good money to see horror films

There is nothing whatsoever motivating about utopias. Nobody pays good money to see situations in which everything is fixed for good and so nothing happens.”

It’s a true point, even while designing motion pieces. The projects that make the best impression / are the most interesting, are the ones that have darker elements to them.

I’m pretty sure my teacher has used this as an example of good story telling: (Warning this video is scary)



Reading Response 4 | Emily Schaefer

My Thoughts & Understandings from the Reading “Guidelines for Envisioning Real Utopias” by Erik Olin Wright:

Thought One: So far, there isn’t an answer to transforming capitalism, because there is a lot of distrust in alternatives.

Thought Two: People let their doubts and uncertainties stop them from thinking about what the future could be. Right now, it’s too hard to think of a “viable, achievable, and desirable” form of social structure, different from the one we’re living in.

Thought Three: This is because there hasn’t been a good way to “test” if a different form of social structure would work or be better. It’s hard to tell on a small scale, and too risky to experiment on a large scale.

Thought Four: Achievability is the hardest because people can’t possibly know what’s in the future to let us have the power to change our gov/social structure.

Thought Five: It seems to me that people have a “try it before I buy it” attitude about UBI, but what’s funny is that people aren’t buying it because they’re too scared to try it in the first place.

Thought Six: Because of this, I wish there was a way to simulate “possible futures” before people just turn ideas down. Maybe if there was a way to simulate the outcomes of UBI, and prove it’s benefits without risking it in the real world could provide some clarity or helpful decision making? Could IBM’s Watson be capable of this?

Thought Seven: The lower and middle classes would greatly benefit from a UBI. If I were born into a rich family, would I still like the idea of a UBI as much as I do now?

Thought Eight: I think it’s true that a lot of people might opt to live off of the basic income. Yes, there are some lazy people in the world, but there are also people who deserve a chance to break out of their cycles and habits due to debt.

Thought Nine: “In most developed capitalist economies, a generous UBI is not currently achievable: the dominant political forces in these countries do not back basic income as a general proposal, and public opinion is certainly not behind it.” — This sentence is interesting to me.

Thought Ten: I’m wondering if maybe a UBI could be granted to people in certain circumstances, and could be applied for? Maybe it could be something that the government provides to the agricultural world, or artists?

Thought Eleven: “The problem of viability is particularly important because there is so much skepticism among people who are convinced of desirability and willing to participate in the political work to make alternatives achievable, but have lost confidence in the workability of visions beyond the existing social order.” — I feel like this is a true statement.

Thought Twelve: “…The analysis of the viability of alternatives to existing institutions should not be short-circuited by the problem of political achievability.” –I wish more people realized this.

Thought Thirteen: High profits = Poor people suffer. Low Profits = Better life for normal working class citizens.

Thought Fourteen: We’re not just trying to fight the rich and dominant, we’re also trying to fight government. Are these arguments strong enough to face those two together?

Thought Fifteen: The paragraph that talks about how a limited below subsistence UBI doesn’t work, makes a lot of sense to me. I could see the possibility of employers taking advantage of that money, and paying people less for service jobs like waitressing, retail, etc. Internships might not be paid.

My Additional “Real Utopia” Research: Universal Basic Income:


Universal Basic Income is something that I wanted to learn more about, so I decided to use that as my “Real Utopia” research. Coincidentally, while I was doing the assignment on New Technology, I discovered the World Economic Forum’s website. On there, I found a video from their most recent meeting called: “Basic Income for All, Dream or Delusion?” which is an amazing discussion by experts coming from different countries and backgrounds. Did you know India is looking into implementing UBI into their system?

In Summary (If you don’t want to read all of the quotes):
UBI is becoming more desirable and being looked at by many different countries. Automation and silicon valley have a role to play in the emerging interest, as well as countries “experimenting” with it on a small scale. India might be the first to try this on a large scale, as they are opening up discussions about implementing it. From the research that has been done, people benefit greatly from the extra income, and typically don’t use it to buy drugs/alcohol, but use it instead as a way to ease the tension in their lives and pursue more meaningful things. Every country is different, so a UBI can’t really be talked about on a global scale. It should be talked about for specific regions and even occupations (ie: the medical world) that it could effect. As far as viability, Guy Standing makes the point that the US government was able to fund the quantitative easing of 475 trillion dollars – dollars that could’ve been spent on UBI. It’s possible for countries to do it, but they have to be open to moving money around. In America, a form of UBI is being done successfully in Alaska.

Here are some relevant quotes that I picked out of the discussion:

Guy Standing: [Starting the discussion]
“…We’ve been going through a period where we’ve been doing a lot of fundamental research on the feasibility, affordability and implications of a basic income, and for many years, we’ve been totally ignored. But in the last couple of years, there’s suddenly been a huge surge of interest – partly by a realization about automation. Now, I want to stress that that IS NOT my rationale for basic income. It never has been… but it’s quite useful because it’s made us more topical.” -Relates back to desirability issues

Guy also goes on to say that some of our metal health issues can be solved with basic income because it will take care of our security issues that we have. “What we’ve found in our pilots – I wish people would look at our evidence from our pilots – rather than continue with their views, covering thousands of people, and most fundamentally, we found that the emancipatory value of a basic income is greater than the money value. The point is that it gives people the sense of control of their time… so that the interest in learning grows higher than the values of just surviving…” – Something that people are concerned about is that people will get lazy if they receive a basic income. Guy’s studies show that people don’t take advantage of it, and even improve their health from not having to worry about “making ends meet.”

Ambitabh Kant: [about India’s Government]
“…So there’s a huge imbalance which is taking place – the technology evolution has moved much faster than the structuring & skill evolution of our people. And therefore my belief is that if we were to do away with the [current system India has] we should give universal basic income, but give it as a loan with interest free for a period of 3 years. But be sure that this money is re-paid and used to recycle for productive purposes, which will allow you to reach a vast amount of people in society.” -From watching Kant speak on India’s perspective, I think that he is very overwhelmed with the task of helping raise the poverty line in his country. He made the point that India isn’t like Norway, it’s larger and very diverse. He is afraid that there will be parasites of the money, if India gives it out freely, however he does admit that a UBI could be successful with the right conditions. In general, India has a lot to fix in terms of structure which kind of reminds me of the text we just read about Dark Matter.

Michael Sandel:
“We tend to think of work primarily as a source of income, a way of making a living, but of course, work is also a source of meaning and identity, a place in the world and a way of contributing to the common good… The debate about the basic income forces us to confront and debate what really is the point and purpose and social purpose of work. Listening to my colleagues on the panel, it strikes me that there are two very different arguments in the current debate about a UBI. There’s the ethical argument going back to Thomas Paine, and then there is the compensatory argument of silicon valley based on automation.

One might look at these two arguments and go “oh well they point in the same direction, so it doesn’t matter too much which one we embrace. However I think that would be a mistake. I think IT MATTERS A LOT what reasons, what rationale, what principal governance we embrace for the following reason:  …With the silicon valley argument – The message that it would send, the social meaning that it would promote would be: “Here is a side payment, a way of easing the way into a world without work, or a world where work is obsolete for a great many people. Which is another way of saying: “We’re gonna pay you off in exchange for accepting a world in which your contribution to the common good isn’t really required – and what you do with your time is your business.” …I think that would be corrosive of the sense of mutual obligation as well as the sense that we are mutually indebted to whatever success we enjoy.”  -I hope that silicon valley hears this message loud and clear.

Neelie Kroes:
“I fear that in politics, that this is just not pure and transparent in the argument – so the matter depends on if you’re left, right, and what else. …It’s not a matter that you can stop robotizing, and we shouldn’t! In an aging population, there are a lot of positives, but anyhow it’s difficult on a global scene talking about this principal, for that you have to be far more specific. It’s easier and better to talk about the more specific cases this will effect: like the medical world.” -Neelie has concerns about the transparency of the automation issue, and how it will effect regular people.

Guy Standing:
“If I can be blunt, the affordability question is one that is very easy to answer. And I mean it. Somehow, with quantitative easing, the US government was able to fund the quantitative easing of 475 trillion dollars. If that money had been used to pay a basic income, every American household could have been able to receive 56,000 dollars. That’s just one little example. I strongly believe that we must frame basic income as ”paid from Rentier capitalism and from Rentier-ism” because at the moment, the corruption of capitalism is primarily because of the returns to property and intellectual property. The rentier income from natural resources are going to a tiny minority, and we need to be sharing that. So something like the Alaska permanent fund or the Norwegian fund that was set up.”  -The discussion runs out of time, so the other speakers don’t have a chance to answer this question about affordability. However Guy seems to be quite sure that our government can afford it, and is currently wasting money in other areas. Neelie Kroes mentions that it is a different situation / solution for every country.

New Tech Research | Emily Schaefer

Artificial / Bionic Leaves

In June of this year, a conference called “The Annual Meeting of the New Champions” (held in China) highlighted the “…best technologies designed to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard the planet …within the next 3-5 years.” (Source)

The Annual Meeting was established in 2007 as “The foremost global gathering on science, technology and innovation…the next generation of fast-growing enterprises shaping the future of business and society.” (Source)

One of the projects from this meeting that I have chosen to highlight is Daniel Nocera’s “Artificial Leaves”, designed to turn CO2 into fuel. He has been working on a way to artificially simulate the photosynthesis process of plants for many years now, and is finally (I suppose within the next few years) ready to take his successful technological discoveries to the next level.


Here are the Who, What, When, Where and Whys about his project:

What is it?
Artificial / Bionic Leaves …
+ that reduce C02 emissions
+ that create fuel from hydrogen
+ that is a great way to store the energy until we need it.
+ that can help underdeveloped countries
+ that can help combat climate change

Who is doing the research?
Several researchers have been pursuing the goal of understanding and re-creating photosynthesis. The most notable are: David Nocera and his team at Harvard University, Chemist Fernando Uribe-Romo at the University of Central Florida and Research scientist Amin Salehi-Khojin & team at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

What is this capable of?
+ Removing / Reducing CO2 emissions from the air
+ Powering Homes
+ Providing Fuel for Cars
+ Providing energy for communities
+ Solving the challeges of solar and wind power
+ Increasing the production of crops

How will this be used in every day life?
Nocera imagines people using the technology to power their homes & sustain their lives. Beyond producing hydrogen and carbon-rich fuels in a sustainable way, he has demonstrated that equipping the system with a different metabolically altered bacterium can produce nitrogen-based fertilizer right in the soil, an approach that would increase crops yields in areas where conventional fertilizers are not readily available.

What are the risks?
We’re not sure how bacteria will evolve or how plants will be effected by the nitrogen-based fertilizer in the soil. How will it effect our food?

When will this become available?
Hopefully within the next few years.

Links & Sources
MIT Tech Review – “A Big Leap for an Artificial Leaf” (June 7th, 2016)

National Geographic – “Daniel Nocera: Maverick Inventor of the Artificial Leaf” (May 19th, 2014)

NBC News / Science – “Can ‘Bionic Leaf’ Solve our Climate, Energy Problems? (May 30th, 2017)

Videos to Watch:
“The Artificial Leaf” – Forward Focus Films 2nd Place Winner in 2012:

“Bionic Leaf Turns Sunlight into Liquid Fuel” -Harvard University Youtube Channel

Reading Response 3 | Emily Schaefer

Strategic design is used to find important questions surrounding a design problem/topic in order to create insights that can help evolve the eventual solution. It also looks at the context of how the design will be used which helps determine what the design will be and vice versa.

I think that a lot of design companies are “strategic” in their approach of design concepts for their clients, but there is a difference between being strategic and practicing strategic design according to Dan Hill. He states that the companies who practice strategic design take into account that sometimes the solution isn’t the design itself, but the structure of the system the design will be in. In other words, if you wanted to re-design an apple, instead of looking at the apple itself, you would want to take into account the whole tree planting processes, and re-design the orchard. This is what it means to recognize “dark matter” as a part of the design process.

Hill talks about how dark matter itself can be traced back to a company’s beliefs, values, heritage, environment, culture and structure. Basically, every company is different, and therefore their products are different. Changing a company’s identity would then also change the end result of the products the company makes. So if people hated a certain product, they would either need to look for a different company that sells a better version of that product, or find a way to change the first company’s ways, which as a consumer isn’t really possible. From the text:

“…You can’t design a transformative service without redesigning the organization, and this could only realistically be done from within an organization.”

With that, the fact that designers can’t really help a product reach it’s maximum potential if it belongs to the wrong company to support it, is something that I find particularly frustrating. For me, it’s hard to watch a big company break into a new market, and then squash the ideas/progress of the new brand they bought. If the larger company and smaller company don’t mesh well with their values and structure, the brands begin to suffer, and designers are then brought in to “help” this imbalance by distracting the consumers with beautiful design. Sometimes I feel like we’re asked to put makeup on a pig. However sometimes it’s a good thing like how Amazon was able to lower the prices at Whole Foods. (Link).

One thing I noted from the reading was how the team that built iPlayer had to bring it’s developers up to be at the “same level” as it’s designers and engineers, so that all 3 of the teams would have the same level of respect for each other. I thought it was an interesting shift of internal culture, because it takes a lot of guts for a company to acknowledge that certain teams aren’t working together effectively in the first place. On my first Co-Op, I witnessed a situation like this take place, when certain design teams acted like they were “higher on the totem pole” than others, which stunted the growth of design ideas and to further the products the company was trying to make. However, if all of the teams would have felt like they were on the same playing field, I’m sure that a lot of great progress would have been made.

Another thing that I found interesting was the section that talked about how everything in the world has already been designed, and can therefore be re-designed. It’s kind of crazy to realize that everything in our lives, like numbers, letters, time, our governments, countries, cities… it’s all been designed. Even though that’s true, I’m not sure that at this point, if we wanted to change any of those things, we could. Our systems are too complex to change, and I’m not sure if that to me is satisfying or scary.

Reading Response 2 | Emily Schaefer

Here is my attempt at summarizing the article “How Will Capitalism End?”:

Basically, people are talking about how Capitalism isn’t going so great, ever since the crash of the housing market in 2008. It’s kind of crazy to think that for most of my life, it has been “normal” for our economy to be wishy washy all the time. Even though people have the sense that it’s getting worse, we also can’t deny that we are 99.9% dependent on it. Capitalism is our modern crack cocaine, and despite some of its more harmful symptoms, our society has accepted to live with because we need it so badly. Three of those harmful symptoms that Wolfgang Streeck outlines are:

1. Declining economic growth
2. Piles of financial obligations that keep growing, which people have been ignoring for years
3. Economic inequality / Rising debt.

According to Streeck, all three of these things play off each other and make each other worse. He questions if this vicious circle of harmful tends can keep lasting forever. He also mentions that after the economic collapse of 2008, people were trying to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, and now that the economy has gone back to a more normal state, people are pretending it never happened.

All of this = Not Good.

In the end, Streeck predicts that Capitalism will end in chaos. Because of those three main things piling on top of each other, and many more problems, eventually there will be so many things happening that nobody will have a chance at fixing them. Also, Streeck makes the point that Capitalism currently has no “opponent” – AKA a strong reason for it to run itself better (Communism and Socialism aren’t even in the game to “compete” to overthrow Capitalism, and because of this, Capitalism has no pressure to do a better job.) Streeck suggests that instead of worrying about “who” has the power to replace the current system, to instead worry about the fact that the current system is already on it’s way to collapsing. At this point, we need to stop being in denial about the current system.

From the reading:
“The idea that less could be more is not a principle a capitalist society could honour; it must be imposed upon it, or else there will be no end to its progress, self-consuming as it may ultimately be. At present, I claim, we are already in a position to observe capitalism passing away as a result of having destroyed its opposition—dying, as it were, from an overdose of itself.”

(Also, now I feel better about my analogy to cocaine …”overdose of itself” …get it?)

Last semester I took an “Intro to Personal Finance” course, and learned a lot about financial world. My professor, Michael Neugent (who I highly recommend! I loved his class!), talked about rise of student debt, and how it’s a known fact that it’s not just a problem, but giant bubble that’s bound to burst similar to how the housing market did. I can’t help but think about how scary that is, and about how this article says that debt growth is one of the 3 main reasons for the collapse of our system. It’s so crazy!

I would definitely recommend the movie: “The Big Short” on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the story about how a few lucky guys predicted the housing market crash before it happened.

Reading Response 1 | Emily Schaefer

The first few chapters of Speculative Everything was a very inspiring read, and an excellent intro to the class and speculative design! The first chapter started by talking about the power of dreams, and how we can use them to look at how to progress our world through an imaginary lense. Dunne and Raby explain how they are interested in using “what if” questions in their design, to spark debate on what the future could look like, for better or worse. I really aligned with the statement that ideas are what we need today, more than ever. Something also that I found interesting was their talk about “Dark Design”. Dark Design aims to trigger shifts in perspective and under standing that open spaces for as-of-yet, unthought-of possibilities. I feel that as a motion designer, I play in the realm of dark design quite a bit, when trying to create a piece that makes the audience feel un-easy. What I didn’t know is that I could also use this skill in the realm of speculative design, and not just entertainment purposes. Another point that was presented is how “art” and critical design aren’t the same, even though they borrow ideas from each other. I find it a very hard line to draw between the two sometimes. On one end of the spectrum, if the idea you show is “too safe” people will dismiss it as art, and I feel that this is exactly the realm that we’re in as DAAP students. As a student, none of the end result projects are REAL enough to be speculative design, even if the project makes you think critically. I’m excited to see where this class takes us.

The Article: “Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?” written by Jason Hickel and Martin Kirk, is a bold piece that explains how our current system (capitalism) is being less accepted by young adults, who are looking for an alternative solution. The authors claim that our current leaders are misleading us to think that our search for a better system “isn’t possible” and that capitalism is the only answer. However, the numbers of us who believe that we can do better seem to be growing (as seen through polling). The part of this article that hit me the most was: “…What becomes clear here is that ours is a system that is programmed to subordinate life to the imperative of profit….It all proceeds from the same deep logic. It’s the same logic that sold lives for profit in the Atlantic slave trade, it’s the logic that gives us sweatshops and oil spills, and it’s the logic that is right now pushing us headlong toward ecological collapse and climate change.” Even though this is an obviously biased and persuasive piece, this paragraph in particular spoke a lot of truth, as money is the root of all evil, and coincidentally, is also the root of capitalism.

I feel that this cartoon accurately sums up the article by Hickel & Kirk. It hints at the over-use of natural resources, and how the older generation is leaving us behind to deal with the messes they left behind.