Dear Thesis… Press PLAY.
That’s how it began, at least my social media sharings about the process of writing my master’s thesis at Aalto University's IDBM program. I chose a topic that got me excited. Something I wanted to dig deep and learn more about, but that I knew enough to start working on. Something that I found having potential for my future career, but even if it didn’t, I would find it interesting to spend time on and really immerse myself in. Something that would benefit someone else besides myself too, although I did the work independently. My thesis was on the Value Of Speculative Design In Organizations – And How To Apply it. …my books finally arrived in the mail!
First, I will briefly share a bit on what speculative design is. Although I still sometimes struggle to pronounce that word, I chose it among other concepts that mean similar things, because I think it’s the most useful one; speculating alternatives for the status quo just makes so much sense to me, on many levels. Using design to translate ideas, so that we are collaboratively able to discuss them and their implications, even critique the ideas, is the simplest description I can give on speculative design.
The term was introduced by academics Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, who published a book called ‘Speculative Everything’ in 2013. Their book is where the spark of interest started for me, during the Industry Project course in the spring of 2021. I had a background as a multidisciplinary designer and I studied futures as my minor (through Aalto, from Finland Futures Research Center in Turku). The concept of speculative design hit a perfect niche between the two interests and two disciplines of mine.
To understand how speculative design is different from ’regular’ design, one needs to understand the context. Speculative design is based in the futures context. As mentioned, its purpose is to translate ideas, make abstract ideas tangible for discussions. And what is more abstract than the future?
Design, without the futures, is typically focused on solutions for current needs and problems. The current paradigm of design is therefore focused on user-centricity, which is a perfectly valid view, but if we want to search for alternatives, understand change or create something transformative, we need something different as a starting point.
Speculative design fuses methods from both design and foresight disciplines. Foresight studies changes and shifts and creates the future context where speculative design takes place. The future can take any shape or format; object, image, sketch or an experience. The idea is to really take that leap of faith and immerse into that future scenario where something is different and communicate that to others. To communicate a new idea in a compelling way is to root it back to the everyday environment. As is done in the example case of IKEA’s LITENGÅRD home-farm advertisement (image 1), which is not a product for sale, but an idea of a home garden utility.
Image 1. LITENGÅRD advertisement, The Life at Home Magazine issue 01, pp. 95, Copyright by Inter IKEA Systems B.V
Imagining and discussing alternatives is important and relevant, because in the bigger picture we are all living in the midst of turbulence; big changes going on in the society, the fast development of technologies and the unknowingness of what we really want to do with them, as well as global shifts and uncertainties that ultimately force us to make decision-making a bit more flexible. One way to approach this new era and tackle some of the uncertainties is to come up with multiple futures, scenarios and ideas and think of actorship and leadership towards those that are desirable and preferable ones. Because there are options that don’t look so preferable that we might end up with if we don’t intentionally consider better alternatives.
On a personal note, I think we humans only use a small capacity of our creative power; our brains, intuition and our imagination to really create and design a world that we want to live in. I am interested in ways of expanding that creative capacity and capability. I am also, among others, concerned about sustainability and ethical issues. However, I don’t think it’s always easy to be creative and critical at the same time. Somehow these two values of mine, are combined in the speculative design approach. It offers one way to expand and experiment, and then communicate and reflect on those extended thoughts. (to be continued...) Author: Emilia Kiialainen