Design Fiction to the rescue of a post-Covid vision?

version française

The current period reminds us violently, more than ever that the future is « VUCA » that is to say according to this famous army (warrior) acronym now passed in the managerial language: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Yet with Artificial Intelligence we felt we had certain predictability, whether for the rate of occupancy of hotel rooms or the consumption of ice cream. However, essentially short-term focus, algorithms mostly feed a managerial approach to the future. They can anticipate or even influence future behaviours with the aim of optimizing resources, turnover. This facility to be set on of automatic pilot has put any longer-term vision on the back burner.

Of course, there is climate change, which, according to the models of scientific projections, induces a rapidly degrading future. An outcome that seems abstract and distant to us and against which companies, governments and individuals are mobilizing at different levels of urgency. It’s hard to initiate a change when you don’t have to do it yet.
This is where the Covid19 crisis appears, an unpredictable event of unprecedented magnitude reminiscent of the « black swan » theory of essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb. An event that such as its illustrious predecessors (Internet, the fall of the wall, the attacks of September 11,) profoundly upsets the world puts many certainties back on the table. Including thinking you can predict the future.

Environmental or health crisis have the same effect. It is difficult to project into the longer
term, especially since it is anxiety inducing, an insoluble problem. Utopias are replaced by
dystopias, the background of series. A vision of the catastrophic future, with no way out,
blocking any alternative dream. All that remains is hope; hope that the crisis will be resolved as if by miracle. An irresponsible attitude especially for companies.
So what if we can no longer anticipate the future with serenity? There is a lot of talk about
resilience, agile approaches that allow companies to respond to unforeseen events while
keeping focus on their core values.

Since the 1970s and the oil crisis, Shell scenarios have been exploring plausible futures with the aim of evaluating these alternatives that would arise in the longer term. They allowed Shell to anticipate the environmental crisis as early as the 1980s. While it is deplorable that these scenarios have only resulted in greenwashing as a response to climate issues, they have the merit of engaging the debate with all stakeholders. They were therefore able to make decisions by exploring and assessing the implications of each scenario.

Design Fictions is another tool to explore possible future alternatives in order to define and contribute to a desirable future. Theorized by designer Julian Bleecker in 2009 and publicized through the work of Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, Design Fiction uses design as a medium to stimulate debate about the implications of our social, political or technological choices.

This approach goes far beyond a critique of the present world to open the field of possibilities in complete freedom, without taboos or constraints of reality, since it is fiction! Science fiction and fiction in particular have never been more popular for their ability to anticipate the threats that our contemporary lifestyles entail. Science fiction finds its followers in business, as Michel Pébereau, interviewed in an issue of the journal Enterprises and History devoted to SF, attests. This former BNP executive says he
finds in the heroes of these stories the abilities of an entrepreneur, that is to say to adapt to
strange situations, to understand the logic to decide. For the reader this stimulates, even forces him to open his imagination, to consider all possible, because there are no limits. Design fiction aims at the same effect.

By using design, i.e. the formalization of a scientifically acceptable artefact, object or
scenario, the user is confronted with a tangible alternative reality. While the reader of an SF novel and even more the viewer of a series remain passive, the user of even a fictional object is in the interaction. He’s submerged and therefore it does affect him directly. The strength of Design Fictions lies in this ability to provoke debate.

By opening alternative paths, going off the beaten track, necessarily imperfect, nonconsensual they are allowing to dream, to use your imagination, to venture into the unknown. Experts have the right to suspend their judgment, temporarily. Often formulated with the « What if? » formula, these are open questions, disturbing assumptions constructed to arouse reactions from those who face them. And the desirable future can therefore imagine itself, to be built together by contrast, rejection or inspiration of these hypotheses. The challenge is not to predict the future, we have seen that it is a futile exercise, but to allow again ourselves to dream of these possible futures.

Many hopes are circulating on social networks that this crisis will also be an awareness to
build a better world. “It will have to…” “review quickly …” “relocate … “. Injunctions, at this stage, are too abstract to open the imagination and constitute a real debate. What if we
considered the post-Covid through Design Fictions?

An exploration to follow under #postcovidFiction

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