SPECULATION IN THE FIELD

There is always a mismatch between the designer's plan and the situation. As a way to explore means by which future infrastructures can be made ‘real’ in the sense of becoming present for experience, reflection and conversation,  I used the drone and its postbox to collaboratively stage and perform imaginary futures in order to bring them closer to the realm of shared lived experience. 

With the help of colleagues, we simulated the arrival of a parcel by placing the big red postbox in the front yards of Floda's inhabitants and flying the drone around their houses. The staging  lasted approximately 6 hours. During the day we had six encounters in total, which included engagement with both individuals and groups, and people of different ages and cultural backgrounds, including owners and employees of the local logistic node. 

The staging of the speculative concept allowed us to probe into a community and its environment. This offered us an impression of what the collective experience and agency of a future infrastructure might be and, in a relatively short time, get a glimpse of the complexity of relations, attitudes and mediations otherwise difficult to sense. 

By providing an ‘experience’ of a future service configuration— bringing a future system as close and present as possible to real life conditions — future users can thoroughly perceive and judge the qualities and motivations that guided its design. Through this type rehearsal designers can engage publics and experts in a discussion about what they understand as a preferable configuration, opening up their design to a diversity of interpretations, uses and contextual factors.

 

DESIGN AS A WAY OF QUESTIONING

Prototyping services and their business models in the field is way to navigate complexity, offering a type systemic awareness that is otherwise impossible to gain through accustomed design methods. The use of  speculative prototypes in the field provides a quite different knowledge form other forms of field research and prototyping in the studio or in the lab, where 'use' 'experiences' and functionalities are still largely defined —despite all the fieldwork and participatory work they can be informed by— 'before real use' can actually take place.

By staging service concepts in the field, designer can explore desired qualities and functionalites of future products and interfaces, but also anticipate possible consequences and mediations of the future systems. Possible risks, misuses and undesired effects of the future system's implementations become relatable and observable, allowing designers to anticipate undesired effects their design by 'feeling around the corner'. Through an 'open' and 'iterative' dialogue between the materials and the situation, prototypes evolve through their interaction with the the field, its future users and contextual factors.

Different interfaces interactions can be tested and prototyped to expose and question possible controversies the future system might trigger. In this way designers and experts from other disciplines with the necessary knowledge to properly configure and attune interactive and automated systems to their context of use, defining their functionalities 'through use'. 

 The layers of complexity the drone-postbox project addresses. 

 The layers of complexity the drone-postbox project addresses. 

 

A POST-INDUSTRIAL DESIGN APPROACH

This type of systemic knowledge and sensibility is strategically relevant. Digital technologies are altering the relation between activities and locations, interfaces and infrastructures, making the impact of product and services to extend beyond identifiable uses, locations and communities of practices. At the same time we don't live in a manufacturing economy but in a service and information one where digital manufacturing and information technologies are changing the undermining established forms of production, organization and access to resources. 

In this context "industrial" design planning and development methods, conceived to serve the needs of defined target groups through homogenous products and styles inevitably lacks the flexibility contextual sensitivity required today. This new complexity requires designers to learn how to work across networks, scales, locations and communities of practice.  

In an age of mass customization and digital manufacturing understanding what the 'ultimate commodity' (the DNA) of a an always different, adaptive and customizable product or service will be strategically critical to ensure competitiveness.  The type of process and interventions described above might provide a way to understand what the 'essence' of this products and services   – their replicable and scalable component – and how they can be re-appropriated in different situations.