PPRoreosﬂjieeticcottniosn&s Of Project Premises, Mindframes, Ideal Situations, Project and Personal Reﬂections
Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau Project Positions and Reﬂections Contents 3 Foreword 5 Project Premise 7 Project Mindframe 8 In Ideal Situations 10 Project Reﬂections 15 Personal Reﬂections
Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau 44
Foreword Researchers within the ﬁeld of Critical Design (CD) 5 have argued for its adaptation as a mode of design practice and not just design research. However, the ambiguity of CD in practice is an unestablished conundrum that seeks to be excavated. Through studying research frameworks that focus on futures thinking that aligns with CD’s speculative and provocative nature, the paper con- siders such frameworks analytically to arrive at an optimised guided workﬂow. It hopes to be an easy reference for future researchers interested in the idea of Participatory Imagining that resides with- in CD; allowing them to have a better ground at approaching the ﬁeld as a practice. Means of primary research were conducted in the form of interviews from CD scholars and prac- titioners in order to seek for a nuanced, balanced view on the issue and the necessity of such an intervention. From the research gathered, it is recognised that while such clarity is needed, such structures should not be relayed as strict adhesions; and instead be seen as malleable guides for further considerations for the designer to build his own processes of inquiries on.
Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau Project Premise Critical Design (CD) primarily emphasises on “present, social, cultural and ethical implications of design objects and practice”, in this case crit- ical graphic design, with an intention “to engage the imagination and intellect of the audience to convey message.” The ﬁeld emphasizes the role of design in educating users on the need for active citizenship and involvement. CD posits that designers lose the notion of idealism, for design processes to be guided by values shaped from one’s worldview and how it should inﬂuence the ways we appreciate and discern reality. CD has always been used in strains of speculative design about the future; through such, it expands design opportunities and possibilities by challenging ideological barriers and encour- aging the process of personal confrontation with real world issues – designers invested in critical thinking are better positioned to deliver more conscious products. However, CD has recently come under criticism from critics who claim that the ideology is too eccentric and narrow, and that all designs are already some form of future design. Research- ers Bardzell and Bardzell mention that since CD is meant to be a mode of design research and not
just of a design practice, it should “feature a set of 7 described methods and practices that allow others to pursue a similar approach.” The research paper was focused on Bardzell’s argument that CD as a methodology would require the means of frame- works to establish itself; the paper does not critique the ambiguity that resides within design outcomes but instead provide the practice with some form of clarity in its mode of practice. Through studying research frameworks that focus on futures thinking that aligns with CD’s speculative and provocative nature, the researcher thus arrived at an optimised guided workﬂow as a culmination of my paper. This hopes to serve as an easy reference for future researchers interested in the idea of Participatory Imagining that resides within CD, allowing them to have a better ground at approaching the ﬁeld as a practice. A possible output of the workshop is an online repository of exercises that would serve to aid in this purpose. From the research gathered via CD scholars and practitioners, it is recognised that while such clarity is needed, such structures should not be relayed as strict adhesions. It should instead be seen as malleable guides for further considerations for the designer to build his own processes of inqui- ries on. The format of the workshop with the context
Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau of the Anthropocene thus serves as a suitable platform in helping to think about futures employ- ing the guided workﬂow that is appropriated into this workshop. It is to note that, again, the workshop is a brief introduction to the guided workﬂow for conscientious creatives or designers willing to take it on as the start of a practice. References Bardzell, Jeffrey, and Shaowen Bardzell. “What Is ‘Critical’ about Critical Design?” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ‘13, 2013, doi:10.1145/2470654.2466451. Drucker, Johanna. “The Critical ‘Languages’ of Graphic Design.” Graphic Design History in the Writing (1983-2011), by Sara de Bondt, Occasional Papers, 2014, pp. 189–196. Dunne, Anthony, and Raby, Fiona. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. MIT Press, 2014. Jakobsone, Liene. “Critical Design as Approach to next Thinking.” The Design Journal, vol. 20, no. sup1, 2017, doi:10.1080/14606925 .2017.1352923. Laranjo, Francisco. “Critical Graphic Design: Critical of What?” Design Observer, 2014, designobserver.com/feature/critical-graph- ic-design-critical-of-what/38416. Malpass, Matt. “Contextualising Critical Design: Towards a Taxonomy of Critical Practice in Product Design.” Nottingham Trent University. Malpass, Matt. Critical Design in Context: History, Theory and Prac- tice. Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.
Project Mindframe Designers need to know that even with the most 9 possible imagining, they need to be aware that it requires a lot of criteria to be met in order for it to be actualised.While the workshop does not tackle the deﬁned idea of criticality, there is a need to real- ise that criticality is a ﬂuid and subjective term. The very format of a participatory imagining workshop is a means to gather people to posture futures and thereby possible discourse - this exempliﬁes that even if the means of making things and coming up with ideas that might be far-fetched, the act of making things and thinking of ideas is inherently critical in itself. Workshop, Actual Run, March, 2020. There is also a need to realise that there is a surge in speculative projects out there, but there is in itself an inherent need for sense-making and being reﬂective about the ideas that come about such initiatives, and in a way the workshop, while seemingly similar to a format of rapid prototyping,
allows for us a platform to be critical about the initial ideas and the consequent impacts about our imaginings. In more practical terms, the allowing for assumptions and quick modes of research allow for a more manageable duration of the workshop, for it to run at a more suitable pace where the potentials of multiple ideas may take place. Workshop, Trial Run, February, 2020. Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau
In Ideal Situations In ideal cases where limitations are kept to a minimal and resources are plentiful, the workshop would run with people that are CD practitioners, design practitioners keen on employing CD as their 11 practice, and ﬁts the role of an individual who is concerned about the effects of the Anthropocene and climate change. This ideal scenario of a partic- ipant pool will fulﬁll all the project requirements on who the guided workﬂow is meant for, and what the context to which the workﬂow is applied for. Workshop, Actual Run, March, 2020. In addition, if time permits, the workshop would run for longer periods of time. For instance, stages of the workshop could span for days, intensifying the breadth and depth of the body of research premise. This means the expanded poten- tial for even phases such as actualising prototypes and prooﬁng for errors. This would also mean for a deeper knowledge pool and more established
Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau imaginings that may be a consequent of the workshop. The workshop could have been done differently with more detailed forms of user testing. It could also be run by a larger group of people who are focused on different areas of improvement. That setting of an investigative bureau, in actual sense, would be most plausible in this scenario. In another sense, the workshop could take on a different form for conscientious creatives or designers willing to take it on as the start of a practice. For instance, it could take place as a workﬂow for an individual’s practice instead of modes of participatory forms. One would, in this case, dedicate ample and the maximum required amount of time to establish both breadth and depth of the body of research. It could poten- tially also serve as a potential area of academic research, to which needs a heavier body of investment. Note: These considerations for ideal contexts to which the project might manifest is a consequent analysis of the workshop outcomes that were run in the trial mode and the actual mode.
Project Reﬂections Trial Run After the trial run, participants became more aware about the higher potentials about setting 13 Possible Futures as the type of futures to widen and deepen the scope of such Participatory Imagining exercises. They are also more aware of their auton- omy as creatives in the exercise. Some of them have also realised that imaginings have no means of accuracy or direct application to the actual world, but there is value in sense-making by means of comparison to the real world as it engages Workshop, Trial Run, February, 2020. in our critical thinking – “by focusing on propositions rather than solutions, artists and designers can challenge heroic, solutionist and masculinist narratives of the Anthropocene, instead provoking dark discussions and radical thought experiments. In doing so, art and design that seeks to address the Anthropocene is able to go beyond
Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau geological aesthetics and the “rhetoric of decline” to do the work of philosophy”. There could perhaps be a brief discussion of why these few categories of climate change were chosen to start with, such as stating that they were the speciﬁc impacts that were decided upon by the National Climate Change Secretariat of Singapore. It is common that workshops might not start on time due to latecomers. Its not something that we have a control over. There have been measures to encourage people to come earlier in larger scale conferences/seminars by announcing an earlier timing or providing refreshments; this may not be possible for a student-led workshop and that is ok. Sometimes, people don’t show up too. This happens a lot when its not a paid work- shop since there is no sunk cost to do so. And again, for a student-led workshop that’s ok but its good to know the challenges for the conduct of such events. On less tangible issues, certain nuances could also be improved on. For instance, lights could perhaps be switched on while they are working on their own - otherwise it can feel a bit sleepy for the participants. The ‘sensing of the
room’ and the general quietness of it is also import- 15 ant as it indicates whether exercises should move on if there are queries. Time management of each exercise also ensures that it is within the stipulated duration and participants will not be too stretched by the end of it. Workshop, Trial Run, February, 2020.
Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau Actual Run After the trial run, participants generally are more aware of possible inclusions of criticality within design projects, especially those that are in the strain of Critical Design (graphic). Previously, participants thought it was primarily a mode of thinking, but now it appears to be more a system or diagrammatic process of thinking through real-world contexts. While in the context of this workshop Critical Design may seem to be more of a system or diagrammatic process of thinking through real-world contexts, it is crucial to think of it speciﬁc to the parameters of this workshop, which are rooted to certain speciﬁca- tions and contexts – these may be different of ideas of which criticality may exist more commonly assumed. While the workshop appears as very much grounded in factual research at almost every step and is a ﬁne balance between imagination and feasibility, the key takeaway should be the ethos of not being bound by circumstance, that ideas should manifest in a way that may be considered healthy for both the designer and audience. While ideas of criticality are ﬂuid and differ from person to person, the workshop uses speciﬁcations as sensible limitations to make sure that ideas and
outcomes are speciﬁc to a context; it is more about how participatory modes of design may exist, espe- cially so in the strain of futures thinking and positing. 17 Workshop, Actual Run, March, 2020. Participants have also highlighted their thoughts after the workshop, which is really look- ing at and thinking about possibilities and how to overcome certain hurdles through thinking via imagining and making. They do this in realising that while not everything is possible or feasible, they can still imagine solutions for them, and being compre- hensive in terms of what is feasible or possible and writing down certain assumptions allow us to keep those things in mind but it does not limit us from thinking further out of the box. This in itself is a manifestation of an alterna- tive and guided approach to Critical Design in the format of Participatory Imagining. They have also realised that multiple perspectives on an idea in
Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau critical design is important, so that one does not remain too focused on self-validation, and that constructive and vested conversations and idea sharing really helps build ideas. As a result, there is a consequential shift in initial assumptions versus current thoughts – critical thinking in design shouldn’t be limited by current possibilities but as long as it provokes thought, it is still fruitful to a certain extent. For some participants, the process of coming up with imaginings was very help- ful - having read on speculative projects has astounded them to question how designers come up with ideas like that: this workshop provides as a more concrete way of speculating about design. They added on that if it was an individual effort, it might be difﬁcult to start if they simply read about it online – reafﬁrming the research objective of the workshop, which is to establish a resource or guided nuance for people to have an easier start with Critical Design, speciﬁcally so in the strain of Participatory Imagining. Note: These reﬂections were a consequent result based off surveys done pre- and post-workshop, also including brief talks that trans- pired between the organiser and the participants.
Personal Reﬂections Trial Run To be really honest, These comments were a lot 19 to take in at the start, especially when the whole of the workshop took away so much of my emotional and mental energy - it has truly been a while since I have felt so drained. However, the fact that the trial run was not perfect bugged me a whole lot, and I guess somehow intrinsically I was not ready to let that go. Workshop, Trial Run, February, 2020. Speaking to peers who believed in me, then reassured me that should I do an actual run of the workshop, that the outcomes will be a proof of the stark difference between the before and after, showing ideas of criticality: there is proof in itself that if I were to hold the workshop again (because at this stage I had no energy to want to even con- sider running an actual run) and with the consider- ing the suggestions for improvement, in itself is
Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau proof that it works as a lesson plan. Joe’s bf also suggested looking at his prof’s work in SUTD, Design in the Anthropocene, to consider maybe sitting in his class or to ask him of improvements on how to conduct classes related to the Anthropocene. While this was a possibility, I consulted Stan to reveal that the prof’s stance on design might be that of engineer- ing vs mine, which sits on the speculative spec- trum. I then reconsidered the alternatives to which I can run the workshop with more preparations and not tiring myself out. For instance, I can test it out with an audience periodically to gain conﬁ- dence in speaking on stage. I can also project a script on the wall behind, or to get a teaching assistant to help with the presentation. In the end, I decided to play the brieﬁngs in a video format as a different form of engage- ment, and establish the manifesto at the start, as well as providing some project origins with content from my paper, establishing that the workshop is a means to test the guided workﬂow to help shape our thoughts. There is also possibil- ity to include Singapore’s stance with her Budget 2020 in talking about the issue. A referenced improvement from the SUTD prof’s module to exercise two is to design with
speciﬁc contexts: (i) designing with living systems 1 (human-beings); (ii) designing with living systems 2 (more-than-human agencies and other ecosys- tems); (iii) open systems and incomplete design; (iv) large-scale sociotechnical systems 1: Smart Cities; (v) large-scale sociotechnical systems 2: Artiﬁcial 21 Intelligence; (vi) large-scale sociotechnical systems 3: Climate change adaptations; (vii) design ethics. The other learning point is, while more easily said than done, is to take comments objectively and separate from the person. As I am writing this in retrospect, I realised that I may have been too proud of my process so far, that when the initial waves of comments poured in I was more affected by them than ever - being humble has been my motto to working these days, and maybe I have lost it in the midst of chasing after ideal circumstances in school. Workshop, Trial Run, February, 2020.
Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau Actual Run I honestly feel that this time round, that I need to go into the setting of the workshop with a quiet, and steady heart. Because for all I know, despite my efforts to make this a more accomplished round of the workshop, the results that turn out from it might be exactly the same again. This does not mean that there will not be any learning points, that I reckon. However, I just need to be in the right headspace and frame of mind to execute it as best as I can; what comes after is not up to my control. Innately, of course, I would want the work- shop to go well. The trial run really did a damage to myself, and some of the peers’ expectations of my work. While honestly not wanting to fall into that same pithole, I recognise that such a situation might surface again:a resolute heart may be the right way to go. In lieu of such, I have also been taking this week slowly and less hastened on myself, as long as I meet the required milestones for each day. Ira Glass’ quote keeps resurfacing, and I’ve been watching the video on loop for a while now. Perhaps I should reward myself when the actual run is over... Hm. I remember the previous night that I was on the verge of breaking down again, because I
was thinking to myself that it might be hard to get 23 back up again should the outcomes of the actual run be as detrimental as it was in the trial. I tried to do all the things I run to for safety, drinking milk and sleeping early and being in the right ‘vibe’ or frame of mind before the next day came. And somehow, as I am now reﬂecting on the whole process of the actual run, that everything turned out well. As much as the actual run was not perfect (hardly anything could ever be), it received much positive feedback, more so than the trial ever was. Workshop, Actual Run, March, 2020. I went in, quiet, but steady. The people I had invited were those whom I could trust, those I could really be open and receptive in feedback about. Perhaps that added onto my sense of conﬁ- dence and the honesty to be truly myself around them. The video presentation, as much as it was unconventional, received ample support. At the end of the workshop, I can only describe the experience as Godsent, that I am only beyond thankful for the things that have transpired, lest I would not have
been able to achieve what I had done without the amazing support from these people. At the end of it, as much as I was on the verge of zoning out (again), I managed to use the remainder of my mind and concentration to pull through the critique session with feedback to the participants, to which I genuinely felt for and reso- nated within. All is well. I could not have asked for more. Singapore’s Anthropocenic Futures: Investigative Bureau
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PPRoreosﬂjieeticcottniosn&s Of Project Premises, Mindframes, Ideal Situations, Project and Personal Reﬂections