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Top Takeaways from the Primer: Futures for All Conference

July 9, 2019 at 4:45PM
Top Takeaways from the Primer: Futures for All Conference

Established in 2015 by Phil Balagtas, Primer, an annual conference connecting the world with speculative futures, brings focus on the work and practice in the fields of speculative and critical design, design fiction, futurism, and strategic foresight. 

Speculative design is a new tool or a design niche for innovation which is broadening the scope to tackle the biggest issues in the society. Companies and entrepreneurs are adopting this tool to help them imagine all the possible futures that could be. These possible futures are lenses used to better understand the present, and what we want and don’t want to see in our future as a society. 

This year, Primer partnered with Parsons School of Design to create this year’s theme “Futures For All,” incorporating the importance of diverse perspectives and platforms to prepare us for the future. Encouraging the audience learn to think differently about the future, stereotypes, and design, the event showcased the role of design in several industries. This annual conference also featured speakers who were practitioners and educators from a variety of fields such as architecture, cosmetics, filmmaker, queer future, social innovation, and corporate. 

Here is our recap of the leading takeaways from our time at this conference:

1. Production vs. Perception

Speaker: Paola Antonellia Senior Curator of the department of Architecture & Design at MOMA

  • Paola suggested that we should reconceive what design is, which means to not only think about the form, function, and price, but also how the object is manufactured, where it was made, who was behind it, how it is going to die, where it is going to be used, and where it is going to end. 

  • She emphasized repairing strategies so we all can see stories behind objects, which can be as fascinating as a movie. This means reducing consumption, building trust, co-creating, involving nature, learning from material culture, linking systems, amending policies, and shaping citizens.

2. Letting the Future Emerge

Speaker: Manoj Fenelon (Associate Professor Strategic Design, Media Studies) at The New School and former Director of Pepsico Foresight & Innovation

  • Manoj shed light on how the idea of design has evolved beyond products.  Now with so much information around us, we as designers and individuals are getting confused and have started to ignore the necessary growth - he states that Speculative Design can be one way to simplify progressive innovation because it connects you back with the planet. For instance, Manoj claims we can use speculative design to create a future-forward solution for growing materials that are compatible with Earth. In other words, speculative design can help us address even bigger societal problems in a concrete manner. 

  • Design is not just growing; it is also essential for nurturing this world back with humanity, compassion, and universal ethics. Manoj concluded by saying right now all of us are living through a crisis of reality and we must aspire to a better future. 

3. When Speculative Design Needs To Look Pragmatic

Speaker: Tina Fung a designer at Meld Studios


  • Tina explained there are many benefits of Speculative Design but sometimes things need to be a little more pragmatic and tangible in the consulting space. For instance, without research, you are just guessing. Tina claimed that gathering research data is just half of the challenge of speculative design; the other part is sharing the collected information in order to have a shared vision.

  • Speculative design and futuring can help clients make confident decisions in times of uncertainty, understand the bigger picture, and most importantly identify gaps between aspiration and reality. With futuring, corporates should believe that individuals have the right and moral imperative to define what “good” looks like for themselves. 

As designers, innovators, and educators, we need to permit ourselves to speculate on alternative scenarios, opportunities, and possible problems in order to evaluate where the current developments are bringing us. To practice this tool, start asking questions such as: what is the most desirable future? What are the unethical implications? What is the most absurd situation? In 5 years? In 10 years? What can be achieved today for tomorrow? By creating a speculative brief, prototype, or props, ideas can be more easily communicated to business-driven clients and be fun to work with. For instance, to keep up with the future of technology, Microsoft, Google, and Apple hire sci-fi writers in order to accelerate their innovation curve, since science fiction doesn’t just predict the future, but also contemplates possible futures. Open Campus also offers courses in design thinking and forecasting to help individuals and professionals imagine and propose alternate future possibilities. With the power of design, what we envision in the present can define our future.

Learn more about Primer at 

Written by Surabhi Mittal for Open Campus

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