Postcards from the future: Known Unknowns

Postcards from the future

27th November 2017
by Marcus Swan

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On the 3rd and 4th of November we made our way to the RDS and immersed ourselves in the future – a head-spinning, brain-popping, back-aching new festival that we were happy to be part of. As it was the first year it almost had the feel of a large scale prototype that made the audience an active rather than passive part of the event. Less tightly curated, more informally presented, speakers fighting for attention and visitors left to work it out for themselves. With this in mind we wanted to capture some of the ideas that stuck with our community before it becomes ‘the past’. We’ll post these ‘postcards from the future’ over the next two weeks. Offering a mix of viewpoints and responses to the event that hopefully help us make sense of where design is and where it’s going. Our first postcard is from Marcus Swan.

The future, the unknown. We all stumble towards it, making the most of our choices now with the hope that at the very least they will not be a total disaster in the days, weeks and years to come. Like Hamlet’s “undiscovered country”, or Donald Rumsfeld’s “Known Unknowns” it can be a metaphorical place to fear, a path that with too much thinking can lead to paralysis and indecision. To playing it safe.

A new festival in Dublin for the design and creative community should then be a place to explore and investigate new ideas, to listen to and meet new people from different disciplines. Is that not what being a designer is about?

It seems that a lot of the people I met over the two days were sticking to speakers within their own lane – graphic designers to see other graphic designers; “UX-ers” to see whatever other “UX-ers” are calling themselves this year; everyone going to see Paula Scher… again… (We’re getting close to the amount of times we can have a Pentagram partner at one of these festivals, right?)

Not enough designers I met seemed to want to reach outside their comfort zone, to go beyond their known knowns into the scary realm of known unknowns – the breadth of work form Dr Nelly Ben Hayoun, the restrained but beautiful modern humanism of Ilse Crawford, the research-led speculation of The Future Laboratory, or any of the speakers outside of the disciplines generally covered here in the 100 Archive.

For instance the crowd at Adrian Newey was half-empty, a shame for a speaker who rarely makes public appearances and also comes at design in a way that is on one hand incredibly traditional but on the other is at the bleeding edge of human experience. “Not my cup of tea” was the response from a fellow designer who upped sticks about two minutes into the interview. Two minutes isn’t even enough time to brew a decent cuppa.

Our jobs as designers (of all disciplines) is to engage and understand a person/company/industry/topic that we maybe have little-to-no prior knowledge of and offering a response to it, in one form or another, right? So surely we designers would be open to listening to different viewpoints when interesting people are presented to us. At least it would give us something else to moan about in the pub afterwards instead of whether Sagmeister did or didn’t show a picture of his mickey…

The irony of going to The Future, but staying stuck in your own past. Let’s hope that at least the choices we make in the Future 2018 lead to something beyond our imaginings or at goes beyond what we already know, or what we think we don’t know.

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