The Future had its inaugural event from 3-4 November in Dublin, organised by the former co-director of creative festival Offset, and its remit was simple: to explore the ideas, attitudes and innovations that will affect the design industry in years to come. Around 70 speakers took to four stages, ranging from design studios – many from Ireland and others further afield – to trend forecasters, ad agencies, and big name designers like Stefan Sagmeister and Paula Scher, plus It’s Nice That founders Alex Bec and Will Hudson, to share their take on the future. Interpretations were eclectic but generally offered a refreshing point of difference to typical talks that focus on existing work and hindsight, with many presenting analysis and predictions for the shifts in creativity and wider culture. Here we’ve picked out a few highlights and interesting takeaways.
Lorna Ross, Fjord Dublin
Lorna Ross, director of design agency Fjord’s Dublin studio, kicked off her talk talking about her obsession with photos of “desire paths” on the internet. Google the term, she says, and you’ll discover countless times when humans created more efficient shortcuts to their destination. She used this as an analogy for how we should approach the creative process. “Design is about paying attention to what people are already doing.”
She continued that “designers are being asked to do increasingly difficult things,” as a direct result of changing eras of society, from a manufacturing economy to an experience economy, attention economy, sharing economy, and now a data economy. Members of her team are working in emerging technologies and experimenting with their job roles – for example, one staff member is a synthetic personality architect, designing what robots say and how they say it.
Lorna also touched upon the agency’s acquisition by Accenture, and commented that Facebook, Google and Amazon have grown their art and design headcount by 65%, showing a widespread investment in design by multinational tech companies. They’ve realised, she says, that “design needs to unlock the transformative potential of new technology”.
Will Rowe, Protein
Protein founder Will Rowe presented trends based on statistics and examples from its recent report. One of these focused on young people’s trust of institutions, finding that only 22% of millennials trust brands, and only 28% trust the media. “With the commercialisation of political issues, 35% [of Gen Z] think it’s positive but misses the mark,” Will said. “It comes down to authenticity.” He referred to brands who’ve succeeded, such as Getty, which commissioned photographer Campbell Addy to produce a series addressing diversity in stock imagery; and Absolut, which continued its long history of supporting LGBTQ rights with campaign Kiss With Pride.
This was echoed by The Future Laboratory’s Trevor Hardy later on, who stated that “60% of Gen Z support brands that take a stand on issues they feel strongly about, and take a civic role”.
Will also talked about how the virtual is merging with reality, and how brands are adapting, referring to Lil Miquela: “The archetypal Instagram star who goes to all the right parties, has a record label, a fashion line – the only difference is she doesn’t exist, she’s an avatar.” He also mentioned Alex Hunter, a virtual character in Fifa who just signed a sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola; and Google Pixel and Boiler Room’s VR dancefloors project.
Technology Will Save Us
Demonstrating its latest release, the Mover Kit, Technology Will Save Us spoke about the importance of offering kids off-screen fun. “Technology is closed to our generation,” said founders Bethany Koby and Daniel Hirschmann. “We don’t know how to fix it, it’s not a creative platform. But tech isn’t novel to kids now. They’re fearless about tech. We had a kid, and we were shocked at how pink and blue the toys still are. They don’t engage or empower kids, or help them to see what they’re capable of.”
Tech Will Save Us makes DIY kits for kids to learn making and coding skills, in line with the STEAM approach to education. There is a STEAM Barbie, Bethany said, “but a doll in a pencil skirt and glasses isn’t going to inspire a generation with the practical skills for the future”. The company was also instrumental in the design of the BBC’s Microbit, which aimed to inspire a generation of digital makers, and so far has seen a 9% increase in kids saying they would study ICT/Computer Science, and a massive 23% increase in girls doing so.
Dividing opinion but drawing a crowd, as always, Stefan Sagmeister didn’t exactly stick to the “future” brief with his talk. He did, though, talk about how he believes beauty is becoming culturally important again after 50 years of modernist principles ruling design. “These economic modernists used modernism to pollute our earth with urbanist blocks,” he said, blaming architects Adolf Loos, author of Ornament and Crime, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier for “telling the world what it should look like” – which resulted in many cheap and “ugly” uses of modernism to save property developers money. “There is a joke that goes, ‘what is the difference between God and Le Corbusier? God never thought he was Le Corbusier’.”
Stefan also conducted what he called the Mondrian Test on the audience, asking for a show of hands on which of two images was the real Mondrian. “It’s never less than 85% of audiences that recognise the real one,” he claimed, explaining his inference that people instinctively know real beauty. “Form follows function is bullshit. Beauty has a function too.” He also referred to New York’s Highline as an example of beauty’s impact on behaviour. “It’s one of the most successful and influential buildings in post war America. There has not been a single crime on the Highline. I’ve never seen a single piece of trash. That is a direct result of its beauty. And right now there are around 16 projects worldwide trying to emulate its design.”