Speculative Design Prototyping for Emergent Media with John Crawford

Professor John Crawford, the Emergent Media Design Lab, University of California, Irvine, is leading the Living Systems Art + Design Collaboratory. The Collaboratory is supporting artists who are creating work that is exploring embedding living systems into the way that we are perceiving our more-than-human world and our connection with it.

Speculative Design Prototyping for Emergent Media with John Crawford — Transcript on Otter.ai

In the Collaboratory, we were exploring several concepts that were emerging through the shared experience of connecting through digital technologies to witness John Crawford experimenting with emerging media and demonstrating the possibility and freedom to embrace failure as part of the process of being an artist, designer, professor, and human.

  • Miro
  • Amsterdam
  • Art
  • Ideas
  • Prototyping
  • Emergent
  • Media
  • Design
  • Lab
  • Artists
  • Speculative design
  • Inventing
  • Narrative
  • Science fiction
  • Human experience
  • Story
  • Participants
  • Living Systems
  • Simulations
  • Experience together
  • Gestalt
  • Incubation
  • Artifacts
  • Aesthetics
  • Questions
  • Failure
  • Technology
  • Beta versions
  • Environment
  • Explore
  • Possibilities
  • Complex system
  • Change shift
  • Deep simplicity
  • Shifting from linear to non-linear
  • Cognitive living system
  • Minimum effort

We were defining terms such as emergent media. John explained, “Emergent media to me is media that is on the cusp of being used for new purposes and new ideas. My Emergent Media Design Lab is investigating ways that we can use essentially the tools and techniques of the 21st century for art making, and also connecting out with various aspects of design thinking. Our approach really, then, is to say these emergent media tools are the tools that are available to us, not just to us as is in other words, we’re not so much going in and using a tool like Final Cut Pro or Adobe After Effects, or even Miro for that matter, for the purposes for which they might have been originally intended, often for solving a design problem, but we want to use these tools to create art, that is, in and of the toolset itself, but then takes it further. So another way of thinking of all this is to think about the notion of the artists’ medium. And there’s been discussion over the past 40 or 50 years in the new media art community about this notion of creating the medium or inventing the medium. And so, emergent media art is what we’re doing as we’re inventing the media that we are using with that technology as a substrate or base.”

In answer to the question, “How do we differentiate speculative design and design? Speculative design is obviously an aspect of design, it's an area or an approach, but speculative design brings in new or additional concepts that sometimes aren’t traditionally a part of the designers toolset. Think about narrative, for example. It’s a well-trodden path for designers to use narrative as part of the design process. We write user stories. We ask people to tell us about their experience in a narrative way.”

“‘First I did this and I did this.’ ‘Here’s how I felt. Here’s what I thought. Here’s the next steps.’”

“Speculative design, obviously, uses all of those same approaches but takes it one step further, maybe more into the realm of science fiction. Think of this idea of speculative narrative, narrative that not only tries to predict what might happen in the future, but really—more importantly—to speculate about it, to look forward, think about how these ideas might blossom and develop in a future context. So speculative design is partly the art of the possible, which is one way of thinking, design, but it's also partly the art of the impossible—or maybe the improbable—looking to where we might provide some opportunities for new thinking and new ideas based on these new concepts.”

Speculative design is exploring how we manifest ideas not simply as devices or tools or approaches to solve problems.

“I think we’re shortchanging ourselves as artists because, of course, artists are able in some way to respond to an intuitive, a hidden drive, a Gestalt that can't necessarily be put into words in a design brief.”

What is the process of speculative design? What are the ideal phases of prototyping for speculative design, and what are the parameters to successfully prototype?

Well, I think one nice model is a three phase approach:

  • Incubating an idea
  • Prototyping the idea
  • Presenting the idea in a broader public context

“We’re going to be encouraging you to actually create artifacts that will live in the world independently of your project, works of art, essentially, that can be out there, exhibited, presented, and, of course, presented with you as part of them as living systems participants, but also, perhaps, can live on their own in a way that might extend the reach of this whole concept.”

Questions and Aesthetics

“I’m really posing now a set of new questions that we can consider. I would advocate for us, evaluating the success or the strength of the project coming out of the Living Systems Collaboratory really from a framework of aesthetics, as opposed to a framework of efficacy.”

Failure and Adjacent Possibilities

“I’m advocating that we take the opposite approach that rather than working in this model of risk management, reducing the possibilities for failure, that we work in this model that we've heard described earlier, as as asset management or asset exploration, where we're finding new things, finding out new possibilities, about the tools and the techniques that we have available to us.”

I am reminded of the concept of the adjacent possible, described in the book by Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From.

  1. Evolution and innovation usually happen in the realm of the adjacent possible.
  2. World-changing ideas generally evolve over time as slow hunches rather than sudden breakthroughs.
  3. Platforms are like springboards for innovations.
  4. Innovation and evolution thrive in large networks.
  5. Collaboration is at least as important a driver of innovation as competition.
  6. Lucky connections between ideas drive innovation.
  7. Serendipitous discoveries can be facilitated by a shared intellectual or physical space.
  8. Great innovations emerge from environments that are partly contaminated by error.
  9. Innovation thrives on reinventing and reusing the old.

If we design for resilience, we must understand that failure is part of the process. We learn from the error correction built into living systems. Based on what we learned about DNA as a data storage system, as Lynn Margulis describes it, we might compare DNA as the open source code that is being shared through a distributed network of diverse organisms who are drawing from the pool of data that has accumulated over billions of years of cosmological, biological, and cultural evolution.

The medium is the message. We, the living systems collaboratory, the holobiont of the symbiotic Earth, are the emergent media design lab of the universe.