innovation | March 24, 2013

Fictional Futures: Innovation Speaker Anab Jain On Designing For Tomorrow

The future isn't as "shiny and perfect" as many corporations would have you believe, innovation speaker Anab Jain says on CBC Radio's Spark. In fact, the Superflux Founder & Director says that the future will be "messy and complicated," in much the same way that things are messy and complicated today. That's why her design consultancy doesn't try to create products that fit into an idealized, perfect future—because she doesn't think it will exist. Superflux specializes in something called "design futurescaping" to help consult its clients on what to expect in the future. "[Design Futurescaping] is essentially creating a set of futures, new future worlds, alternative worlds that are not sort of suggesting a business as usual scenarios," Jain explains, "they are not the sort of shiny futures that you see in corporate videos."

One of these projects, she says in the interview, is working with scientists to restore vision to the visually impaired. The team uses visual augmentation such as dots or blurry objects to enhance the limited amount of sight their patients still had. While the scientists thought the patients would be glad to have even a limited amount of sight, they found instead that many people were saying they'd rather be completely sightless than see the world with an imperfect view. They had only focused on the scientific advancement and ignored the human emotional component. This human element, Jain says, is what Superflux tries to inject into their work. It's one thing to develop a product and predict that everyone will want to use it. It's quite another to objectively think about how people will engage with that product or service, and whether it will actually be received well by the public. And that, Jain explains, is a crucial component missing in traditional future forecasting.

Jain wants to forecast the future using tangible objects that people can interact with and experience—rather than simply publishing written test results. As a TED Fellow and designer, she discusses the way her company combines lab testing with personalized consulting to combine science with human interaction. She advocates accepting and designing for uncertainty—instead of shying away from it—to bring your organization into the future ahead of the pack.

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environment | March 21, 2013