Crafting an Experiential Future

Artifacts from the future, created by Hillary Carey

For Stuart Candy’s course, Experiential Futures, I created a “taste of the future” for a classmate, based on her initial vision of a preferable future, in 20 years. In this Ethnographic Experiential Future, I imagine a world in which mushrooms our society elevates their value. We now appreciate fungi as equal citizens. They are protected, valued for the medicinal properties, and loved as pets as we grow them in our homes.

“Whereas an archaeologist aims to deduce the ‘world’ from the ‘fragment’ of a past that produced it, an experiential futurist creates the most potent fragments that can express the imagined future world; so we sometimes call this ‘reverse archaeology.’”

Basic steps involved:

  1. Our first task is to understand our recipient’s vision of the future. Meet with a classmate who has written up a description of their preferred future. They have written a onepager and have made a tangible artifact from it.
  2. Next, imagine how we might extend their concept — either to bring more depth to their current artifact or to add another aspect they have not yet considered.
  3. Create a tangible experience of that future for our recipient. Ideally, we’ll surprise them in their natural habitat.

Making it real

For my recipient, Ema Karavdic, her vision of the future involved “the growth of eco-consciousness and food citizenship that has permeated through society, specifically looking at it through the lens of health.” I wanted to extend that idea by exploring the deep emotional or spiritual connection that might accompany a greater appreciation for nature. The concept of elevating natural elements was influenced by the Transition Design concepts in another class, which often positions non-human parts of our ecosystem as stakeholders in the wicked problems we are working to understand.

I created three elements to form a multi-layered experience for Ema, who I knew would be in Transition Design class on Monday morning.

Mocked-up version of Time Magazine, one mushroom pet, and “mushroom love” stickers
  1. A Time Magazine cover recognizing Maitake mushrooms as “Citizen of the Year.”
  2. Activism stickers saying things like “Mushrooms save lives” and “We want fungus among us”
  3. Six mushrooms-as-pets for classmates to bring to Transition Design class where Ema is the TA

On Monday morning, I met up with five classmates to hand them a mushroom basket and a sticker. I found other classmates to give stickers, too, as well. I prepped classmates to explain that they were growing mushrooms to donate to UPMC to cure cancer in case anyone asked. And they did ask! So, in front of Ema, classmates trickled into the classroom wearing stickers and carrying mushrooms in baskets, and Ema didn’t know why. When I walked in, I handed her the Time magazine, and she was able to read about the program.

Classmates Nandini, Erica, and Alex participated in the experience

The article for the TIME cover story said this:

“Thanks in large part to the activist efforts of Ema Karavdic, designer of the campaign to give citizen-rights to mushrooms, the United States has protected these critical organisms. These protections have led to many new insights into how mushrooms help heal our bodies and the planet.”

There was also an advertisement from a local hospital, UPMC, that described the mushroom-growing project:

YOU can help US cure cancer.
UPMC is proud to announce our mushroom donation program.
Care for mushrooms in your own home and then bring the surplus to our cancer research center. With your help, we can turn fungi into life-saving nutrition.

Sharing what we made

In class, after we all conducted our interventions, each of us presented what we created. It was exciting to see the range of ideas people had executed: a plant that texts it’s owner to develop mutual caring (that was the future Ema created), universal healthcare for Mars, a poetry website extending the values of a global future, an eerie catalog displaying work clothing designed to compliment your skin tone.

Some qualities we identified of creating successful future experiences:

  • Reveal the future over time, build anticipation, allow them to piece the clues together.
  • Create objects that have real weight and presence to make the future feel more tangible.
  • Create explanations for why the materials are current day, rather than futuristic. Such as, “They said you’d think this paper letter was cool.”
  • Emotional connection. Evocative images and poetry made Alex’s artifact emotionally moving. Connecting to a future child or an anniversary makes it feel personal. One classmate said, “I hadn’t pictured myself in that future until this.”
  • Multi-sensory.
  • Involving others extends the experience. Others are curious and ask about it. Small artifacts can be worn throughout the day to pique interest.

Design → AntiRacism → Design | pursuing a PhD in #TransitionDesign @CarnegieMellonDesign