Superflux just might be the hottest design practice operating today. Protégés of Dunne and Raby’s renowned Design Interactions department at the Royal College of Art, they have been called both critical and speculative designers – terms they actually prefer to avoid. Labels aside, their small London studio works on projects that function at the intersection of the climate crisis, technology, and more-than-human politics, to imagine alternative future narratives.
There’s much that sets Anab Jain and Jon Ardern – founders of design studio Superflux — apart in the contemporary design field. Perhaps it’s mostly how they duck hubris and remain humble about the impact any single discipline is ever going to have on the very real mess mankind has made of this planet. Through their work and from talking directly with them about it, it’s clear that they are cognisant of all the complexities that interact to minimise the potential of any big, singular idea paving a solution.
Superflux thinks in terms of systems and how they overlap. “Mapping a problem is probably the first stage of all our projects,” says Ardern. “Until now, design has always been very solution-driven, but we see things differently. To us, [the world is] in a predicament – it’s not a problem that can be solved. It’s more just the way it is.”
So rather than work on projects that merely whip up a narrative of dubious and oversimplified solutions, Superflux stays focused on how to navigate what truly is. They stay close to the reality of global events, albeit with enough criticality to design in ways that avoid the worst. “We are not naïve about the scale of this mess,” asserts Jain.
When they began their research for ‘The Intersection’, one of their recent projects, it became impossible to block-out or not be influenced by world affairs. The murder of George Floyd, the related protests and swelling momentum for the Black Lives Matter movement, … the emergence of QAnon, the global pandemic, and the fires that swept through Australia. “It took everything that we assumed was solid and turned it on its head,” says Jain. “All my life I assumed certain basic things to be robust and unshakable … until now.”
“Everything was chaos and I couldn’t make sense of it anymore.”
“I hadn’t even heard of QAnon,” says Ardern, “but when I went to look for it on Twitter, I realised that something quite niche had become mainstream.” It’s a film that explores ambient intelligence, which is technology that’s both sensitive and responsive to the presence of humans. In it, a cast of protagonists, from protestors to journalists and tech geeks, all trapped within the limited scope of their own interest groups, escape a violent present to find some ease in a more cooperative, albeit fictitious future...
VR Chaos, still from he film The Intersection, © Superflux
The Library, a vast ecological archive of our planet's natural abundance, 2022. A mammoth installation for Dubai’s brand new Museum of the Future, photo © Sandra Ciampone
Superflux, Anab Jain and Jon Ardern, photo © Mark Cocksedge
ON Objects, Backpack, © Superflux
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