Probing Emerging Futures

March 2020

Factually speaking as humans we do not exist as single entities that go about living independently from one another, we are in actuality composed of a concoction of 60% foreign cells. Our bodies are more bacteria, fungi, viruses, and archaea than they are human.

Our foreign celled ecosystem keeps us alive, it keeps us moving in a society that would rather favour the individual, treat the human first, and look after its environment at a date more convenient to the individual’s busy schedule. We are happily living a longer sustained life in a climate that is struggling to keep up with its inhabitants relentless 24/7, non-stop, everything you want culture.

However, Philips Experience Design in collaboration with Dutch speculative designer Frank Kolkman, and a number of students from Eindhoven University of Technology and Design Academy Eindhoven, have recently been challenging these current cultural normalities by asking what it would mean to work with new design methodologies that focused on the health of the planet instead of the person?

Through uniting science, design and storytelling, Probing Emerging Futures has become a project that intriguingly examines possible scenarios for the future of healthcare. The project has two main goals; firstly, to involve the wider community in discussions around directions of societal thinking about healthcare, and secondly, to develop ways of designing that are “new or radically differ from current methods and practices”.

Strictly speaking the project is not about developing solutions or products for the market, rather, it is about providing a platform for a wider debate, one that examines human healthcare’s link with global wellbeing and the role of designs in rethinking the status quo. It’s focused on the development of methodologies that expand against the current design trends moving towards more accepted future scenarios.

The four 'design probes' that were presented last October at Dutch Design week, as part of the work shown for the Embassy of Health programme, are each as confronting as they are fascinating. Although drastically different from one another each probe shares the same purpose – to fuel discussions. Importantly each object invites the audience to question what the future of healthcare might look like in 10, 20 or even 50 years’ time, within the various layers of society.

 Hiber Nation—Anouk Dijkman (TU/e),Delphine Lejeune, Fleur Chiarito (DAE),Ma`hijs Koerts (DAE), Yousra Laissaoui(DAE). Photo: Juuke Schoorl

One probe, DeliverPoo, specifically asks how we might one day utilise human faeces to provide fuel, food, nutrients, and through faecal transplantation, restore another person’s health? Secondly, Scan Instead of Wash proposes new design rituals, aided by technology that is designed to help increase group immunity by decreasing over-sterilisation. The third probe invites the audience to think about what a future would look like if society collectively hibernated for a year. Hiber Nation puts a pause on humanity to give “the ecosystem a break and enough time to rejuvenate”. Finally, Green Walks directs its audience to imagine a future where technology, through the use of gamification, encourages an individual’s connection with nature in order to improve physical and mental wellbeing.

The probes have become, as stated by the project advisor Kolkman, a “safe way of innovating for discussion”, they “open the door to a spectrum of outlooks on how the world can and might function”. Without the constraints of present day commercial and cultural realities, the probes explore new methods of design that look after the planet and ourselves in a sustainable way. Exploring how to develop circular economies whereby what goes in must come out.

The research, conversation, and debates that the project has helped generate will live on and feed back into the system at Philips Experience Design, which one day may turn their speculations into realities. Kolkman and others involved are at the forefront of developments within design that critically speculate on its current state as a marketing practice. The challenge they, and the project, now face is how to have these same conversations around future healthcare ideals take place, in the companies they originate from.

Probing emerging futures focuses on the 60% of the human that isn’t really human at all.

By Emma Singleton 

DeliverPoo—Anabel Poh (DAE), EdernJanneau (DAE), Janita Bolhuis (TU/e),Jasper Bloem (DAE), Miruna Bārbuceanu(DAE). Photo: Juuke Schoorl
Green Walks—Fé Ramakers (DAE), JoppeBroers (DAE), Leonardo Gerritse (TU/e),Mathieu Henry (DAE), Olivier van derMark (DAE), Sangeun Park (DAE). Photo:Juuke Schoorl
Scan Instead of Wash—Emma Lijdsman(DAE), Jessie Harms (TU/e), Noam Youn-grak Son (DAE), Shen Yichen (DAE), SinaGebrodt (DAE). Photo: Juuke Schoorl
This article appeared in DAM75. Order your personal copy.