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OUR SYMBIOTIC LIFE – An exploration of plausible  interspecies relations

OUR SYMBIOTIC LIFE – An exploration of plausible interspecies relations

This thesis will introduce one way to deal with multiple futures and investigate the opportunities speculative approaches offer when it comes to highly complex problems. Grounded in the field of design fiction, this work combines insights of the climate impact research community, technology meta trends and plant science, which work as base for the exploration of relationships between humans, plants and technology. In the next steps we will explore this theoretical framework, the methodologies applied, future research and speculative design. Further, the process of crafting the fiction will be disclosed step by step. The last chapter will introduce the design draft which aims to create an entertaining, inspiring and engaging way to deal with abstract scenarios.

INTRODUCTION

Our symbiotic life – welcome to the futures, deals with plausible futures by examining the relationship between humans, plants and technology. How could our connection to nature develop?

This thesis introduces one way to deal with multiple futures and investigates the opportunities speculative approaches offer when it comes to wicked problems. The work combines insights of the climate impact research community, technology meta trends and plant science, which work as framework for the exploration of relationships between humans, plants and technology. Aim is to create an entertaining, inspiring and engaging way to deal with abstract scenarios. Let‘s figure out how to prototype the future.

Furthermore I want to take artistic and fictional approaches into account, as they are offen underrated in our result focussed society. Rather than a concrete solution for a defined problem I see them as mind experiments to explore an unknown field. It allows us to take a role of a future ore alternative self in order to explore a propable environment. This freedom enables us to think differently than we would do it by dealing with a factional task and may offer inspiration, visions and oportunities. Or like Florian Pfeffer (2014) summs up: Who enabled the moon landing? Neil Armstrong, John F. Kennedy or Jules Vernes?

METHODS

As a designer who is neither a biologist nor a futurologist, I freely took a role as dilettante to explore these fields of research. Sounds negative, but has some strong advantages. Florian Pfeffer describes this role as an opportunity to become “a precursor and critic of conventions”(Pfeffer, 2014, P. 111). Dilettantism as method enables us to break with expectations and conventions in a certain field and facilitates radical and free thinking. We can think outside the box, because we are not inside the box. Design fiction is a wonderful method to achieve future perspectives and to explore the unknown. As plant science and climate impact research are really abstract topics, I chose this way to make them tangible and entertaining, in order to reduce the barrier to engage with these fields. Markussen and Knutz explore the role of fiction in the field of design and design research. They consider design fiction as valuable method to extend horizons in order to “prototype the future”(Markussen, Knutz, 2013).

My fiction is based on recent narratives of the climate impact research community, that deal with five plausible futures. I chose four of them and combined the socioeconomic developments with human and plants perspective. Furthermore I added trends in technology to shape a framework that defines rules for the fiction. As I’m a visually thinking person I started sketching and writing down my thoughs in order to elaborate and focus the basic ideas. As soon as some rough journeys emerged I started prototyping and approached the concept in a tangible way. After loads of iterations the project took shape and I was able to write my own scenarios. During the experimental process writing and sketching was a method to focus the ideas.

In order to facilitate a “felt-life” (McCarthy and Wright, 2004) experience I wrote a pastiche scenario for each draft. The term pastiche describes the imitation of a certain style and includes satire and hommage. In the field of user experience, beneath personae and scenario design, pastiche scenarios work as method to consequently take users perspective in order to explore their emotions and social backgrounds as well as cultural and political context.

While Blythe and Wright (2006) propose to use “already known literary characters and works” in order to trigger references and interpretations, I worked with own fictional characters and media instead of literature. Similar to pop cultural characters, the use of media and the tonality of it reveals cultural conventions, and gives hints for political and socioeconomic context. For each scenario I defined a media that people interact with. I wanted to create a contemporary document of the future, like the almanac from “Back to the future”.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

Designing for the future

PLURALITY

“To be human is to refuse to accept the given as given” (Black, 2012)

When talking about the future, we should ask ourselves which one we mean in particular. The discussion about future drafts often gets confused at the moment when participants articulate different kinds of futures. When talking about speculative approaches I often get confronted with the most common concept: the probable future. Futurist Stuart Candy distinguishes four different kinds of futures: a probable, plausible, possible and preferable one (Dunne, Raby, 2013).

Probable: A future that is likely to happen is located in this field. It includes the predicting of user behavior and customer preferences, trend forecasting and analyzing the effect of disruptive technology.

Plausible: Climate ore disaster research examine plausible futures. One example is climate impact research that explores changes and shifts in society, environment, politics and economy. Instead of forecasting, these scenarios offer a set of economic and political alternatives and map a space of possibilities.

Possible: This includes everything that is not impossible. So if wormholes are theoretically possible, what is impossible?

Preferable: The area intersecting the other types of futures is a tricky, yet subjective one. On the one hand it is limited to our imagination on the other hand the question about who prefers what occurs. Is the preference shaped by ideology, governments, economy or citizens (Dunne, Raby, 2013, p.2)?

Most of predictive, reality based approaches are dealing with short term scenarios by analyzing current trends and reacting on the insights, and therefor can be associated with the first field. Bonnie Nardi (2015) lists four approaches that deal with long term future scenarios: Steampunk, collapse informatics, multi-lifespan design and speculative design. Steampunk creates a future by looking at the past, by imagining a future from the victorian era as starting point. Collapse informatics looks backwards and forwards, by comparing the rise and fall of ancient civilizations and drawing comparisons to recent developments. Friedmann and Nathan (Nardi, 2015) mention three bridges to the future:

  1. Expand the horizon, think in decades
    not in years
  2. Create comparative work, that
    “produces an array of possibilities.”
    (Nardi, 2015)
  3. Checkpoint changes, adapt designs to
    account for emerging conditions.

They further point out the importance of a forward facing approach that prepares humanity for the uprising consequences of its activities on the global scale, that may be different from anything we know.

SPECULATIVE DESIGN & DESIGN FICTION

“Another critical approach looking radically forward is that of speculative design. Here we encounter a whole different imaginative space—of whimsy, play, surreality, even the freakish.”(Nardi, 2015)

Dunne and Raby distinguish between two broad categories of design: Affirmative and critical design. They state that most topical design matches the first category, which “conforms to cultural, social, technical and economic expectations” (Dunne & Raby, 2001, p.58). This refers to the design we usually are confronted with in daily life, market driven and user friendly, forecasting trends and experimenting on it’s aesthetics. The second category, the critical design, is described as a “complicated pleasure” that deals with alternative “social, cultural, technical or economic values” to “stimulate discussions and debates amongst designers, industry and the public about the aesthetic quality of our electronically mediated existence.” (Dunne, Raby, 2001, p. 63). Speculative design can roughly be allocated to the broader category of critical design, as it works decoupled from markets and embodies a critical purpose. It looks forward, by dealing with “what if …” scenarios, with an emphasis on the unreal. Instead of inventing fantastic technologies, like it is frequent in science fiction, this genre plays with values. Strange items and technologies are presented as symptoms of a value shift. They work as artifacts from the alternative world or future. Instead of futures, James Auger prefers to work with “alternative presents” that “are intended to question and critique contemporary use of technology” (Auger, 2013). The aim is to “unsettle the present rather than predict the future”(S. Clark). This viewpoint recedes even more from pure speculation, science fiction and fantasy.

Dunne and Raby point out the importance of a path that leads from today to the proposed scenario, in order to facilitate the “suspension of disbelief” (Dunne & Raby, 2001, s 63). There should be a balance between real life probability and imaginary thoughts. If something is too strange to be plausible, it does not work as a design piece. The term “suspension of disbelief” was shaped by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 and describes the viewers agreement, to consider the framework of a fictional piece as a temporary truth. It’s like watching a movie or play, for a certain time we immerse into that fictional reality. Afterwards, we may compare the fiction with our daily life, our reality and draw conclusions. Similar to this path to now Grand and Wiedmer (2010) point out the importance of the “right focus in between”: Not too far in the future and not too close to our daily life experiences.

The possible world theory emerged from the field of modal logic that operates with true, false, possible, impossible, necessary and contingentual propositions and supplements pure causality (Menzel, 2013). This theory enables interpretation of fiction as “possible worlds, which can be either easy or difficult to access from our real world.” (Markussen, Knutz, 2013) This point of view offers a more balanced perception of utopia and dystopia. In contrast to the dialectic distinction between real world and utopia, it facilitates a dynamic relation between todays reality and the possible futures. Instead of real vs. unreal, it appears more like two paths that go parallel, sometimes intersect and sometimes deviate. Sometimes it is accessible, sometimes far away. For example, what are the factors that prevent the achievement of an utopian approach? Are there political, legal, societal, environmental or physical issues? We are trapped in the present time and the horizon it offers. We are living in the present time, we are surrounded by things happening around us and it is hard to imagine something beyond. In addition to that, it’s hardly feasible to gain an overview of current events. Things that are happening randomly from our point of view may make sense in the larger picture of history. This also refers to collapse informatics, that postulates to have a look at decades to understand developments and the way they can be influenced for our sake.

That’s why looking forward is so important. It offers alternative realities of how we could live instead of what is most likely. Florian Pfeffer (2014, p.119) sees speculative approaches as a possibility to deal with wicked problems. While tame problems describe challenges that definitely have a solution, like an algebra task or the usability of a service, wicked problems are hard to solve and sometimes unsolvable. They include challenges like climate change, disasters or inequality, are not distinctly to describe, have multiple solutions and are highly complex and contradictory. These kind of challenges demands a way of exploring and analyzing possible causes and to establish research questions in order to define a set of tasks that can be solved. One way to approach wicked problems is the development of scenarios that offer multiple entry points for actions and reactions. They can work as tools to detect tame problems within a wicked problem.

Besides discussions about sense and nonsense of the whole field, the lines between critical design, speculative design and design fiction are extremely blurry and hard to distinguish. James Auger (2013) additionally lists discursive design and design probes to this field. The disciplines intersect in one area and diverge in another. What all of them have in common is the intention to work as a critique or a speculation, that is decoupled from markets. This facilitates free reflection of current developments and releases designers from the utilitarian, neo liberal system we are trapped in. Although the field seperates itself from art, both areas often intersect in their language and purposes.

Markussen and Knutz (2013) explore the role of fiction in the field of design and design research. They consider design fiction as valuable method to extend horizons in order to “prototype the future”. In this case a “prototype is a prototype that exists within a story world” (Lindley, Coulton, 2015). This story world enables designers to explore not or not yet existing technologies or systems and investigate the impacts they may have on future users and societies. Julian Bleeker (2009) describes design fiction as something between science facts and science fiction.

“There are knots of intermingling ideas, aspirations and objects that blur any perceived boundaries and bind together these two kinds of science. Engaging these knots, making the knots deliberately — this is the practice of design fiction” (Bleeker, 2009).

Furthermore, design fiction offers a narration to identify with a certain scenario. It “speculates about new ideas through prototyping and storytelling. The goal is to move away from the routine of lifeless scenarios-based thinking.” (Bleeker, 2010) Bringing a scenario to life is one step closer to reality. Artifacts can work as tangible metaphors and stimulate reflection and discussions about complex coherences. Guber (2011) sets focus on the persuasive effect of narration and compares it with a trojan horse: intentions and values are hidden behind a story. By entertaining and engaging, these values can be absorbed by the viewer implicitly. This manipulative potential is highly ambivalent, negative applications can be observed in phenomena like fake news, conspiracy theories and propaganda. From fairy tales, that implicitly aimed to discipline children, to parables and fables, that spread suppressed viewpoints and censored information dressed as harmless stories, this method is as old as human storytelling. Besides the negative effect of instrumentatlization by shady interest groups or the positive effect of spreading information in a suppressive system, it also has great potential to lower the barrier to engage with abstract topics. By offering multiple points of view the manipulative potential can be lowerd.

RELATED WORK

Dunne and Raby often use props of future or plausible daily life in their work. For their project, The united micro kingdoms (2013), they divided Great Britain into four micro kingdoms that impersonate four scenarios. They defined four socio-economic and political system and examined these four societies and their values by illustrating transportation. The digitarians are a technocratic, data focused, implicitly totalitarian, utilitarian society that travels in autonomous digicars. Everything is perfectly clocked and measured. The Communo-nuclearist have a limited population living on a nuclear powered train always endangered by accidents or fallout. Everything is centrally planned and organized. The Bioliberals are a social democratic, harmonious, biotechnology driven society that manages to live in accordance with the modified nature. Transport takes place via vehicles made of biological material. The Anarcho-evolutionists are a technology poor, selfoptimating society focusing on human powers and enlarging it by training, breeding and DIY Bio hacking. They run, ride bicycles and horses.

These scenarios are inspired by political ideologies and technology trends. The project offers multiple view points and the decision about preferred or not lies in the viewers hand. In contrast to this wonderful piece of speculative design, I build on existing scenarios and utilize them as the framework for the design fiction. Dunne and Raby’s props stand for themselves as artifacts from the plausible world. By building narratives and scenes I focused on plausible daily life and provide more context. The works maybe related but not similar. Rather than as allocation to a genre I employed design fiction as a method to explore scientific research and to find paths to a plausible future.

Plant fiction by Troika is a speculative project that deals with imaginary plants to address the relationship between western civilization and nature. Especially resource deployment and decreasing biodiversity as effect of that interplay are set in focus. The plants are visually probable but have abilities and habits that are fantastic. For example the Self Eater dissolves its own parts to get nutrition and with that is perfectly adapted to a penurious environment. The project transports an intention: emphasize awareness for environmental issues.

Carole Collet explores biotechnology and textile design to address sustainability in the fabrication process. She imagines modified plants as multitasking fabrics, that produce food and textiles at the same time. Her project Biolace (2012) plays with ambivalence: On the one hand, a sustainable solution for food and material supply is presented. On the other hand, plants are exploited as super machines and genetic material is edited extensively.

These two examples introduce strange plants, that are changed by humans intended and unintended impact on evolution. They give hints for the values in their story world without showing a human plant relationship explicitly. The focus lies on the highly aesthetic item, in this case the plant. As I rather created a design fiction than a speculative design piece, I will concentrate on the human plant relations. But how to prototype my story world? What characteristics should my fiction have?

  • Immersion: facilitate the suspension of disbelief
  • Plausibility: build a logical path from today to the alternative world
  • Inspiration: make people think
  • Humor: find a punchline, don’t be boring
  • Plurality: offer multiple viewpoints and play with ambivalence

Prototyping the futures

From Scenarios to artifacts

BUILDING THE DESIGN PROPOSAL

Another source of inspiration was the work done by the climate impact research community, which is developing scenarios integrating future changes in life conditions and society regarding coherences with climate impacts. These scenarios address wicked problems and offer maps of plausible futures that enable decision makers to navigate through a “solution space” (Tavoni, Kriegler, Riahi, Van Vuuren, Aboumahboub, Bowen, Luderer, 2015). This enables the definition of goals that demand tasks or micro steps to be approached. Fields like energy system analysis, climate change research and environmental assessments require long‐term outlook, up to 100 years ahead. One component of these scenarios is a set of alternative futures of societal development known as the shared socio-economic pathways, SSPs.

These narratives aim to make the whole amount of data, calculations and observations tangible. They provide contexts that facilitate imagination and impersonate a plausible future. The problem of the narratives is the visually uninspiring appearance they often come up with. They exist as texts that sometimes are combined with a representative image. In addition to that, they often materialize in power-point presentations and are not easily accessible for the public. Recent developments, and the public denial of a human factor in climate change by several conservative leaders and researchers in the western world illustrate how important it is to address a broader audience in an understandable, engaging way.

My design proposal will not solve the whole problem, but introduce one way to approach this highly complex topic and humanize it. I set the focus from the global to the human scale and explore how circumstances in the plausible world influence society and daily life of an individual. The SSPs perfectly worked as base for my own scenarios, that are less complex and focus on human-plant-relationships.

SSP 1,3,4 & 5 provide the socio-economic framework for my plausible worlds. I focused on four main effects described in these narratives:

  1. Collaboration (SSP1)
  2. Struggle (SSP2)
  3. Consumerism (SSP5)
  4. Divide (SSP4)

These four main topics are associated with
people who live in the alternative worlds:

  1. Collaboration + citizen
  2. Struggle + farmer
  3. Consumerism + aesthetes
  4. Divide + disadvantaged teenager

These pairs are combined with interacting plant types and their special skills:

  1. Collaboration + citizen + urban greens (signaling, increase wellbeing)

2. Struggle + farmer + hostile pests (signaling, manipulation, learning)

3. Consumerism + aesthetes + beauties(modularity)

4. Divide + disadvantaged teenager + dangerous, super talented pet (learning, defense, hyper accumulation)

Further, recent technological developments are added to each pair:

  1. Collaboration + citizen + urban greens
    (signaling, increase well-being) + CPS

2. Struggle + farmer + hostile pests
(signaling, manipulation, learning)
+ CPS, automatization

3. Consumerism + aesthetes + beauties
(modularity) + decentralized
manufacturing, biotechnology

4. Divide + disadvantaged teenager + dangerous,
supertalented pet (learning, defense, hyper accumulation)
+ DIY circuits

These combinations lead to following scenarios:

1. Harmony
2. Invasion
3. On demand
4. Bottle garden

These scenarios are visualized in pictional worlds that play with allusions. Harmony embodies utopian elements, Invasion refers to war and hostile environments, On demand visually plays with roman decadence and Bottle garden combines pop culture with dystopian references. The future plants have plausible skills like introduced in the first chapters. As mentioned before I approached these futures by sketching and prototyping. Later on I started writing pastiche scenarios in form of diverse media, that represent peoples perspective and give a hint to daily life experiences. In order to facilitate a familiar experience I used recent instead of probable future media.

  1. Harmony + Blog comments
  2. Invasion + Newspaper
  3. On demand + Vlog
  4. Bottle garden + Chat

Enjoy exploring.

Scenario 1

Harmony

PROTOTYPE

Shared goods and gardens have become common. Instead of self driving cars the streets are crowded with self driving landscapes. Wordy, green vehicles. There are different types for different speeds. A contemplative driving garden, where citizens can take a walk by approaching a destination. Or a faster type crowded by lower, resistant plants that don’t mind acceleration. The energy is gathered by sun, wind and the plants’ bio power. Some of them even carry urban crops to supply citizens that enjoy gardening. The plants needs are equalized with peoples needs. If a mobile crop unit is ready to be harvested it informs the garden community. It is also possible to order certain fruits or vegetables in advance and the garden sends a message when ready. Outside the cities there are different vehicles, less floral and faster, to reach a destination far away. Decisions within the communities are mostly made together which often causes delay. But this is taken into account for the sake of democracy.

Humans: People are mindful of the social, cultural, and economic challenges due to environmental degradation and inequality. Since 2020 Humanity increasingly advances in effective cooperation and collaboration as the emphasis shifts from economic growth towards human well-being. Consumption is oriented towards sustainability including lower material, resource and energy intensity.

Plants: Biodiversity and ecosystems can recover and climate conditions improve step by step. Urban greens, crops and beauties play a prominent role in the cityscape. Some of them are even mobile to enrich every part of the city.

Technology: Sustainable technologies are increasingly common and enable an ecological lifestyle. Data is used responsibly to optimize autonomous mobility and to avoid inefficient use of energy. CPS are employed reasonably and AR supports human - plant - machine - interaction.

People: Citizens
Plant: Urban Greens, crops and beauties
Plant skills: Increase wellbeing, signalling
Technology: CPS, bionics, biotechnology
Field of application: Transportation, cityscape

Pastiche scenario: Blog post + comments

Fresh Mobility: U6 – Reloaded
Finally the contemplative Unit 6 is ready for summer. Passengers can enjoy the new floral experience on their way from North to South. Instead of going straightly from Wedding to Tempelhof, people can take a relaxing walk or simply watch the beautiful landscape. The newest vehicle of the contemplative fleet carries a well composed ecosystem with fresh greens, light trees and seasonal flowers. Enjoy your ride.

Laura: I must admit that I often get lost in the landscape and miss the stop. Could we make U6 a bit more overseeable? How do you feel about it?

Henry: I agree, I also got lost last time, it may be a bit too contemplative.

Jamie: I don‘t know if is desirable to design it less contemplative. If you lost focus on your destination, it may not have been so urgent. And instead of hurrying to your appointment, you enjoyed the wonderful garden unit.

Laura: Yes, you are right. Unit 6 is extremely beautiful. But let’s figure out who else would embrace a restructuring of it.
Jamie: Not sure if that’s necessary, data flow shows a fluid trespassing.

Laura: But just in case, could we just start a little survey? I would really appreciate a shortcut on Unit 6.
Fresh Mobility: Hm, it seems to be really important to you ...

Laura: Indeed, I think there is potential to
optimize.

Jamie: So, you want a shortcut or something?

Laura: Yes, just a little one.

Henry: I would also appreciate a shortcut. I’m always late with this one.

Hasi27: Why are you going via a contemplative unit when you are so busy?

Henry: … we just want to have a shortcut.

Hasi27: If a shortcut was necessary, the system would suggest one.

Laura: Maybe it will suggest one soon. I‘m just saying. And I don’t want to completely change U6, just a little path ... that‘s it.

Hasi27: A shortcut – understood. Why don’t you use the direct unit.

Laura: … because it is always so crowded

Henry: Yeah exactly, it is super crowded

Jamie: But not overcrowded, otherwise the system would have recognized this mistake.

Henry: OK, it is just overcrowded on the weekends. And I simply prefer the contemplative one. More flowers.

Schorsch: Well You can’t have everything.

Laura: Can we just start a survey with 1.) a shortcut on contemplative U6 2.) a bigger direct U6 and 3.) leave it like it is? Please!

Hasi27: This is not a “Wunschkonzert”.

Schorsch: Exactly! Start your survey for your self, I love Unit 6 as it is.

Laura: Me too … but a shortcut would make it even better.

Henry: @Hasi 27 & Schorsch: You didn‘t pay attention to Laura’s resuests. She also has proposed a bigger direct unit as alternative. By the way ...

Esra: A shortcut invites people to hurry, which introduces a higher stress level on Unit 6.

Laura: Are you sure?

Schorsch: Well, it is obvious.

Henry: Can we just test it in a simulation?

Laura: Yes that also sounds good to me.

Sala Manda: Nothing to loose. And after the outcome, we decide whether we want a survey or not.

Fresh Mobility: We could monitor the diversity and plants needs on U6 and figure out if a simulation would make sense.
Laura: So, if the diversity is ok with a path, we could consider it.

Fresh Mobility: Of course. But we first have to figure that out and then start a survey and a simulation.

Henry: Sounds fair to me.

Schorsch: I am still skeptical. In my opinion it‘s a waste of time.
...

Scenario 2

Invasion

PROTOTYPE

Robots and drones maintain huge monocultures that struggle with climate conditions. Invasive species learned how to hack the agricultural cyber-physical-systems and misuse them. Pollinator drones become handy vehicles for dissemination, and machines that apply herbicides are tricked by mimicking the crops language. The most effective invader is a thistle called Equinops Cupidus. As this invasion is becoming overwhelming and is starting to endanger national food supply, the government involves special forces to fight the plague. Strict rules for agriculturists and a code of conduct aim to contribute to the fight against the greedy thistle.

Humans: Since 2016 more and more states have shifted towards protectionism and nationalism. Regional conflicts and concerns about security push people to focus on regional issues. Several states move toward more authoritarian forms of government with highly regulated economies facing food insecurity. International cooperation becomes more and more difficult, international conflicts are on the rise, which makes climate policy impossible.

Plants: Deforestation due to humans high need for fossil fuels accelerates a wave of mass extinction. In 2047 most of the land is used for agriculture and resources. Wildfires are common, only resistant, adaptive species survive in the rapidly changing climate.

Technology: Because Investments in education and technological progress is low, development stagnates since 2030. Governments focus on armament and basic food supply. Highly automated agriculture employs oldfashioned maintaining technology.

People: Farmer
Plant: Hostile pests
Plant skills: Rapid adapting, learning, signaling, manipulation, networking
Technology: CPS, but low standard, simple robotics, automatization
Field of application: Agriculture

Pastiche Scenario: Newspaper

Once when Farmer Schmüller regarded his land, he used to see golden fields of grains that reached as far as the horizon. That picture has changed in two years. One morning in June he made an unsettling discovery. When checking the crops on his acres, he stumbled upon a huge amount of strange, black plants, the Echinops Cupidus, or greedy thistle, a pest that is currently infesting grain fields. “My first thought was, that the oat farm next door infested my field on purpose to get rid of some of the competition, you know. We’ve had some hard times lately, and the suspicion was obvious. I’m selling a lot of oat as well, seems that I am their main competitor ...“ But Kevin Schmüller soon found out, that he was not the only agriculturist with this problem. “I was surprised to find the others struggling with the black plant too. Never saw them in this amount before. Creepy development.“ This plant seems to have speed up dissemination within the last two years and could become an overwhelming menace for regional food supply. Big farms are especially affected by this invasive species. While checking his land Schmüller made another troubling discovery. One of the pollinator drones had a defect and was lying on the ground. After examining it the farmer realized it was full of black, glossy particles. Was it possible that it accidentally pollinated the pest instead of the crop? Echinops Cupidus contains with such black, glossy, sticky seeds that usually spread via natural pollinators like bees or other endangered insects. As these animals are currently rarities, the greedy invader was not that widespread in our region, until now. Of course not only farmer Schmüller made this discovery. The federal department of agriculture has been investigating the case and came to a horrifying conclusion: They observed pollinator drones from different farms during the blooming period and detected an unusual behavior. Instead of flying to the crops’ blossoms the drones increasingly frequent the greedy thistle’s inflorescence. An alarming development, as Dr. Hackenstein from the National Institute of Food Security states. “It seems like Echinops Cupidus hacks the communication system between crops and the automatized management and care technology. We suspect it to mimic grains chemical alphabet to attract the pollinator drones and it seems like they are steadily getting better at it.“ The Ministry of Agriculture demands farmers to carefully observe their fields in order to fight the invasion. They suggest not relying on the maintenance robots and drones during blooming period. Arguments that accuse the mono cultural agriculture style as root of the disaster will be taken seriously, but at the moment there is no alternative.

The state has released their agenda by rectifying the alarming situation. Furthermore they have issued strict guidelines for the treatment of any outbreaks and infestations. In April the state issued the case of Echinops Cupidus a national emergency. The Ministry of Agriculture has released a repeated warning that failure to comply with national regulations will have consequences for the individual. As the state’s and the peoples well-being depends on a working agriculture, defeating the floral invasion has become a top priority.

Scenario 3

On Demand

Prototype

New plants can be printed or put together. They embody plant principles like modularity, symmetry and cells but can look completely different. Humans can customize them to their needs and taste in easy steps. There are even DIY kits to learn how the process takes place. Fashion and style are central elements of daily life. One trend is to grow fashion accessories, flower crowns and diadems are especially en vogue. This phenomena mirrors young peoples longing for nature in a world shaped by technology.

Humans: Don‘t look back! Hedonistic individualism and joy of consumerism accelerate markets and product development. Society enables disadvantaged population groups to participate and living standards improve worldwide. Optimism and the belief in limitless technological progress shape lifestyles and attitudes.

Plants: As humans focus on themselves, the extinction of many species goes unnoticed. People are confident that climate change will be maintained by geo-engeniering, and that biodiversity can be regained by bio-engeniering. Fragmented plants have become common. In the rush of gene editing, plant principles are applied to surfaces and textiles. Step by step, classic crops are substituted by tissue cultures. Beauties and pests are highly modified and adapted to consumers taste and style.

Technology: Highly competitive markets, participatory societies and a strong focus on innovation facilitate rapid technological progress. Decentralized manufacturing, 3-printing and biotechnology are the most popular developments.

People: Consumer
Plant: Beauties
Plant skills: Modularity, beauty
Technology: Biotechnology, decentralized
manufacturing e.g. 3-d printing
Field of application: Fashion

Pastiche Scenario: Vlogger

“Hey folks, today I have an awesome fashion hack for you. You probably heard of the new flower crown models that conquered the latest fashion week. What’s great about these is that the flowers are fresh of vitality, but since not everybody has the most recent apparatus at home these can be tricky to replicate by yourself. I found an amazing product this week called “grow your wreath“ is just a ready mixed version of the elaborate crowns we saw on the catwalks. Everything the crowns need to grow is inside this little box. And it is really super easy to use. Just remove this golden sticker and place in on your window sill. It takes approximately two days until the accessory is ready. So you just have to wait, which is the most difficult part. The only sad thing is that it only lasts two weeks. Then you can trash it. But the good thing is, that you can just get a new one. They come in various, beautiful designs. For example this one is based on genes of succulents. I really like it a lot. It is super extravagant and makes me feel like a roman elf. Precious piece. But my favorite one is this one. The colors are soooo beautiful and it smells like roses. Awesome. You can wear it this way, roman style or you turn it around and wear it like Frida Kahlo. Crazy shit. But for my taste, to be honest, it is a bit too opulent. I personally prefer more decent accessories. And that‘s why I prepared this hack for you. Yesterday I bought another rose wreath and opened it in the morning. Look at this, since yesterday morning it has grown that much. It is not ripe yet but I think I want to harvest it. I just cut it off with a scissor and discard the packaging. Nice, but uhh ... it does not fit around my head as it is not fully grown yet. Buuuut we can easily fix that with some ordinary hair clasps. You simply fix it with these hair clasps and voilá: you have a more elegant not yet fully blooming flower crown. The cool thing is, that it doesn‘t take long and that it suits my style better. That‘s it. I’m going to go out and take some pics. I hope you enjoyed this little hack. Check out my street style collections and get inspired by the various ways to wear and combine these wreaths. Have a bloomy day :-)”

Scenario 4

Bottle Garden

Prototype

Amongst all the pollution and waste a special species has developed, a highly eutrophic algae that accumulates contaminants, especially lead (pb). It has become a treasured, unconventional resource for the poorer population. It is especially popular for teenagers, as it enables them to join online communities. They call them powerpets that are utilized as a kind of battery: If kept in the right surrounding and with the right conditions they produce energy when triggered by a concurring species. People started to use DIY circuits and accumulators to generate energy for their mobile devices, a practice which is not entirely harmless. Accidents often occur and harvests as well as markets are controlled by gangs, that profit from the popular demand.

Humans: Internationally and within countries inequality and stratification extend to the extreme. Lower income countries struggle to provide access to water, sanitation and health care for the poor. Conflict and unrest become increasingly common. Teenagers retract to a digital sanctuary, where the gap doesn‘t feel as big. In addition to their hard conditions of their daily life, kids with a more difficult social background struggle to join the online self projection.

Plants: Privileged populations appreciate extravagant beauties and pets. A new market for rare species witnesses tremendous growth rapidly, while natural ecosystems continue to struggle with climate challenges. Plants need to adapt to the rapid changes in their environment. In the polluted coastal regions a new very special kind of algae has emerged. It defends it‘s territory with electricity.

Technology: Technology development is advanced in the high-tech economy and high income sectors. Low income areas lag behind and often have to improvise in providing energy and food supply. Old fashioned devices are used, repaired and up-cycled.

People: Disadvantaged teenager
Plant: Dangerous, super talented pets
Plant skills: Hyperaccumulation, adapting, learning, defense
Technology: DIY up cycling, improvisation
Field of application: Communication

Pastiche Scenario: Chat

Jacky: blackout again, wanna hang out tonight.

Kevin: have 2 charge my device

Jacky: the whole night?

Kevin: need 2 fix my power pet

Jacky: oh, what happened?

Kevin: I dropped it.

Jacky: oh nooooo :-( hope it is still alive?

Kevin: yeah, I think so. I put it into water.

Jacky: any bubbles?

Kevin: few

Jacky: ok. You need to get the Powerpetstuff. Do you know what you need 4 it’s house?

Kevin: not sure. Some water from the sea but it’s already dark. Scared 2 go there.

Jacky: fuck, yeah … don’t go there. It’s dangerous.

Kevin: but what if it dies?

Jacky: it will survive a few more hours.

Kevin: shit, I’m so stupid! … I should go

Jacky: no it’s really dangerous, Justin saw Ben and Ken hanging out there.
Kevin: oh not cool :-(

Jacky: not at all. Maybe add some salt.

Kevin: hm dunno. Did you hear what happened 2 Jason.

Jacky: Jason who?

Kevin: Jason S.

Jacky: oh yeah, my brother visited him @home. Crazy shit.

Kevin: yeah. Do you know what exactly happened.

Jacky: nope, just that (Plant icon blow up)

Kevin: no reason why?

Jacky: maybe too much sun.

Kevin: I’m afraid that Rupert will explode.

Jacky: ... you named it Rupert.

Kevin: ... ya, problem?

Jacky: nooooooo ... just …. why Rupert

Kevin: why not Rupert

Jacky: lol … get well Rupert

Kevin: so what happened 2 Jason?

Jacky: he got fried.
Kevin: WTF?!

Jacky: Yeah

Kevin: what if Rupert fries me

Jacky: noooooo, its not that hot today

Kevin: does it matter?

Jacky: guess so

Kevin: creeepy ... is he getting better?

Jacky: Rupert?

Kevin: noooot funny, Jason.

Jacky: yeah step by step, his dad got his hands on some antibiotics.

Kevin: poor Jason.

Jacky: indeed.

Kevin: now it’s bubbling a lot :-O fuck

Jacky: but that’s a good sign.

Kevin: do you think so? What if it blows up?

Jacky: They don’t blow up they shock you when you touch it.

Kevin: I heard they can also blow up. It stinks! OMG it’s really gross :-D

Jacky: stinky friend.
Kevin: and I killed it.

Jacky: not yet

Kevin: not funny. How can I charge my device without Rupert?!!!

Jacky: hey ... I didn’t drop it

Kevin: …. my battery is low … :-(

Jacky: should I come around?

Kevin: if you don’t mind stinky Rupert chillin in his bath

Jacky: depends on the level of smell ,-9
… should I bring some stuff?

…..

hello?
Keeeeeeeevin

:-o

hm …

Ok, I’ll bring some salt
CU

Conclusion

Learnings, open questions and perspectives

We took a walk through plant science, research in interspecies interaction, climate impact research and design positions. The discussions about critical and speculative design are perfectly understandable and may add some critical perspectives to the field. But in general, it is absolutely valuable to explore alternative realities in a market free space. Concerning speculative and critical design one open question remains: how can we step out of the exclusiveness dilemma and make the field more accessible for all people? Maybe it has to spread and encourage to join the field as designer by lowering the barrier to create work like this. It could even extend from art galleries to daily life entertainment. The series Black Mirror rather works as speculative fiction than speculative design, but is an interesting example. Also gaming could be a great opportunity to involve a larger, more, diverse crowd.

Like other design thinking methods, design fiction could be a great tool to explore future developments inside communities. Applied collaboratively, it may be an instrument to go beyond obvious needs and find unexpected facets of future communal life. These facets or questions can uncover underlying problems and work as entry points for innovation and optimization. It also offers space to empathize with the future or alternative self. How does the daily life look like, do I really want this? What needs to be done to achieve or avoid a certain scenario? One factor that may be deterrent to apply this method in a business context is the open outcome and the time it takes, but accepting these factors, it could be a playful tool to collaborately work on strategic realignment and perspectives. On the other hand, design fiction and speculative design do also have a justification as non-utilitarian approaches. Although designers in that field distance themselves from being artists, the artistic character of their work is not to be underrated. By offering perspectives and encouraging critical thinking, they trigger something in the viewers mind just like art pieces do: make people immerse, compare and reflect.

The keyword of this thesis is exploration. I started with a vague idea and dived deeply into unfamiliar fields of research. I left my comfort zone and found a new way of expression: props and photography. I may have elaborated the prototypes a bit more, now they rather work as props for the photographies than as artifacts themselves. But as I focused more on the exploratory phase than the final artwork it‘s due to my priorities and fully acceptable. If I had been clear earlier, I could have spent some time in biohacker spaces, which may have led to deeper insights and maybe some living prototypes beneath the self driving gardens. During the process I gained multiple insights:

  1. My strengths lie in the creative exploratory process and it‘s totally ok not to be a “numbers person”. It was a delightful experience to play, ideate and finally prototype these futures.

2. The field of design research has opened new perspectives beyond daily business to me.

3. Present time demands unconventional methods and approaches to step out of the vicious circle of repeating patterns and the same mistakes on a different level. It‘s like a therapy for the design community and maybe even for society.

3. I don‘t need to build a technically perfect working prototype and I don‘t need to find a final solution for wicked problems.

4. Photography is a great tool of expression and extends my skills as illustrator.

5. One of my biggest concerns was the motivation and coordination of people for the photo shootings. This turned out to be totally feasible, people loved to join and be part of the process.

6. A small budget doesn’t hamper projects like this. It may even stimulate creativity and improvisation.

7. The “right focus in between” is not only important for the positioning between unreal and real but also for how open or directed the narration is. It was a challenge to find this balance in order to leave enough space for multiple viewpoints and viewers interpretations.

The whole process felt like a surf ride, in the beginning I was struggling underwater unable to see any horizon. But after diverse trials and discussions I finally emerged and got the flow. It would be interesting to investigate what variables need to be involved in order to immerse and facilitate this (work) flow.

Furthermore it would be great to extend the project to an interactive level, like mentioned before gaming could be a great opportunity to implement these kinds of fiction. Another option could be an interactive exibition or online version, where viewers can explore the futures.

Thank you!

Assistance photography: Anita Bahr & Melanie Budinger
Models: Anne & Anton Adam, Abdulsalam Ajaj, Mischa Badasyan, Anita Bahr, Melanie Budinger, Jakob Buchetmann, Hannah Grillmaier, Robert S. Hill, Marko Kreuzmann, Clarissa Pilz, Ksenia Telepova, Linus Wendler, Josephine Wolf
Copy editing: Kathrin Ahold, Hannah Grillmaier

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