Skip to Main Content
of desiGn

Designing Futures: Biodesign Challenge

November 12, 2018

How are futures imagined, performed and made durable over time?

Where and how are futures being made? Who is included and who is excluded from these futures? What is the role, agency and responsibility of design in making futures by creating the conditions for emergent behaviors, interactions, subjectivities and societies? Where are the opportunities for design to create alternative possible futures in a world of emergent, complex socio-technical systems?

Our Designing Futures course covers a wide range of methodologies and approaches used to engage in narratives about these futures, including backcasting and histories of the future. Students use emerging social theories to critically analyze technocentric, human-centric and, even, post-human approaches to futures by considering social and cultural, ethical and legal, health and environmental, political and economic issues related to emerging technologies.

Students from the course represented ID at the Biodesign Summit by presenting the social innovation exploration “Future Perfect” to a diverse audience including members of the academic, industrial, and design communities. The Biodesign Challenge encouraged students to envision future applications of biotechnology by connecting them with biologists and other experts who guided students as they developed their ideas.

Designing Futures Showcase: Biodesign

Both projects highlighted here were presented as a part of a “Designing Futures” showcase, in which participants were able to discuss different non-human-centered futures, unintended design outcomes, and the question of humans’ responsibility to the environment around them.

Future Perfect

Andrea Everman, Yuhao (Mike) Liu, Urba Mandrekar, and Jenna Petersen explored DNA as destiny. Human performance can be distilled into numbers and statistics.

Newer technologies enable us to read information about our bodies and their performance through devices as quotidian as pedometers and as novel as mail-order genetics tests. To critically examine these interactions and raise questions of how we know ourselves, this project presents artifacts from a not-so-distant world where institutions have put these genetic determinism principles in place. In this design fiction, our futures are written from birth. Does the reassurance of knowing “the future” override the personal disclosures required to understand it? What is required to maintain a crystalized future? What risks are minimized through this approach to social innovation and what new risks emerge?

Notes from the Sea, 2218

Students Siyuan Ma, Renee Albrecht-Mallinger, Sameer Tendolkar, and Wanying Zhu imagined a marine ecosystem that has been altered through anthropogenic (originating in human activity) influence.

The project advances a perspective of nature as a dynamic and reactive system rather than a static and passive one. Species employ different responses to anthropogenic impact, including behavioral, physiological, and morphological adaptations. Organisms that adapt in ways that allow them to thrive in an altered ecosystem will go on to populate the new environment. This challenges an oversimplified view of humans’ destructive impact on the natural world and their ability to apply technological fixes to repair that impact.

To communicate that perspective, “Notes” employs two tools: a future marine biologist’s field journal introduces the audience to the idea that some species will adapt and even thrive in an altered environment, and a card game invites the audience to participate as a “future biologist” by imagining adapted species and adding them to the field journal. The speculative and participatory design methods employed by “Notes” seek to raise questions, challenge mainstream narratives, and draw out the audience’s own values related to human activity and the environment.