Critical Futures Today: Backcasting speculative product design towards long term sustainability
The age of climate breakdown brings with it an uncertain future, even within our collective imagination we are presented with increasingly dystopian visions of the future. This tendency towards a dystopian future can also be seen in product design practise. Speculative and Critical Design (SCD) process emerged as a disciplinary response to challenge the commercial design by envisioning radical futures scenarios and artefacts. These future scenarios work within existing product design praxis to create sustainable, diegetic artefacts that are embedded with certain values of that future. However, at its core, these SCD scenarios end up rejecting any solution driven perspective that ends up confining the artefacts limited to museum exhibits. This paper explores a “backcasted” solution into the present through a ‘designerly’ reimagining of existing technology. This paper reflects on these radical future visions in the case of a designed artefact, a 3D printed optical solar cell. The solar cell is proposed as a possible alternative for existing solar cells which draws upon pre-existing technology and its speculation. This exploration creates new possibilities for technological forecasting in a futures-oriented practise where solution driven speculations might pose the question “what if” to the ways in which product design can contribute to climate action today while still looking towards visions of better, more thriving paradigms of the future beyond ‘business as usual’.