In addition to our own choices, Blueprint asked three experts in the fields of Technology, Architecture and Urbanism and Product/Furniture design to look ahead and make recommendations for the people they think will make a difference in 2010.
James Woudhuysen, Professor of forecasting and innovating, De Montfort University
In design, and in problem-solving generally, it’s vital not simply to respond to the ‘problem as given’, but also to question the brief. The West is far too keen to base innovation on social trends, rather than ‘technology push’. What’s needed is a combination of both approaches in a subtle way. After all, neither the Sony Walkman, nor Google, came out of research into social trends.
In the past decade, it has become an axiom that innovation should not be a top-down, technology-led affair initiated from within companies, but should rather begin from the outside, with the consumer and his or her needs, and then proceed ‘bottom-up’. This is a foolish doctrine, which amounts to little else than seeing the unconscious hand of the market – and indeed simply the market for personal consumption – as the best or only source of innovation. It is also foolish to imagine that people are consumers, when most of the time they are hard at work. Finally it is stupid to imagine that people are defined simply by their needs, whether existing or latent. People are also defined – and this is what differentiates them from animals – by their talents.
The examples I’ve chosen show that the real world of innovations doesn’t simply consist of noticing that people are getting older, or greener in their outlook, or more feminine in their values – and then developing new products to leverage these trends. Life is not so simple.
As the location of innovation has shifted from West to East, so Western apprehensions about the future, and about the East’s role in that future, have grown. As a result the protection of the environment, and the protection of children, have emerged as new forms of protectionism.
Don Mattrick and Alex Kipman, Microsoft
Mattrick, the head of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment division and the former head of Electronic Arts, together with engineer Kipman, decided to go one better than the Nintendo Wii and equipped Xbox games machines with a new kind of controller: users. To Xbox, the user simply adds a module that contains a video camera with which to track 48 joints of the user’s body and its movements, an infrared camera that tracks depth, and a clever microphone which can distinguish between different voices and act upon spoken commands. The result is Natal, which offers the experience of playing ballgames without balls, and driving without steering wheels or pedals.
Natal can track multiple users. It can work out where you are if you’re standing behind a piece of furniture. It uses face recognition, but can also read what’s on a piece of paper and use what it reads to develop the game being played. The software, applications and depth-sensing camera in Natal will make their way on from the ‘large niche’ of computer gamers and into the office environment.
Apart from Rolls Royce, inventor James Dyson is the best-known remaining example of success in British manufacturing. Dyson’s DC31, launched in 2009, is an example of innovation through sensitivity to human patterns of cleaning, but firmly based on an engineering breakthrough. The DC31 relies on a digital motor named V2. Based on some very clever physics, the motor was no fewer than seven years in development. It spins at more than 100,000 revolutions per minute, five times faster than a Formula One racing car engine. The microprocessors that control the V2 adjust at more than 3,000 times per second, so that the whole ensemble boasts an extremely high energy-efficiency for an extremely low weight and volume.
Pielke, of the University of Colorado, is a great critic of climate change zeolotry, and is doing important analysis exploring the air capture of CO2. In the West, and even in China, much global warming commentary consists of moralizing instructions to lower people‘s energy consumption. However, Pielke reckons that the costs over the 21st century of capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere, so as to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions, could be better than those presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The technology is in its infancy, but could reduce concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, rather than capture and store new emissions made at power stations (Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS). There is a chance that relatively simple chemical processes could be put in containersized laboratories and shipped all over the world.
Capturing CO2 from the atmosphere will directly reduce the greenhouse effect. Better still, the CO2 can be stripped of oxygen, so that the carbon left can be combined with hydrogen from water to create new hydrocarbons and so top up the world’s slowly dwindling stock of oil. Greens might be unhappy at this potentially very powerful means of undoing previous damage to the atmosphere, for it would make unnecessary those changes in patterns of behaviour that they so want to bring to Western, and Chinese, consumers. But air capture would represent enormous progress.
Ben Hughes, Course Director of Industrial Design MA, Central St Martins
With recession ringing in our ears and six months of election tedium ahead, 2010 is shaping up nicely as something of a non-year. Anything that challenges this will be most welcome. In every presentation and business seminar in 2009, the emphasis seemed to be on ‘riding out the storm,’ including explicit advice from the Design Business Association against any micro-company entrepreneurial activity. What rubbish. My advice is to go up to your bedroom and don’t come down until you’ve started a company.
Looking ahead, I predict the collapse of the fragile house of turds otherwise known as the Design Art phenomenon. People will suddenly come to their senses and realize that it’s not design and it’s not art, it’s just very expensive and they don’t want and can’t afford it. The demise of Big Brother will be met with even more widespread jubilation, but before we know it it will be replaced with something even more inane aimed at an ever-shrinking attention span.
Some of the things I’m most looking forward to in 2010 are: the release of the Apple tablet; the TFL bike-hire scheme; Ron Arad’s show at the Barbican; Space Hijackers getting their tank back and putting it to good use; Ai WeiWei’s recovery and new work; something happening about the new Routemaster; Shanghai Expo and seeing Thomas Heatherwick’s glowstick hedgehog – so far topping the charts as the event’s least unattractive pavilion; Banksy being knighted in the New Year’s Honours list, and the A-Team movie adaptation. In my view, people who will change things are:
Justin is the Australian designer behind the genius Makedo kit, showcased at 100% Design this year. Who would have thought that you could improve the cable tie? The way he has gone about producing and promoting the idea is as good as the product itself.
Although not the easiest or most pleasing interface, Wilhelm’s Instructables website is now the first stop for many home projects. Its potent blend of Blue Peter, Scrapheap Challenge and Readymade Magazine is fuelling interest and an increased sophistication in kitchen-table innovation.
Geoffroy’s London-based furniture company, Unto This Last, has been paving the way for dispersed, hi-tech, localised production for 10 years. While others have talked about it, he has proved that it can work. Companies such as Ponoko, Shapeways and Materialise are providing exciting options for DIY rapid manufacture, but Geoffroy’s approach is a complete revision of the design manufacture- distribution-retail scenario, and seems more fully integrated.
Liam Young and Darryl Chen, Think Tank, Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today
In the New Year it is hoped that ideas will be a means for opening up debates, rather than just a necessity to provide solutions. We hope to take a part in this, exploring alternative models of practice where provocations and speculative proposals are delivered as ends in themselves.
Humans have always regaled themselves with imaginative tales of the future or skewed stories of an alternate present. We furnish the fictional spaces of these parallel worlds with objects and ideas that at the same time reveal the contradictions, inconsistencies, flaws and frailties of the everyday. These narratives allow us to survey the consequences of various social, environmental and technological scenarios from a distance. As architects and urbanists we look to speculative practitioners from fields such as gaming, film, comics, animation, literature and art for inspiration and alternate approaches.
We see our work as combining storytelling with explorations of strange, but real, environments. In 2010 Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today will take a series of speculative and real journeys, including a trip to the Arctic Circle, with the Architectural Association and Kate Davies of Liquid Factory. We will also be visiting the Galapagos Islands, and Cuba with the Bartlett School of architecture and architect Jan Kattein.
We will also be editing a book with another specialist in speculative architecture, Geoff Manaugh (who runs the BLDGBLOG website), documenting our 2009 event Thrilling Wonder Stories. We will be curating Weird Tales, the sequel to this event, in May 2010. It will expand into the world of freaks, conspirators and outcasts by invited practitioners operating at the fringe of their disciplines. The three individuals and groups listed below are just such operators, who represent the imaginative thinking that is vital to the progression of architecture.
Brighton-based Blast Theory is a group of artists that use a variety of interactive media. Led by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj, the group’s work explores interactivity and the social and political aspects of technology. In 2010 they will begin a resident PhD programme in collaboration with the University of Nottingham. They will also begin a residency at the Banff New Media Institute, Canada, the result of the first ever Locative Cinema Commission, which is part-funded by the Sundance Film Festival.
The comic book author and screenwriter, who lives in Southend, is best known for his Transmetropolitan series of postcyberpunk comic books for DC Comics. He has a number of upcoming books and films including a new publication using a survey of speculative city projects as a narrative backdrop.
Art director for seminal computer game Half Life II and French animated feature Renaissance. His new book on utopias and fictional cities and animated films is due to appear in 2010.