Too Much Freedom?

“What if…” is a very interesting question to answer as a designer. It gives designers the opportunity to be free, which is exactly the goal of this question. Yet it provides no constraints, the wildest thoughts can take place. Thoughts beyond reality. Furthermore there infinite worlds and therefore unlimited ideas are possible. This is far from efficient. I propose the following question; Is there a border between freedom and too much freedom, and if so, where?

I think that as designers we all agree that the main difference between “us” and “others” is our ability to think freely, without limitation. This enables us to find new opportunities. Thinking outside-the-box has already helped to solve many issues. So when taking solving problems to a new level, why not take it one step further? Should we be careful with our freedom in order to design the future?

The ability to think freely is a valuable skill. To not be constrained by boundaries such as physics (or  rather, the current knowledge of physics) will give some many opportunities to investigate for designers. Yet are these areas not too unrealistic? With as many fiction designer (by lack of a better term), there are as many futures designed and as many opinions about the purpose of this specific designer.

The main problem with unlimited freedom, in my opinion, is the creation on unrealistic expectations. Designing for an unrealistic world can seem useless, yet I also think it will provide insights in human behavior among other things. In the article “The Poetics of Design Fiction” [Markussen & Knutz, 2013] they talk about several projects with regard to a possible civil war in Denmark. Seeing this as highly unlikely, I wondered what is the purpose these objects? Luckily the article has some answers regarding this question. The main goal of this form of design is to trigger a public reaction or to let people think about certain issues, that may or may not be regarded as taboo. The people should have an opinion about the future and push this to companies. This is one of the goals of fiction design.  Yet should people not form realistic futures? How much use is the far future for this purpose? With every argument more questions arise.

I guess it is something really difficult to say. It is an hard topic to talk about.
So, still after writing this piece I am wondering, is there a border between freedom and too much freedom, and if so, where?

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2 thoughts on “Too Much Freedom?

  1. Not all design fiction should be seen as borderless. Often, in order to provoke discussion and debate there must be threads of reality and plausibility. Notice to what lengths designers and engineers went to make the Minority Report interface so believable. They literally demonstrated that such a technology could actually function. In my work, I want to make people think about how the decisions we make today can affect the future, so I always create a scenario based upon current trends for research and development, in which a given technology is plausible. Otherwise, it borders on fantasy, and that is not design fiction. Plausible futures helps the story within the future scenario—and the people affected by it—resonate with the audience. Then, hopefully this provokes thinking, discussion, debate—and maybe even action.

  2. I don’t know if I believe that it’s truly to possible for a designer to truly work without constraints. Even in a purely theoretical sense, where no intended real world use is present, we are still constrained by a myriad of factors. These constraints aren’t always obvious, subliminally affecting our work as designers. Within the HCI program we’ve discussed the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which states that our world view is limited by language we use to describe it. As interactive designers we use it to refer to our limitations in creating interfaces due to the tools we have available and their technological limits. When expanding to it’s more literal sense, we begin to see how anything a designer might create would be limited by their language.

    Regarding the border between freedom and too much freedom, I believe you have to ask yourself what your end goal is. If it’s purely an academic exercise, or intended for a fine arts application then you’re free to work with as much perceived freedom as you see fit. If you’re more interested in a commercial application, then that automatically creates a set of constraints that limits your freedom.

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