The Power of Unlearning

What I connected to the most in the chapters of the first edition of Futurish was the discussion of improvisation in design. I’m taking courses in poetry and modern dance this semester and the theme I’ve observed between the two creative fields is the necessity to let go of inhibitions and avoid overthinking.

In a room of people who have never taken a dance class, you can feel the collective intimidation when asked to improvise and perform a 32 count routine. The instructor describes the most powerful routines as containing the most subtle movements like walking and crouching. She emphasizes that you don’t need to overcomplicate or attempt to mimic what you see professional dancers do—simply move as you feel.

In poetry, the same rapid improvisation applies. Within the timeframe of 5 minutes we are expected to release poetic lines onto our paper. The key, our professor says, is to not think about what we write, but to let a stream of consciousness and emotion guide us. My professor emphasizes what he calls the “unlearning” of objects in order to transform them into powerful imagery. This technique of taking ordinary objects and describing them as a child would, without learned meaning or connotation, allows one to create linguistic surprise and interest.

Just as discussed in Futurish, we must acknowledge the present but release ourselves from the expected in order to create a subtle, realistic future. We can’t rely solely on what is given to us in the world to create compelling change, and we mustn’t be overdramatic in our designed futures: this is a delicate balance. What makes a future powerful is the ability for the present day public to believe it, digest it and reflect on it. The authors cite Johnstone who “warns that we ‘mustn’t try to control the future or to win’; instead, he says, we need to empty our head and improve our skills of observation”. The authors also mention Gupta’s visionary adaptation approach, in which you must adapt realities to become your imagined futures. It is reassuring to read about the role of improvisation in design after experiencing it in other expressive media. To me, this is the power of design—creating unique perspective and the ability to distribute that perspective in a compelling way.

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