The catalogue for the exhibition Designs for Different Futures records the concrete ideas and abstract dreams of designers, artists, academics, and scientists exploring how design might reframe our futures, socially, ethically, and aesthetically. Encompassing nearly 100 contemporary examples—from wearable objects to urban infrastructure—this handbook interrogates attitudes toward technology, consumption, beauty, and social and environmental challenges. The projects examined include a typeface unreadable by text-scanning software, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a dress incorporating the sound-wave patterns of birds in flight, a shelter for cricket farming, and a speculative prosthetics catalogue for the "post-human." Commissioned essays and interviews from figures such as Francis Kéré, Bruno Latour, Neri Oxman, and Danielle Wood give voice to issues faced in futures near and far. With perspectives ranging from historical visions of the future to the use of biological materials in production processes, this is essential reading for anyone interested in how design might shape the world to come.
Both the exhibition and catalogue were a collaboration between the design programs of three museums: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The catalogue was overseen and produced by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, designed by the Walker Art Center design studio, and published by Yale University Press.
The catalogue for the exhibition Designs for Different Futures adopts a magazine mentality by combining dozens of short think pieces with a visually arresting layout strategy that combines collage work, custom display typography, and an over-the-top and cacophonous collision of aesthetics meant to evoke the exhibition's embrace of a messy, fertile present, anticipating an infinite number of overlapping and competing futures.
The time and attention paid to the graphic details of this catalogue is equally evident in the act of five design curators collectively generating a melange of such disparate realities and perspectives. The content is paced in such a way to distribute the shorter articles and interviews near their accompanying thematic plate sections—allowing both designer voices and detailed project descriptions to robustly illustrate the pluralistic nature of the themes which resists concise interpretation—while the four larger anchor essays offer moments of deeper reflection among the overlapping visions. The first anchor piece to appear is curator Zoë Ryan's collection of speculative design case studies, grounding the book in the wonderful diversity of making, thinking, and envisioning practices that appear in the exhibition. From there, designer Andrew Blauvelt investigates our collective imagining of our future, asking if our current moment actually requires us to "defuse" the future (or "defuture" its image) instead of igniting it. Legendary theorist Bruno Latour, who is frequently referenced throughout the catalogue, gets incredibly real with an essay that illustrates just how unlikely a common, shared reality is by mapping out a fictional solar system consisting of perplexing bodies such as Modernity, Globalization, Anthropocene, Terrestrial, Vindication, Security, and Exit—describing the complex global, social, and natural forces that designers must consider when creating work today. And near the end of the book, Danielle Wood, who runs the ambitious Space Enabled Research Group out of the MIT Media Lab, looks to the near future of space travel, mapping out sustainable goals for the exploration of Mars through the lens of justice and equity. Like many of the pieces in the catalogue, discussing topics as wide-ranging as AI, privacy, climate change, post-humanism, citizenship, food, and automated labor, Danielle's essay considers incredibly futuristic ideas and maps them back on the here and now, illustrating that an exhibition or a book about the future is of course in reality a story about our present. Other unique entries include an ethically-driven food manifesto by the editors of Mold Magazine, a deep dive into the world's most-liked Instagram egg by curator Maite Borjabad López-Pastor, and a reinterpretation of the Mundane Science Fiction manifesto through the lens of afrofuturism by designer/artist Martine Syms.
The collages for each section of the book were made from scratch, employing about a dozen photoshoots, two 3-d body scans, various stock photography and modeling, and any number of Photoshop blending effects. The subject matter of each collage tangentially reflects the spirit of each theme, and the collages were also utilized as giant wall graphics and projections for the actual exhibition.
The cover is a collage of various textures—from the false-color shadows of satellite landscape imagery to the intricate wrinkles of organic skins and surfaces—and is juxtaposed with a digital pattern that is blind embossed on top of the chaotic and colorful printed imagery. It also features short phrases lifted from the content inside the book, crafted to illustrate the various visions of futures.
The display typography of the book is a custom-adjusted typeface (through GREP styling) that automatically adjusts the width of certain characters and automatically de-capitalizes the letter "s" when it falls at the end of a word, in line with the exhibition's larger strategy of pluralizing the word "futures" and the word "designs," as well as the name of each thematic section, to speak to the complexity of each term and work against abstract, monolithic definitions. "The future" is something that happens to us. "Our futures," on the other hand, are things that we create together.