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04 : 09 : 18

Within the overarching theme of Emotional States, designers at London Design Biennale 2018 are exploring issues such gaming as an anti-anxiety treatment and the architecture of urban solitude.

A field guide to subverting surveillance

Face Values by the USA, London Design Biennale 2018 Face Values by the USA, London Design Biennale 2018

US – The confluence of computer vision, artificial intelligence and mass surveillance is creating a crisis of identity for many of today’s consumers, forcing them to question the cost of showing their true emotions. The Cooper Hewitt museum’s display – Face Values – asks visitors to perform their identities in partnership with machines, suggesting alternative uses for technologies that are more often used for security and behavioural profiling.

Visitors learn not only how their expressions are read by such systems, but also how they can manipulate their facial responses to subvert them and produce results unanticipated by the controlling authorities. ‘Face Values encourages participants to consider the vast capabilities and unforeseen consequences of this rapidly evolving field of digital design, illuminating the potential of facial recognition technology to quantify, read and control our mood and movements’ says Caroline Baumann, director of the Copper Hewitt.

As we enter the era of the post-growth society, brands will increasingly have to consider the wider social cost of technological innovation and implementation if they are to avoid consumer backlash.

The value of kerbside sanctuaries

The Silent Room by Lebanon, London Design Biennale 2018 The Silent Room by Lebanon, London Design Biennale 2018
The Silent Room by Lebanon, London Design Biennale 2018 The Silent Room by Lebanon, London Design Biennale 2018
The Silent Room by Lebanon, London Design Biennale 2018 The Silent Room by Lebanon, London Design Biennale 2018

Lebanon – As brands look to increasingly co-opt our future city spaces, injecting unprecedented levels of sensory stimulation, many designers are re-evaluating the role architecture can play in providing sanctuary from the urban environment.

Presented as a to-scale prototype, The Silent Room is a raised, cocoon-like space that was first installed on the busy streets of designer Nathalie Harb’s home city Beirut. Inside the fabric-lined space eight speakers play a field recording of the city at its quietest moments.

‘Silence is becoming a commodity for the privileged,’ says Harb. ‘[The room] offers the luxury of silence to everyone, regardless of background or status. It redresses the sonic inequality within the contemporary urban landscape.’

Brands which offer consumers respite from our era of non-stop digital distraction are increasingly best placed to generate real engagement. Read our Focus Filter macrotrend for more.

Gaming’s therapeutic potential

Dundee – While video games are often wrongly castigated for promoting negative behaviours, the medium has in recent years become central to the fight against various mental health issues. This is the premise behind Biome Collective’s Shpeel installation for Dundee, created in response to the city’s status as one of the most deprived in Scotland, a fact that has had a debilitating impact on the local youth population.

Taking the form of a 360-degree immersive environment, Shpeel allows users to create and control an abstract ‘emotional avatar’ that fills the room with shifting light, sound and dynamic forms. ‘It allows them to describe the nuances of how they’re feeling without words and to share that emotion visually with others,’ explain co-creators Tom deMajo and Maltha Abbas. ‘It’s a place for quiet conversation.’

As we recently explored in our New Masculinity series, gaming is starting to provide an important platform for many men to discuss difficult topics such as depression and anxiety.

Shpeel by Dundee, London Design Biennale 2018 Shpeel by Dundee, London Design Biennale 2018

Climate change’s new economies and rituals

After Abundance by Austria, London Design Biennale 2018 After Abundance by Austria, London Design Biennale 2018
After Abundance by Austria, London Design Biennale 2018 After Abundance by Austria, London Design Biennale 2018

Austria – An exercise in speculative futures, Austria’s After Abundance installation explored the emotional impact of climate change on communities that live in close harmony with their environment. ‘The uncertainty in facing climate change triggers fear, anger and the feeling of helplessness,’ explains curator Thomas Geisler. ‘It’s something we have little control over as individuals; but collectively we can find inventive ways to deal with these challenges.’

The display centres on a typical Austrian farmhouse and it inhabitants, who are in a battle to combine new technologies with traditional craft practices to overcome ecological crisis. In one narrative a black-market geneticist worries about being arrested for crop tampering, while in another a teacher discusses the new ritual practice of watering a sacred glacier to prevent its disappearance.

Brands,designers and cultural institutions are turning to futurology and critical design as a strategy for navigating our increasingly uncertain futures. Read our Far Futures vertical for more.

A tool for creating post-national identities

Soft Identity Makers by Puerto Rico, London Design Biennale 2018 Soft Identity Makers by Puerto Rico, London Design Biennale 2018

Puerto Rico – As an unincorporated territory of the USA – a state in which natives can call themselves Americans but hold no voting rights – Puerto Ricans are well versed in navigating the complexities of what nationality truly means. Design studio Muuaaa used this context to explore the heightened anxiety surrounding identity on the island following Hurricane Maria, which effectively left many citizens feeling like refugees in their own country.

‘How many times have you felt that your shield, flag, or passport isn’t representative of your identity?’ says co-founder Miguel Miranda. ‘Even though these symbols are rigid, our identities need to be malleable; they are soft.’

In response, Muuaaa’s Soft Identity Makers installation allows visitors to generate their own, bespoke national identities. They do this by selecting the five items that they feel best represent their personality from a range of 45 images, which cover themes such as climates, flavours, attitudes and styles. These are then algorithmically processed to generate a unique graphic marker.

With technology constantly challenging the validity of the nation state as a way of defining who we are and where we should reside, a growing generation of digital citizens a exploring more fluid forms of statehood.

Thought Starter: Design as a tool for emotional self-manipulation

The London Design Biennale’s second iteration – Emotional States – charts how the design industry is increasingly adapting its conceptual practices, manufacturing processes and ultimate outputs to capitalise on design’s ability to manipulate how we feel.

When we published our E-motional Economy macrotrend in 2016, the concept of emo-diversity was still fairly nascent within most lifestyle sectors. Now we’re seeing this change in perspective impact everything from hiring practices to brand identities and even drinks menus. It’s also having an impact at a political level, with Venezuela appointing a Vice Minister of Supreme Social Happiness, The United Arab Emirates a Minister for Happiness and, inversely, the UK a Minister for Loneliness.

This movement is to be welcomed, but if Emotional States proves anything, it’s that the tools needed to more effectively manage our emotional states need to come from a grass roots as well as a top down level. With the world suffering several ongoing conflicts, seemingly perennial natural disasters, ecological uncertainty and lifestyle-induced mental health crises, the public need to not only be better designed for, but also taught to be better designers themselves. It’s only through helping consumers understand how they can be more assured stewards of their environment, and thus create the contexts for their own personal wellbeing, that design’s power to promote happiness will truly be realised.

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