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Design after Covid-19

By Henrique Cayatte, Founding and Managing Partner S+A Concept Design

It is never wise to make predictions.

For many years there has been a ‘temptation’ to produce soundbytes about what the future may yield.

In every area. From religion to sports, from our life to the lives of others or from politics to careers.

Usually – almost always – with very poor results.

Afterwards, the scientific discourse was advancing results around the concept of ‘prospective’.

One must not confuse it with perspective – in drawing, painting and architecture for example – which is a frequent mistake.

Prospective aims to simulate the future through the treatment of data that we have or perceive today.

It deals with trends, information and knowledge and, above all, with a lot of faith in such studies.

It is used a lot to try to understand the markets with the objective of reaching goals or even to beat the competition.

We could say that it is one of the benchmarking tools.

I have seen quite a few presentations and classes in which the prospective is presented to us as an absolute truth.

And the most extraordinary thing is that people do want to believe it is true, as if foretelling the future was a gift available to a select few.

Let us look into the past before talking of the future.

As time helps to clear the memory, I bring to 2020 a sentence from 1943 – in the middle of the second war – said by the then president of the very powerful IBM that at that time was the alpha and omega of world computing.

During such time, Professor Touring and a large team were inventing the ‘Enigma’ machine in England, between Oxford and Cambrige in Bletchley Park, which aimed to break the codes of U-Boat transmissions operating in the North Atlantic.

The beginning of computers.

And Mr. Thomas Watson said: ‘I believe there is a market in the world for, perhaps, five computers.’

Is that not extraordinary? I can imagine the legions of followers parroting this remark without any critical thinking whatsoever.

If it was said by the head of IBM then it ought to be a safe prediction for sure. We can attest to that today.

Many people were still laughing when, in 1977, Ken Olsen, founder of Digital, uttered urbi et orbi yet another ‘gem’:

‘There is no reason for anyone to want to have a computer in their home.’

How can two super specialists shoot themselves in the foot and risk their and their company’s credibility in such a reckless manner? Did anyone profit off of that?

Then, we still have – I cannot resist – the fortune-tellers and other clairvoyants, who make their living by ‘foretelling’ the future.

I remember being in the lobby of a large building waiting for an elevator which came full from one of the basement parking lots.

In front of me, a well-known television fortune-teller raised her voice and asked: Is this elevator going up?

Behind me, in a snap, someone remarks loudly enough for everyone to hear: are you not the one who guesses the future?

You can imagine the reactions that ensued.

That is why it is not advisable to try and forecast what design will look like after this worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

We can, with the information available, know that something is going to change. But what?

The design, born of the industrial revolution in England two hundred and some years ago, was the protagonist of one of the most extraordinary transformations. In teaching, research, practice, processes and their perception by the community in general.

Of course, there are misconceptions – it is normal – that, for example, glue art to the skin of design thus taking away from it, seeking to take away from it, the direct commitment and through industrial processes in the transformation of people’s lives. And one of those transformations was that design has been, and is, at the forefront of the use of new technologies. It was thus with the computer-assisted design that, later, it was often linked to production (CAD/CAM), the creation of new information media and its transformation into ubiquitous, synthetic and laconic. With obvious losses whenever progress progresses much too quickly.

Losing of the ability to draw, for example, because the ‘computer does it’. Or not reading something because Wikipedia has it watered down for us…

Today there will be few designers in the world who do not work immersed in the increasingly complex world of ‘new technologies’, which are no longer particularly new. Every day we see new developments and they are not necessarily all good.

A classic.

We will continue to see a progressive isolation of people, from working with headphones isolated from the team, to teleworking, to the development of augmented reality, to ‘round the clock’ work and an inevitable and continuous dematerialisation that we have seen today. Increasing ‘social withdrawal’ further and further, as in the midst of the pandemic. Less conviviality and less exchange of experiences that would enrich us all.

All in all, nothing particularly new.

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