For those interested in design and how it can affect the future, one does not have to go far in order to find a list of lectures, seminars, and gallery presentations of contemporary works. Often, the focus of these events circles around the exposition of new ideas. Rare are the chances for one to develop and voice one’s own opinion.
As a result, the workshop envisioned by Chris Woebken and Elliott Montgomery is such a refreshing concept. Having met during their studies in London, the two of them have focused their design endeavors on how to unravel problems instead of solving them. These designers are well aware of the importance of community engagement in the development of a vision for the future.
The first ‘Extrapolation Factory‘ was held at Studio X, 180 Varick Street, Manhattan, in February; students, architects, artists, and designers were invited to create an item for the future. But not just any futuristic item, the twist was that the envisioned space for these items was “something that you could find in a 99 cents store”.
After having spoken with both designers, I came to understand the logic behind creating such a restriction on the design process. In a world where everyone is focused on larger chances and new products that will solve seemingly insurmountable problems, both Chris and Elliott see the challenge on a different scale. For them, the focus should not be on creating the one innovation which will solve all problems, they understand that that is impossible, instead the solution lies in creating an environment in which important social changes can take place. As such, their workshop was less an intensive on how to solve the different challenges that will be faced in the future, but instead an environment to gather ideas on how society will change and how those changes will be reflected in even the most menial of objects.
Which is where the workshop falls in as a space for an exchange of ideas but also in order to study in which direction the public feels society will progress. A four step program, Chris and Elliott provided a series of forecasts envisioned by scientists, engineers, politicians, and intellectuals. These expectations ranged from an estimation of how many billions of people will populate the earth in fifty years to what will become the main source of energy. Then, having chosen a forecast which appeals to them, the participants then designed and constructed an item which fits into the imagined future inspired by these expectations. By creating a series of ‘reflections’ of society, Chris and Elliott have been able to compile a small database that demonstrates where the public believes the true problems of the future are situated.
Finally, Chris and Elliott’s ingenuity in bringing new ideas to the community did not stop there. After having packaged these new items, they were ‘exhibited’ in the local 99 cent store down the street from their studio. By placing these items in a real world setting, the public was immersed in this unorthodox scenario where they are not handed new ideas to contemplate, as one would in a gallery or lecture, but instead must actively search for them amongst the 50 cent cans of beans, bargain compilation of toothbrushes, and plethora of cheap hardware.
For more images and information about the Extrapolation Factory and its creators, visit the project site.