Angela Oguntala: ‘‘The future is what we design it to be!‘‘
Angela Oguntala, a founding partner at foresight and design studio Greyspace, will be stepping on stage in Tallinn at Design Conference: ‘‘Beyond Design‘‘ on June 18.
Renowned for her foresight and inspirational speaking, Angela talks about how to find beauty in friction and how we should all take more agency in shaping futures as it's not something that just happens to us. Instead, we all can have a say in how we design the world around us. Her studio, Greyspace, focuses on foresight and design, partnering with organisations to envision and transition towards desirable futures.
She has led work in various sectors from education and policy, to healthcare, finance and fashion. She works to facilitate deliberation on emerging challenges and opportunities, inform strategy and develop new thinking. She gave a short interview before coming to Tallinn to shed some light onto her topic "Imagining Positive Frictions".
You are advertised as a futurist, how does that work, what's the career path to that? How to become a futurist?
I more often say I work in foresight and design, rather than lead with identifying myself as a futurist. We tend to have this sexy concept of the future: there are sleek, happy people, technology always functions seamlessly and everything is somehow solved, but we're not sure how. I'd like to see behind the seams of this frictionless future and wrestle with the reality that the future will be as messy as the present.
My journey started from a feeling that many problems and unsustainable behaviours of the present are connected to an obsession with speed. I wanted to slow down, but I could not find a career path that spoke to that. I've always believed in the power of slowing down to see the bigger picture, anticipate the consequences of our actions and to envision the future we want. I started searching for how I could use slow thinking, but couldn't find it, it wasn't sexy and instead encountered a “build now, think later” in many places.
No-one wanted slowness; no-one wanted long term thinking because in a lifestyle with short deadlines, what are we going to do with long-term thinking about what's going to happen in years or decades ahead when our incentives are to think in minutes, weeks, months and quarters.
Finally, someone told me that many of the questions I was asking are about the future, why don't you explore that more. I then found out about foresight and it opened a world of thinking and language for so much I had always been passionate about. I think it's the kindest thing a person can do to someone else: you see someone's searching for something and you give them a language, you show them there's a path.
In Tallinn your topic will be “Imagining Positive Frictions” – what's this about?
Many of us have bought into this idea that we live in a seamless world, although that's actually not the case at all. So, we spend a lot of time trying to take away friction. Instead, we should focus more on how to embrace friction and try to figure out how to build bridges between them. You cannot do that if you believe that you live in a seamless world.
I think trade-offs as a concept is an incredibly meaningful way to look at it. We should ask more what are the trade-offs we need to make to reach a higher purpose where we all live in a better future. There's so much around seeing and bridging friction that's necessary, beautiful, helpful when we think about the present state of the world. And we need to bring that to the conversation.
How could we do that?
Just changing the language would help. Most people wouldn't think of friction as something positive.
We should talk more about life-centred design where we don't design for only the individual, but also for systems and relationships. We have to find a way to capture some of the changes that are happening in the fringes. Forward thinkers already know that we have to start engaging with the world in a different way. So we have to ask ourselves, what frictions are we not seeing when we design certain products or services, that will eventually show up in damaging ways and we need to start seeing that friction can be a positive thing.
At Greyspace, your expertise comes from bridging design and innovation processes with futures thinking. How do you explain to your clients what exactly does this mean?
Our work takes on many different shapes from trend analysis and scenario thinking to the design of immersive experiences that explore potential futures. In recent years, we've seen a many clients coming in, asking us to teach the skills of thinking about the future through our futurecasting programs.
This includes exploring our client’s ideas about the future and why they have such ideas: Why do they want to design those particular products or services? We help them deconstruct their idea of the future first and how that came to be before we start to think about innovations or alternatives to build.
This can be a beautiful moment when they collectively see behind why they do things the way they do in the first place. When our clients come to us, they often don't realise that they are doing things for certain reasons. And this can be a transformative process to not just think about what’s new and what’s next, but to have deeper reflection on the “why’s” behind particular concepts of the future. Sometimes this involves asking difficult questions.
As a result, they should have a certainty that when they start moving forward, they understand the reasons why they do things in certain ways. The beautiful thing is that we live in a world that is what it is because someone designed it. So, if you don't like how it's designed – change it!
Author: Estonian Design Centre, Liis Kängsepp
The European Design Conference 2022 “Beyond Design” takes place on 18 June at the Creative Hub/Kultuurikatel. The Conference addresses the core questions of the future of design and the future through design, as well as themes related to the position and responsibilities of the designer. The work will take place through practical workshops, discussions and multidisciplinary future visions.
The speakers at the Design Conference include designer, sociologist and sustainability provocateur Leyla Acaroglu; futurist Angela Oguntala (founding partner at Greyspace, a foresight and design studio); professor, design and technology ethicist Ariel Guersenzvaig; creative strategist and problem solver Marksteen Adamson and many more.