Sebastian Löwe, is currently a professor for design management at the Berlin-based MD.H Design School. Löwe worked as a post-doctoral research associate at the Department of Graphic Design and Visual Communication at the HMKW University of Applied Sciences, Berlin, where he conducted research on the topic of critical design thinking. He wrote his PhD thesis on the discursive nature of kitsch—it has been published by Neofelis Press, Berlin. Löwe holds a bachelor’s degree in media and communication studies along with a diploma in media arts. He co-founded the socially engaged art and design platform ufo-Universität and regularly publishes in the semiotics magazine Plot.
Disastrous Futures: Criticizing the Present through Dystopian Visions
Reflecting and locating one’s own presence in a vision of the future is not a process that disappeared with the Bauhaus. Since the 1990s, speculative design has taken a unique approach to building on the method of critically reflecting on the present using speculative, utopian, and often dystopian, future scenarios. The intention of playing with negative utopias is not so much to provoke a radical rift with the present as to question it. Using design objects ambiguously, sketching out a future that appears neither desirable nor worth living, speculative design encourages viewers to reflect on the question “Do we want to live like that?” Similar to the social criticism of the Bauhaus—primarily under Hannes Meyer—speculative design plays with the idea of a collective “What if?,” thus weighing into contemporary social debates.
Speculative design is opposed by a very different form of speculative world creation. As a basis for future marketable design products, corporate groups draw up dystopian scenarios on a grand scale that use the same instruments as speculative design. However, the dystopias of the corporate groups are focused on less critical debates and are concerned rather with the controllability of the dystopia. Intrinsically they claim that the negative utopias speak against the present only to the extent that efforts can be made to ensure the survival of the individual company. The introductory presentation compares these two types of dystopias as a means to classify and evaluate the artistic and rhetorical process of diagnosing the present in the light of future design. Ultimately, we need to ask how playing with imagination and imaginativeness might impact the present era in different ways.