The most important challenges of the 21st century - Climate change, Inequality, Automation, Ecological Collapse etc - are widely considered to be a wicked problem, i.e., problems
difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. It refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem; and "wicked" denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Another definition is "a problem whose social complexity means that it has no determinable stopping point". Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.
A ‘solutionist mindset’ can be an obstacle when it comes to wicked problems. This week's highlight ‘Speculative Everything’ inserts a note of caution when it comes to respond to wicked problems.
Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming - Anthony Dunne, Fiona Raby. “How to use design as a tool to create not only things but ideas, to speculate about possible futures. Today designers often focus on making technology easy to use, sexy, and consumable. In Speculative Everything, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby propose a kind of design that is used as a tool to create not only things but ideas. For them, design is a means of speculating about how things could be—to imagine possible futures. This is not the usual sort of predicting or forecasting, spotting trends and extrapolating; these kinds of predictions have been proven wrong, again and again. Instead, Dunne and Raby pose “what if” questions that are intended to open debate and discussion about the kind of future people want (and do not want).
In short, a book about design not as a way of solving problems but as opening up new possibilities. The future, as we all know, only has possibilities, so speculative everything is ultimately about the design of the future.
Opening up before narrowing down
Problem solving is primary a process of narrowing, of the attitude famously expressed by Sherlock Holmes as:
It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
That’s great detective literature but not so great as an approach to wicked problems, especially before we have a sense of the elephant we are approaching from different perspectives.
We need to start with expansion rather than contraction, though we can't stay in an open zone forever. Design fiction helps us open up before narrowing down.