Having already explored our current use of wearable technology within the context of health and fitness goals, as curious and analytical design researchers, we felt compelled to look further ahead to the future.
We ran a Design Fiction workshop internally to explore the future of wearables and skin deep technology in the context of Health and Fitness and beyond – exploring its other uses in Environment, Gamification, Financial and Productivity.
As part of the workshop, we incorporated some of the techniques and activities we are learning about in our company-wide speculative design training with Critical Design School – thank you J.Paul! We also managed to squeeze in some of Near Future Laboratory’s awesome Design Fiction method cards for some additional food for thought.
Join us on a ride in our time machine as we fast forward 10 years to 2033…
We kicked off the session by mapping the intended and unintended consequences of our different scenarios.
There was an option to work solo or in pairs for this, most opted to solo work first, which is recommended for getting individual thoughts out first before jumping into group discussions. Some found collaborative working easier as it gave space to share ideas and consider different perspectives.
We then elaborated on the scenarios provided, where naturally people began ideating on the wearable technology that would exist in this future. Though there were wearable sceptics in the room, with fears of data breaches, everyone brought many ideas of the kinds of technology that would exist – from talking fridges with Joe Wicks face telling you how much sugar you’d eaten that day, to Steampunk monocles racking up points for your everyday chores.
We rounded off the session by jumping back in the time machine back to today, asking ourselves: If we had one day tomorrow to explore this future further, what would we prototype, test, create, or what research question might we investigate? This is possibly the most important step in speculative design, bringing it back to the now and making it tangible.
Our environmentally-focused pair embarked on a journey to a utopian land where reducing one’s carbon footprint was as simple as receiving a helpful nudge from a device. However, the road quickly turned thorny when the ethical implications of such nudges were considered – what if someone couldn’t walk instead of taking a bus due to disability or age? The crux of their exploration lay in the question – is it fair to shoulder individuals with the responsibility of tackling climate change, and how could wearables serve to hold corporations accountable on the path to net-zero emissions?
Scenario given: The year is 2033, citizens’ carbon emissions are tracked using wearable technology, and carbon footprints are monitored by external organisations.
Scenario elaborated on: In the year 2033, when wearable tech is used to monitor and support individuals in improving their personal CO2 emissions, people track the impact of their daily activities and get personalised feedback. We have rankings of top offenders and ‘best in class’, we also see a rise in anxiety as a result of hyper awareness of impact on the planet. Going over your monthly allowance starts to lead to punishment, social exclusion, and impact on the personal tax bracket. Some individuals that repeatedly go over allowance start to lose access to electricity for the rest of the month until their allowance gets reset.
Our gamification-focused duo, both sceptics about wearable tech, shared apprehensions about potential data exploitation. They envisioned a future where affluence dictated the possession of a steampunk-inspired monocle that tracked daily activities, all under the guise of a harmless game.
Scenario given: The year is 2033, citizens take part in various gamified activities which are tracked using wearable technology, points are monitored by external organisations.
Health & wellbeing
This group’s imagination ran riot, envisioning a fully integrated Internet of Things (IoT) household system – complete with glucose level monitors and a smart fridge impersonating Joe Wicks, advising on dietary choices. Their vision was largely utopian, but they acknowledged potential pitfalls, such as guilt-inducing health obsessions that could lead to unhealthy habits.
Scenario given: The year is 2033, citizens’ health and wellbeing (both physical and mental health) is tracked using wearable technology, health outcomes are monitored by external organisations.
The group focusing on the financial implications of wearable technology imagined a world where personal financial management is no longer a chore but an automated process. They envisaged devices capable of tracking real-time earnings, spending habits, and even predicting future financial health based on current behaviours.
Scenario given: The year is 2033, citizens’ finances (earning and spending) are tracked using wearable technology, their contribution to the economy is monitored by external organisations.
Our productivity-focused duo painted a picture of a world where productivity had usurped value and meaning at work – a world where even lunch hours were subject to monitoring. Amidst the corporate push for increased workforce productivity, the question arose – is this business-centric or employee-centric?
Scenario given: The year is 2033, citizens’ work activity is tracked using wearable technology, and productivity results are monitored by external organisations.
Bringing it Back to Now
As our session drew to a close, we reflected on the impact of design fiction and speculative design by posing a crucial question: What is the one thing we would investigate, test, or prototype if we had just one day to work on it tomorrow?
This question forces us to prioritise and distil our ideas into actionable steps, bringing the future closer to the present and enabling us to experiment with tangible prototypes and concepts. Whether it is exploring sustainable solutions, reimagining social structures, or envisioning technology’s role in our lives, the value of futures thinking lies in its application to the present. By leveraging the power of design and creativity, we can shape a more thoughtful, inclusive, and resilient future.
Ben is on hand to answer your questions.