How can we start important discussions around the power technology, and the companies who wield it have in our collective future?
A Speculative venture capital organisation promoting fictitious and thought-provoking companies into the public space.
Ventually is a fictional venture capital organisation attempting to provoke discourse, opinions and scepticism around trends, technology, and culture through the medium of the start-up business. It presents ideas about the near future by confronting readers with realistic companies that are trying to sell their products. These ideas are then placed in front of the public, as if they were real, in attempt to create discussion and debate about the power technology, and the companies who wield it will have in our collective future.
Whether that be a tinder-like app for choosing your baby, a dieting AR app that makes healthy food look like it's deliciously unhealthy or a smart device that calls out fake news when it hears it. My thesis is that by presenting these ideas in as convincing a way as possible, readers will be more challenged by the ideas presented. Hence each company is branded as much as possible, from logos to imagery and especially their tone of voice.
Start-ups were my focus for this project because I feel they often employ the cutting edge of technology only to solve problems of laziness and egotism. These solutions, while benefiting the service user, often end up having unintended consequences for wider society. Take Airbnb for example, its use has been shown to promote the Disneyfication of cities due to the large increase of new tourist accommodation, as well as the rapid gentrification of certain city districts. Both of these things impact the wider city community while the Airbnb user gets to "live like a local."
The first of the three start-ups and what started this project was Pygma, a freemium app that allows parents to choose their "future child's appearance, personality and most importantly health." However, Pygma does not look or sound like your typical medical app, or even a Sci-Fi prop. It employs a playful tone of voice and is visually colourful, complete with naively animated avatars of your future child. Pygma attempts to convince potential readers through believable UX and the promise of a soon to start Beta program.
The concept argues that as our understanding of our genetic code improves and technologies such as CRISPR and embryo selection help in the battle against hereditary diseases. Some companies are already pushing into the legal grey area of designer babies. Will this be a niche of the ultra-rich and nepotistic or will the act of picking a child to be as commonplace swiping right on tinder? If so, would you choose a child who has a higher IQ but also a higher risk of depression? How about a child that is high in agreeableness, so they will never struggle to make friends but maybe they never develop into their own person?
Fauxcal, the second start-up, is an AR app for a future incarnation of Google Glass. It aims to help users who are dieting by using AR technology to overlay bland healthy food with exciting and deliciously unhealthy ingredients. For example, if you were eating a lean meal of salad with grilled chicken, Fauxcal would trick your eyes into seeing a salad drizzled with thick dressing and slices of Parmesan cheese or add whipped cream to your morning fruit salad. Fauxcal breaths reality into its concept through food photography from food stylist Camilla Wordie and a convincing set of new and Pixel-esque Google Glass glasses.
This start-up contemplates that as augmented and virtual reality moves out of the control of gamers and technophiles, how will this technology be used by an ever-increasing aesthetically concerned mainstream culture? Are these technologies something to be embraced solely by those who bought 3D TVs? Or will the boundary between the real and false blur in the physical world as they seem to have done in the online world? Will it mean that in the future as AR glasses become commonplace, will each of us see the world in drastically different ways based on our unique preferences?
Lastly, there is Arbit, a smart device very relevant to our current fake news predicament. It takes the design and ease of use of a Google Home or Amazon's Alexa, and combines them with the functionality of fact-checking sites such as Snopes.com and factcheck.org. It's a smart device that listens to the conversations around it and then checks what has been said against "trusted sources". If it hears any misinformation or falsehoods, it calls them out and informs the room of the reality. It employs a tone of voice and aesthetic closely aligned to traditional newspapers, and always claims to be a great arbiter of truth and impartiality. Arbit looks to persuade readers with photo-realistic renders from 3D artists Yurii & Archstorm and two colour options for discerning customers.
The Arbit start-up asks if, as the western world appears to become more politically and ideologically divided each day, will we choose to use the smart technologies already populating our homes to help stop the local spread of the new media misinformation, that many believe helped cause the political polarisation we face? If so what will the cost be to our own beliefs, our convenient lies and our privacy?
The project was launched into the public realm via two distinct channels. The first was on Linkedin, through my personal profile. To keep to my thesis of challenging mindsets through convincing design fiction, I first changed my LinkedIn profile to the CEO of Ventually. I then launched the fictitious Venture capital firm, with a post on my own profile, written in a fitting tone of voice.
Initial results were underwhelming, with most people either being fellow designers who liked the project, or family members who didn't visit the project but were happy with my drastic career change. A few people did take issues with the concepts presented, but overall it did not provoke the discourse or scepticism I was looking for. In an attempt to more directly challenge viewers, I posted an apology explaining how I the CEO should not be proud of these companies for a variety of reasons. However, this only resulted in more designers engaging with the project and no wider discussions. It seemed the Linkedin launch had failed in part for my name being attached to it and for the fact I tried to launch all three companies at once.
So for the second stage, I created Facebook adverts for each of the companies and targeted people who would most be affected. For exampled I targeted Fauxcal at Dieters, Pygma at newlyweds and Arbit at the politically interested. These adverts did cause engagement and discussion, with some people even sharing the adverts on their own page. Some commentators were excited by the ideas, others outraged, but most were anxious about this world I was suggesting. One of the most encouraging things that happened, was that Commenters went beyond critiquing the individual start-ups and instead began to critique other ways these technologies could be used. Would Arbit be used by the government to control thought? Would Fauxcal start change our partners into supermodels? Is Pygma needed or just another useless Start-up inspired by Science Fiction?
Although I will never know if the ideas I showed, impacted their lives in meaningful ways, this project has filled me with hope about the power of design fiction uniquely has to create discussions about the world we live in today and tomorrow. This project is ongoing, and I'm always keeping my eyes out for new ways to put these counterfeit companies into the public realm.