Before you can build the future you have to imagine it

by Rich Wells
Posted on 18 September 2015
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Often as adults, and especially as tech professionals, we can fall into a trap of tweaking things without really being imaginative. I've been thinking a lot about this recently — how often do I imagine the future? Should I spend less time tweaking things on computers, and more time drawing with my three-year-old daughter?

My grandad has a sketchbook he inherited from his uncle, a man called Jack Moody, who was an art director in the 1920s.

It's partly because of this collection of doodles, studies and ideas that I'm doing what I am today. I remember looking at them as a teenager and being massively inspired to keep sketchbooks myself and make a habit of drawing regularly. Sadly, Jack didn't have the same inspirational affect on my grandad – his: “That isn't very good." comment on an early piece of artwork stopped him ever drawing again.

One of Jack's sketches has always stood out to me, and it's this:

The above A5–sized pen and ink drawing was done at the turn of last century, and is Jack's vision of what he thought London would be like in the future – a city full of electrical wires, streamlined monorails, aeroplanes and crowds of people in Victorian dress. It's clear he was interested in technology and how it would shape the world and the city he lived in.

dConstructing the future

Last week I went to dConstruct, a UX conference in Brighton. I went mainly because of the theme for the day: “Designing the future".

One of my highlights was a talk from Brian David Johnson, a futurist and roboticist at Intel. In my opinion, anyone who designs and makes robots is worth listening to. Here's his robot called Jimmy.

Brian talked about how we're getting to the point with technology where the computational power to space ratio will be almost zero in 5 years.

Today's phones are more powerful than our laptops a few years ago, and desktop computers a few years before that. And soon we'll be able to shrink the size of power down even further, to a point where lots more things will be possible. According to Brian, the question we'll be asking more and more is not “Can we do it?" but “What do we want to do, and why?" It's such a great question to ask!

Imagination is everything

Often as adults and tech professionals we can fall into a trap of just tweaking things and making life more efficient, without really using our imaginations. Look at the new iPhone 6s – it's better than the last one, but it's pretty much the same, despite Apple's claims. Oh, sorry, it's now available in rose gold.

Listening to kids

It was for this reason Brian started working with kids to design robots. His colleagues at Intel had sensible ideas about how robots could help make life easier. But Brian worked with a group of mainly Latino girls from the Bronx, who came up with ideas which were more whacky, out there, fun and human. The young people wrote stories, drew pictures and invented characters that seemed silly at first, but had some real gems of insight in them. Brain did the opposite of what Jack Moody did to my grandad, he encouraged, and saw the potential of what could be, even if the designs were unpolished and needed work.

His quote below summed it up for me:

This is something we've been thinking a lot about recently at Yoomee. We're involved with Code Clubs in schools and Festival of Code, but we're thinking more about how we can interact with our community, especially with young people and those who wouldn't normally have a voice in the tech world. And I'm reminded that listening to my daughter's whacky ideas as she dances around the room in a tiger onesie is not a waste of time — it's the future!

Posted on 18 September 2015 - By Rich Wells
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