Future Possible

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Illustration by Syd Mead.
Illustration by Syd Mead.

Nick de la Mare, Frog Design.
Nick de la Mare, Frog Design.
Unfortunately, we don't often get to imagine as far out as the artists chronicled in Sci-Fi-O-Rama. I've loved this site ever since I recognized one of the artists from a sci-fi book I had as a kid. It's amazing to browse the various artists' work and to think how we've internalized the dystopian future many of them portrayed.

Syd Mead, artist and production designer on many groundbreaking movies, from Tron to Bladerunner to Aliens, has a bunch of homage sites as well as a site of his own on the web. The collection I consistently go back to is aFlickr pool of some work he did in 1961 for the US Steel Corporation; these were a set of illustrations that showed the way a future might look from the vantage point of the early '60s. In many ways, Mead's future was similar to our reality, but featuring fancier cars, exotic animals and really great jumpsuits.

Syd Mead reveals our tendency to judge the future through the eyes of today. Paleofuture.com is a wonderful chronicler of that tendency, a catchall for the myriad different ways the world "could have" turned out.

But it's not only fiction that offers us a glimpse of the future. Sometimes, peering into the proverbial crystal ball is as simple as looking beyond our borders. In the mobile and e-money spaces, for example, Japan has an edge on the United States. A blog like CScout %u2013 Trends in Japan provides a place to go when we're imagining what life could be like here in the next couple of years. A recent article on CScout chronicled RFID integration across a variety of venues, and linked to videos of different e-money locations in action. The United States and Japan obviously have very different norms regarding user experience, but the technical aspects of how the Japanese are dealing with changes to the point-of-sale experience are invaluable to those of us designing the next generation of POS here. CScout is a fascinating look at how different cultures integrate and use technology.

Whether inspiration springs from an artist's imaginary world or the not-so-distant future on the other side of the globe, the most valuable resource for a designer is his or her own curiosity. Sci-fi is curiosity and creativity unbridled. As we imagine the world of the future we can look to other cultures and alternative realities for signposts, signals and possibilities. And while it's true that most predictions of the future are far from the eventual truth (may I interest anyone in a flying car?), it's also true that they are the product of today's reality. Sci-fi offers a reflection of the culture in which it was written, and curiosity for where that culture will end up. And like the predictions designers make, it's a fantastic game of what-ifs.


Nick de la Mare, a Creative Director at frog design San Francisco, has spent his career designing digital, physical and experiential systems.
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