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This week we’re quoting…
Phnam Bagley (Space Architect at Nonfiction Design)
What Bagley said:
“When you don’t think about the future, you tend to answer the same questions with the same solutions. The ability to travel in space and time in your mind, uncover the possibilities and understand how we are evolving as societies is primordial to true innovation.”
Imagining the future holds answers
Bagley’s words were in response to us asking her what it means to her to look at design from a futuristic perspective. And we love her answer – because it reminds us that looking to the future is a way to see beyond the limitations we’re currently working within.
It’s not about predicting the future, but instead about imagining how the future could be, or how we really want it to be. And then working back from there.
This isn’t just for Space Architects
OK, so you might not be a Space Architect like Bagley. But this perspective can be useful for anyone, doing anything. Bringing a sense of futurism into the way you solve problems and generate ideas gives you a chance to shake off the shackles of what’s currently possible. You get to think with more freedom. And when you do that, you can create solutions (and experiences) that other people think are a little bit…out there.
Futuristic thinkers have always been responsible for pursuing ideas that other people think will never be possible. And by dedicating themselves to their vision of the future, they’ve changed the world again and again.
There are some obvious examples…
In 2021, about 22.2 million airline flights took off around the world (and that’s after a decline in growth of flight numbers due to COVID-19). But in 1902, Simon Newcomb (Physicist and Director of the US Naval Observatory) said: “Flight by machines heavier than air is impractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.”
In 1903, when Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved their first ever ‘heavier-than-air’ flight, most people still didn’t believe it.More than a year after that first flight the Scientific American magazine was still demanding more concrete evidence – because the idea that air travel was possible was generally seen as a bit ridiculous.
The Wright brothers were practical people, with the grit to focus on the pursuit of flight until they made it happen. But that practical determination came from a more idealistic vision: unlike most people, they could imagine how flight might change our lives.
Just like air travel, it took futuristic visionaries to develop the technologies we now take for granted – from electric light bulbs to computational power and space exploration, the quest for new frontiers has always been a driver of innovation.
And some less obvious ones
Most of us have had an X-ray at some point in our lives – but after W.C. Röntgen reported the discovery of X-rays in 1895, other experts (including British physicist Lord Kelvin) said that X-ray technology would prove to be a hoax. It simply couldn’t be possible to create images of the inside of a person’s body.
Then there’s online shopping – which Time Magazine ‘futurists’ predicted (in 1966) wasn’t feasible, even if the technology was developed (because people would never want to buy things without touching them first). Fast-forward to 2023, and the global ecommerce market is expected to reach USD $6.3 trillion.
And Post-It Notes. Yep, those little sticky squares of coloured paper – they were thought to be a physical impossibility. Their inventor, Spencer Silver, did something that other scientists declared could never be done. In 1968 he discovered an acrylic adhesive, formed of tiny spheres that could provide a pressure-sensitive adhesive that was tacky enough to stick, but with a low degree of adhesion – so you could also unstick it with ease.
Now, 3M (the company that Silver worked for) produces over 50 billion Post-It Notes every year, and the global market for sticky notes is expected to reach over $200 million by 2025.
OK. And what have Post-Its got to do with Space Architecture?
Everything. Spencer Silver might not have been designing sticky notes for space, but what he was doing was making something that hadn’t been thought possible – until he created it.
And that’s what futuristic thinking is. Looking ahead: not to what you think will happen, but to what you believe can happen. And then making it happen.
By doing this, innovators can be a part of shaping the future; and human beings can become creators of our own experience – instead of only reacting to external forces.
Read the interview: What does a Space Architect do on Earth?