Notes from the Sea
Notes from the Sea is a workshop that sparks imagination and inspires debate about human influences on the natural world. The project began in 2018 as a design and futures literacy collaboration with my colleagues Siyuan Ma, Sameer Tendolkar, and Wanying Zhu in Laura Forlano's Designing Futures class at IIT Institute of Design and has continued to evolve since then. It was a featured project at BioDesign Challenge in 2018, and we presented our ongoing work at PRIMER 2020 and Anticipation 2019.
Our project began as a way to get people to imagine new futures. We wanted to invite people to challenge their assumptions about the natural world. Together, we believed that we could help each other be more open-minded and mindful in our lives and in our work.
Activation and discussion
We invited people into an unfamiliar future: an undersea world, hundreds of years in the future. Workshop participants paged through a "field notebook" full of sketches and descriptions of several organisms that had adapted to a variety of environmental changes. After looking through the field notebook, they played a brief game to imagine yet more futuristic sea creatures. Many posted their new creatures on a physical or digital board, to inspire other participants.
A spirited discussion followed the activity: this way of looking at the natural world sparked a variety of emotions, ranging from optimism and empowerment to concern or even anger. Together, we asked participants to articulate the root cause of those feelings. Why did they feel optimistic, or concerned? The answers to these questions, and the discussions around them, led us to a set of core assumptions that people held about the natural world.
The success of this project has created a framework for critical conversations about the future. Participants found that articulating and comparing assumptions helped start conversations about better futures for our world.