Balloons as metaphor for futures, twisted and made into different forms, suggesting the malleability and precariousness of futures. Photo Yue Zou.

Shaping malleable futures

BALLUSION looks at the role of words, language and metaphor in design projects and its relation to futures. As we note in our Unit on this in the LEXICON,

When we talk about the future, we refer to something that lies ahead of us in time. As designers, we’re invested in affecting, changing and shaping this ‘future’. However, ‘future’ is an ambiguous and intangible concept. Using a metaphor to describe the future allows us to make it tangible, making it interesting for us to experiment and play with it.

The BALLUSION workshop explores ‘balloons’ as a metaphor for shapeable futures. We take this up in the supporting Unit by asking: ‘If the balloon represents the future, how might we shape, twist, deflate, go, squeeze, bounce, tap, stretch or release it?’

By treating words as design material, participants cut them out into small strips. These are inserted into balloons and blown up, thereby sending the words into future. The words are brought back to present by popping the balloon and using the fallen words as inspiration to reflect on their design projects.

Identifying Needs and Interests, PhD Workshop #1. BALLUSION
AHO, 28 February 2020
Teachers and facilitators: Andrew Morrison & Palak Dudani

The workshop was designed with PhD students in mind. The aim of the workshop was to explore the use of words in shaping concepts in a PhD thesis, clarify the project’s focus in early phase and position it relation to the future.

Preparing the in-person workshop at AHO. Photo Palak Dudani.

This workshop was initially designed as a face-to-face event and was conducted during early March, before the lockdown period. As the lock-down period went into extension, our project team negotiated this to create a digital version for this workshop. The version shown here gives insights into how we did this learning process together. The revised revision is shown in the UNIT 4.2 LANGUAGE AND METAPHOR.

In this post we share how we conducted the workshop and its key activities and we also share the resources we used along the way.

One of the student participants going through a list of 250 FUTURES DESIGN WORDS. Photo Palak Dudani.

Starting with terms from the LEXICON

The PhD students looked at 250 FUTURES DESIGN WORDS and TABLE OF SEMANTIC CATEGORIES as a way to find futures words that relate to their project. 

They select a word and write them onto the balloon. They play with the balloons, shaping them into forms that reflect the character of their projects. 

Student participants selecting words relevant to their PhD project and writing them on their balloons. Photo Palak Dudani.

Student participants playing with balloons, shaping them in ways to reflect their projects. Photos Palak Dudani.

Playing with the ‘futures’ as balloons

In the following phase of the workshop, the metaphor of ‘balloon’ is used as a way to articulate the futures positioning or what kind of futures the PhD students are working towards.

Students received balloons filled with words. As they popped the balloons, the words fell onto the table, brought into the present. What does it mean to bring words from the future and about the future, into the present? Discussion followed.

The workshop is divided into sections and activities, as shown here in a screenshot of the UNIT 4.2 LANGUAGE AND METAPHOR on the FUEL4DESIGN website.

Next, the participants chose their own 10 words relevant to their PhD project. They cut them into strips and inserted them into balloons. Once inserted, these represented words in the future. In order for them to be seen and touched or accessed, these words needed to be brought down to the present. The students popped the future/balloon so the words would ‘fall’ to the present. These words are the material students could then use to articulate and shape their project. Popping or releasing or taking away the balloons was like sending them into the future. 

Student participants cut the words relevant for their project. Photo Palak Dudani (left) and Claire Dennigton (right).

The cut-out words were inserted into balloons and ‘sent into future’ (left). Popping the balloons, made the words within the balloons ‘fall back into present’ (right). Photos Palak Dudani.

Reflecting on language and metaphor

Quiet individual writing was part of finishing the workshop. The students selected five words from the fallen words and reflected on their definitions in relation to their project. A few more balloons were also popped.

PhD student writing definitions for her chosen words, reflecting on how they relate with her PhD thesis project. Photo Palak Dudani.