A model of relations in Human Ecosystems: Relational Ecosystems

We just published an article on Human Ecosystems in which we describe the ways in which we can model the relationships in the Relational Ecosystems of cities.

The article is titled:

Relations in the Human Ecosystems: Cultures, Communities, Roles and Emergence

and you can read it here: http://human-ecosystems.com/home/relations-in-the-human-ecosystems-cultures-communities-roles-and-emergence/

It is interesting to use these models to gain understandings about how people relate and interact, describing people’s roles in these interactions.

These descriptions, of course, have variations through time and contexts. People participate to different communities and cultures at the same time, with broader or tighter scopes, their roles within them changing all the time, as well as their level of engagement and the layouts and configuration of their participation.

In the article we explore the basics of how we interpret relations in the Human Ecosystems, and use the assumptions to describe various roles which people commonly represent in the Relational Ecosystem: the Expert, the Hub, the Influencer, the Amplifier and the Bridge.

All of these roles allow us to understand how information and knowledge flow across the Relational Ecosystem of cities.

the Influencer

the Influencer


Borges, Welles, Baudrillard, Ballard, Dick and Caronia: Creating Futures

After the Near Future Design workshop held at the Wired NextFest in Milan: 8 hours, 48 people, 5 Near Future Design concepts produced on the theme of Telepathy.

You can see some of the results in the Near Future Design Facebook Group, where you will also be able to get to know the people who joined us in the workshop and all the others, including our wonderful students from ISIA Design School in Florence, who have presented the first book about Near Future Design published in Italy.

Workshop Near Future Design

Workshop Near Future Design

We started off with an introduction about our vision about what is and can be Near Future Design, merging multiple practices and disciplines – across ethnography, technological studies, design fiction, transmedia storytelling and more – to

  1. gain better understanding of the current State of the Arts & Technologies and of the emerging Curious Rituals and Strange Now, recurring patterns of human behaviours which are happening, but for which we don’t yet have clear social codes and understandings
  2. unite these understandings to form a series of Future Maps, maps of possible futures which can show not only futures which are technically and technologically possible, but also in synch with the transformation of human beings, as described through the Curious Rituals and Strange Nows
  3. use the Future Maps to describe concepts for possible products, services, processes, interactions and practices which are likely to emerge in the near future
  4. design these products/services/processes/practices through Design Fiction, creating pre-totypes, early prototypes which not only include the prototypal implementation of these objects and services, but also of their diegetic character and characteristics, their being suggestive and scenographic, their ability to suggest the possible emergence of the practices and processes connected to their existence – be them positive, problematic, or in-between, across social, political and anthropological scenarios – and, as a consequence, to give shape new languages, codes and imaginaries which are able to transform our possibility to imagine and create new futures, opportunities and possibilities
  5. use the Design Fictions in a World Building process, using Transmedia Storytelling, to design the world in which these pre-totypes might come into existence, trying to give answers to questions like “what would be the world like, if this product/service/process/practice would actually exist?” and “what would be in this world?”, “how would human interactions, relations, knowledge and understanding of the world be transformed?”
  6. use the Transmedia Storytelling to create the product/service/process/practice’s manifestations in this possible future world, in cities, urban environments, online, offline, in advertising, human interactions and across a variety of different, coordinated media, to create an immersive experience, in which the design becomes a simulacrum, a state of suspended disbelief in which it is impossible (or, at least, difficult) to understand wether the object is fake or real, thus enabling people to actually being inclined to adopt the new languages, codes and imaginaries emerging from its (possible) existence, and use them to construct and express their own vision on the world, including this new possibility
  7. observe these resulting forms of human expression to gain better understandings of the reactions, to go beyond the idea of technically/technologically possible futures, and to understand the expression of desirable, preferable futures.
the Near Future Design process

the Near Future Design process

At the end of the workshop we joined Bruce Sterling in a discussion about the importance of performing such processes, and about the radical transformation and addition to the role of Design which they represent: you can find a description of the talk here, on Wired (in Italian).

During the talk, we selected a series of quotes from a series of writers, philosophers and movie directors, to highlight the social, political and philosophical implications of the creation of Near Future Designs, and on the possibility to create and use new codes, languages and imaginaries to build our world and futures, through expression, communication and performance.

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

“The people who write novels have to take the infinite reality and make it finite, give it an order. A novel has a beginning and an end: for this it is a finite world. The tale, instead, is the only infinite literary genre. A good tale is a story which does not have a beginning and end. To describe the infinite, you sketch a trace of it, which is also infinite. A tale is a trace of infinite.” – Jorge Luis Borges

We used Borges’ quote to describe the necessity to create open narratives, the importance of the need to avoid describing complete, prepared, pre-determined futures, to enable people’s possibility to create their own futures. The question “what comes next?” can be an opportunity for performance, for the creation of our own future, the way we desire and prefer it. Too often it is an act of passive consumption: someone telling you “this is the future”, and you adopting it.

The library of Babel

The library of Babel

The Library of Babel is an hallucinatory universe composed by a spatially infinite library made from hexagonal halls, which chaotically collects all of the possible books of 410 pages, in which are all the possible permutations and combinations of letters and numbers.


In the library, all the possible books of 410 pages are present. Therefore it is present the Book of Truth, all of its variants including its opposite, and human beings do not have any way to distinguish one from the other:


« Starting from this incontrovertible premises, he decided that the Library is total, and that its shelves record all the possible combinations of the 25 alphabetical signs, all that we can express, in all languages. Everything: the detailed story of the future, the autobiographies of the archangels, the truthful catalogue of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the falsity of all these catalogues, the demonstration of the falsity of the true catalogue [...] the translation of each book in all languages, the interpolation of each book in all of the other ones. »
– Jorge Luis Borges

This piece from the Library of Babel was used to allude to the need for our active participation to the description of the future, among the infinite possible ones. While the futures are infinite, many do not make any sense, multiple are dangerous for us, or in opposition to our desires, expectations and ambitions, and so on. From all of them we can potentially learn something, develop new visions, imaginations, ideas, desires, languages and codes. We cal use all of these to create new realities, new codes, and to enact them in performance, with our daily lives.

Orson Welles

Orson Welles

Once, a friend of a friend showed Picasso a Picasso. “No, it is fake”, answered the painter. The same friend got hold of another presumed Picasso, and Picasso said that also this was a fake. The friend took another one, but this was fake as well, said Picasso. “But, Pablo”, said the friend, “I have seen you paint this with my own eyes.” “I can paint a fake Picasso just like anybody else”, replied Picasso.

– Orson Welles

This quote by Orson Welles points out the problematic aspect of deciding “what is real”. Reality is always an interpretation, originating from cultural, political, social and subjective elements. Reality is a code and a space, and multiple of them exist at the same time, built through language and practice (performance). By questioning reality we can enter a state of openness to possibility, in which we can perform reality, creating new ones, constructively (Picasso painting the fake Picasso).

Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard

Go and organize a fake hold up. Be sure to check that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no life is in danger (otherwise you risk committing an offence). Demand ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion possible. In brief, stay close to the “truth”, so as to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won’t succeed: the web of artificial signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements (a police officer will really shoot on sight; a bank customer will faint and die of a heart attack; they will really turn the phoney ransom over to you). In brief, you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality: that’s exactly how the established order is, well before institutions and justice come into play.

– Jean Baudrillard

This quote from Baudrillard describes the relation of “fake” and simulation with reality. “Fake” is not “not real”, it is another real, which interweaves itself with the consensual reality, creating new spaces of perception, cognition and imagination. It defines new possibles, new possible realities, which will be interpreted by human beings and by societies, who will react and perform accordingly. Fake is real.

J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard

Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.
– J.G. Ballard

This quote from J.G. Ballard explains the role of Science Fiction within our societies. Science Fiction as a probe, as an exploratory performance into possibility, into possible worlds, to open them up for discussion, expression, critique and enactment. A sensor for “the possible”. We believe that the same can be said for Art.

Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick

If you think this universe is bad, you should see the other ones.

– Philip K. Dick

This quote from Dick describes the possibility to take into account a plurality of different futures, and the critical aspects of this consideration, which opens up not only the opportunity of understanding, describing and designing (for) them, but also highlights the importance of embracing active modalities to describe our desired, preferred futures, and to enact them through the performance of our daily lives.

Antonio Caronia

Antonio Caronia

It is not a random fact that futurology is developing in an historical moment such as the present one, in which we are witnessing a radical mutation of our planet.
Wether we call it “post-industrial society”, “information society”, “technotronic age”, “superindustrial society” or “third wave”, the progressive emergence of a new reality is clear: the situation of the planet is changing, in the ways in which we work, in our lifestyles, in the social and political conflicts, in economy and love, in the institutions and in the codes of behaviour.
Understanding this mutation is essential to direct it, to deal with the emergencies and with the effective risks of catastrophe (environmental, social, economic) which will not address themselves. The work on the understanding and forecasting of the future seems essential to adequately confront with all of these issues. At the condition which this work does not generate a caste of super-technicians who assume for themselves the right to decide – alone or together with the bureaucracies which govern us – everyone’s destiny.
On the direction of this destiny the last word pertains to the people: there must be no doubt about this.
–Antonio Caronia


The presentation can be seen on Slideshare:

Transmedia Design

Fake and real. Simulacra and simulation.

Go and organize a fake hold up. Be sure to check that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no life is in danger (otherwise you risk committing an offence). Demand ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion possible. In brief, stay close to the “truth”, so as to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won’t succeed: the web of art)ficial signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements (a police officer will really shoot on sight; a bank customer will faint and die of a heart attack; they will really turn the phoney ransom over to you). In brief, you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality: that’s exactly how the established order is, well before institutions and justice come into play.

This quote from Baudrillard’sSimulacra and Simulation” allows us to understand very precisely simulation’s role in human society and perception.

In the media environment in which we are constantly immersed, people constantly interpret what they experience using signs, signals and clues which are real, fake, simulated, relevant, unrelated…

Going back to Baudrillard:

Thus all hold ups, hijacks and the like are now as it were simulation hold ups, in the sense that they are inscribed in advance in the decoding and orchestration rituals of the media, anticipated in their mode of presentation and possible consequences.

This observation describes what is called Hyperrealism. “More than real “. More than real because, to an extent, the “real” depends from what media show about it, from how they show it.

If I think of a holdup: although I have never really experienced one, I know how it goes, how it unfolds, how it develops. Because I have already seen it, millions of times, in movies, television, youtube videos, images. I know what to expect, what happens.

a Bank Robbery

a Bank Robbery

If I close my eyes, and think “bank robbery”, I will see images, hear sounds, imagine emotions, fears, excitement, the adrenaline rushes of all the participants involved: the bank robber, the police man, the hostage, the clerk.

I don’t need to actually be in a bank hold up because, through media of multiple types, I have been there a million times.

In our contemporary world, things become even more complex.

Invisible cities, by Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia

Invisible cities, by Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia

In each instant, we are constantly immersed in a multitude of flows of information and communication: the things we see, the signs and signals, the displays which we’re surrounded from, the advertisements, the things we see with the corners of our field of vision, people, their gestures, dress-codes and the ways in which we interpret them, sounds. And our smartphones.

Think about arriving in a city for the first time. You’ve never been there before. Do it.

which city is this

which city is this?

Only a few years ago, when this happened, you really did not know much about the city: maybe you had a couple of addresses (of your hotel and a restaurant which a friend advised you to visit), you could have seen a couple of postcards or pictures, you could have read a guide… not much.

Now, everything has changed.

When you arrive in a city for the first time in your life, you have already seen it: on Google Maps, or even Streetview. You have seen pictures, read reviews, gathered opinions and experiences on TripAdvisor, asked around on Facebook, and maybe even found a few friends to meet there. You might even be couch surfing in someone’s home. Maybe you already know that a certain neighbourhood in the city is dangerous, or interesting, or full of artists, or stores.

Let’s push it: maybe you went to that city because of something you read/saw online, in the first place. Something online made you change our behaviour, or take a certain decision. If you had read something different, maybe you would have gone to a different city.

Again: you could imagine that city, have feelings for it, even without having actually been there. Simulated. And, thus, real.

That city, thus, is not only made from buildings, streets, shops, squares, houses, parks and other physical objects.

It is built from a variety of different media. Some of them very physical, like concrete, wood, glass, asphalt. Some of them immaterial, like digital information, images, videos, text, emotions, experiences, data.

All these meda entangle with each other and with our perception, forming the way in which we perceive reality.

augmented city

augmented city

The landscape is now composed by trees, buildings and digital information.

We can use the “traditional” senses to perceive all of them: sight, hearing, tactility, smell, taste.

Other, new, senses add up to the “traditional” ones, or modified senses, which we learned to use in more recent times. We do not have 5 (or 6) senses, but a higher number of them.

For example the sense of proprioception, which is among the senses which has undergone massive transformation in recent times: the feeling of being in a certain place. Where are we when we are non Skype, on Facebook, or while we look at Google Earth?  We are in a different, other, place, which is not where our physical body is, not at our friend’s house, not on the screen, but in-between, suspended, Other.

It is necessary, in our contemporary world, to understand how to deal with this and similar facts, with this dimension.

This is fundamental for Design.

a chair

a chair

Let’s imagine designing a chair.

When I design a chair, I’m not designing an object. I’m creating a story.

A story which is the result of the entanglement multiple elements, including the chair’s shapes, materials, structural properties.

lots of different chairs

lots of different chairs

But also of a series of other elements. What do I mean when I say or imagine a “chair”? What does someone with a different culture or background mean by it? What do I expect from a chair? What do I like, hate, fear, desire from it? Which chairs have I experienced, seen, wanted, worked with in my life? …

It is an intricate story, built from formal elements, cultural ones, experiential ones, affective ones, emotional ones, and so on. Regarding me, and also all the other people which this chair is for, or who will see the chair in the store and recognise it as a chair, feel desire, attraction, repulsion, fear, love, seduction, and other emotions, feelings and meanings for it.

This is, as we were saying, even more complex in the era of ubiquitous information, in which search engines (like the image above, which is obtained by performing an image search for chairs), social networks, websites, augmented realities and more add multiple other layers to this, generated by people, companies, organisations and more.

This is not a new thing.

It has always been there: objects (and products, services, ideas, narratives…) have been stories which people interpret using their own cultures, contexts, cues and backgrounds since the beginning of mankind.

Let’s think of an incipit:

I was alone, at sea

I was alone, at sea

“I was alone, at sea.”

If you close your eyes, and try to visualise this incipit, what is happening in it, what do you imagine?

Different people imagine different things.

Some will think of men, women. Some will thing about homes, rafts, yachts. Some will think about sadness, or meditative states, or fear, danger, or happiness and love.

What does this mean?

It means that we create the story ourselves, in our minds.

It means that a writer (or designer, or…) never has complete control of the story, of how different people perceive it, imagine it, experience it.

It means that we build the story ourselves in our minds by harvesting a series of clues which are disseminated across a variety of media. Clues which are relevant, irrelevant, collateral, coming from what the writer wrote (or the designer designed, or developer developed, or interface designer designed…) and filtered, changed, transformed according to what we know about the world, the things we have seen and experienced. Or from what we desire, expect, envision, prefer.

Or even shaped by what we have seen online, in the streets of our city, on a billboard, or with the tail of our eye somewhere, or by something we have overheard on the bus, casually listening to what other people were saying.

All this clues, the ones we use to create the story in our heads, are disseminated across a variety of media.

Henry Jenkins defines Transmedia as:

Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

In relation to design, we can use this definition as a starting point, to imagine Design as an act of World Building. Of creating Worlds instead of Objects.

What IF

What IF

If we do this, we would probably try to give answers to a series of “What if?” type questions.

What would be in the world if the object (product/service/application/artwork…) existed?

We know that cars exist not only for the existence of automobiles as physical objects.

We know that cars exist for a number of different reasons, possibly even more important that “cars” (as object) themselves (thing about, for example, if I don’t own a car: its other manifestations could be more important for me than the car itself in knowing about cars’ existence in the world).

Cars exist and we know it, also because we know that repair shops exist, insurance policies, parking tickets, parking lots, car advertisements, gas stations. There are people who publish pictures of their car and with their cars on social networks. There are accidents. There are people who desire certain cars. People who talk on the phone telling their friends that yesterday they ran out of gas and they had to leave the car in the middle of nowhere and walk home. There are prizes in which you win cars. There are cars lovers websites. And cars haters websites, for multiple reasons. There are car factories, and people who work in them. The same people who are on strike when the car factory in which they work shuts down because the production of cars has moved to China, or to some place else. There is the guy who invented the hydrogen car of the future. And many more manifestations of cars.

We know that cars exist because there are all of these things. And all these things exist because there are cars.

What would happen if we took away “cars” (as physical objects) and left all their other manifestations in place? With all probability, we would still think that cars exist.

In general, there are a number of transmedia manifestations of the “car” phenomenon. Which is not an “object”, but a Transmedia Narrative, a Simulacrum.

And, thus, let’s go back to the Simulacrum:



Designers (and artists, politicians, lawyers, and more and more professions) are transforming themselves, wether they realise it or not, into Transmedia Storytellers: professionals who are able to enact world-building processes by designing a Simulacrum through its coordinated manifestations across a variety of different media.

The objective of this type of actions, is twofold: to intervene on “reality” and to “loose control of the story, in controlled ways”.

First: to intervene on “reality”. On consensual reality, on the things and scenarios which we have learned to recognise as real, socially, culturally, psychologically, cognitively and more. To create a transmedia path in which the object (or product, service, law, concept, artwork…) becomes present in the world not only through its physical/digital presence, but also through the presence of its transmedia manifestations.

Not designing objects, but designing worlds.

This permits a powerful transition: to shift the perception of what is possible. By creating a World, instead of an object, we can provide the clues which allow people to believe in the possibility for this World (and for the object/service/artwork/law…) to exist.

And, second, to loose control of the story, in controlled ways.

This is, possibly, among the main opportunity for design in the Era of Knowledge, Information and Communication. The rise of Open Source, peer-to-peer production models, participatory and mutual economies and many more elements constitute evidence for this.

As described, we can use Transmedia Storytelling and World Building techniques to induce a state of Hyperreality. We can create Simulacra.

When this happens – when Hyperreality happens, when we design for Hyperreality – we do not create copies of reality, or their expansions or extensions. We create a new reality, a different one.

This allows us – as described by Deleuze – to establish a privileged position, which allows us to observe the phenomena of our world, and to open new spaces for their critical discussion.

By creating Hyperreality, we create languages and imaginaries, through the shift in perception of possibility: because we learn that something Other is possible, we acquire new language and new pieces of imagination.

And we can (and will) use them to express ourselves.

The Design becomes, thus, a platform for other people’s expression. It becomes a participatory performance.

This is of fundamental value, because through this modality people will not only able to express around their perception of possibility, but also and more importantly on the level of preferability, and of desirability. Expression not only on possible futures, but also of preferable, desirable ones.

From our point of view, this is an exceptional new role for Design and Designers.


Note: this post is the transcription of our contribution to the event on Transmedia Storytelling which was held at the MAXXI Museum in Rome.

The event is the result of the Master in Public & Exhibit Design we hold in La Sapienza University in Rome.

This year we collaborated with artist Maria Cristina Finucci on her Garbage Patch State project, by creating a complex Transmedia Narrative. Here below is the publication of the results of our work:


Human Ecosystems at ArtSci Salon in Toronto

The Human Ecosystems project is going to Toronto, at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences for ArtSci Salon, to start the real-time observation of the city, and for a first workshop on real-time cities, ubiquitous information, commons and the new public spaces (and some information visualization and BigData, too).

Here below the info about the event, as it appeared on the ArtSci Salon blog post about Human Ecosystems:

We are very excited to invite you to the Canadian launch of Human Ecosystems, a collaborative project by Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico a.k.a. Artisopensource (AOS) (http://www.artisopensource.net/)

Salvatore and Oriana are visiting Toronto and will launch the project with a hands-on collaborative intervention.

Join us on Wednesday, Feb. 5 at 6:00 pm
this will be a hands on event, so bring your laptop!


the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
222 College Street, Toronto

This is the perfect occasion to kick off Subtle Technologies 2014 theme on “Open Culture” to celebrate the ways artists and scientists are creating tools and techniques to harness the collective power, knowledge and creativity of the citizen.

About the Project:
Human Ecosystems is a family of real-time systems capturing information from social networks to visualize cities’ human geographies and affective flows. Human beings generate an enormous amount of public information during their daily lives to express their emotions, desires, visions and ideas. Using a set of technologies to map public communication flows on social networks in the city, this project reclaims a novel form of public space: the human infoscape. Human Ecosystems seeks to achieve new understanding of the ways in which different cultures express opinions, emotions and affect. Most importantly, it seeks to reveal how cities’ relational ecosystems are formed and which roles different people assume in their communities (influencers, hubs, experts, amplifiers, bridges among different communities etc…). Human Ecosystems has been launched in Rome (Italy) and S.Paulo (Brazil) producing accessible OpenData maps and visualizations that can be monitored in time and space, revealing the emergence of entirely different cities within the same city, their affective flows, their aggregations and diasporic streams.

Click Here for More info on the Human Ecosystems project

Salvatore Iaconesi is an interaction designer, robotics engineer, artist, hacker. TED Fellow 2012 and Eisenhower Fellow since 2013. He currently teaches Interaction Design and cross-media practices at the Faculty of Architecture of the “La Sapienza” University of Rome, at ISIA Design Florence, at the Rome University of Fine Arts and at the IED Design institute.

Oriana Persico holds a degree in Communication Sciences, is an expert in participatory policies and digital inclusion. She is an artist and writer. She has worked together with national governments and the European Union to the creation of best practices, standards and researches in the areas of digital rights, social and technological innovation, Digital Business Ecosystems (DBE), practices for participation and knowledge sharing.

The performance of the Near Future of Education

This article was published on the Febrary 2nd edition of Nòva24, on Il Sole24Ore.

You can find the original article here: Il futuro scolastico è una performance

Here we give an expanded version of it, without length constraints.

testing out a kinect at ISIA

testing out a kinect at ISIA


Crisis and transformation are connected to each other.

This is what is happening at ISIA, Florence’s school of design, where the students are leading a disruptive effort to co-create the future of their own education system.

When faced with semi-bankruptcy originating from the financial cuts, and with the certainty of being thrown out from the buildings in which they reside because of the lack of government funds to pay for the rent, the teachers and students at ISIA Florence started a protest. Flash mobs, social network campaigns and city interventions were enacted to rebel against the probable closure of the school.

Soon enough it was clear that this was only the latest of a never ending series of states of emergency, and that dedicating all this effort towards resolving one problem, would not change anything for the future, that would still be characterised by a sequence of emergencies, one after the other.

Near Future of Education at ISIA

Near Future of Education at ISIA

As an example, it now seems that some financial backup has been obtained to meet the lease of the school’s venue, but even this potentially good news sits in a state of suspension, with no formal agreement and, more important, with no clue whatsoever about the future of the school, which remains fragile and precarious, in an unstable balance until the next emergency comes about.

We have been in a state of continuous emergency for too long.

In a world that is progressively encoded health, education, the environment and relations are increasingly becoming things which you “buy” (in the many ways in which it is possible to “buy” something in the era of digital technologies and social networks) rather than things you “do as a society”.

We have moved from one emergency to the other, without the time and possibility to imagine – and thus to desire and build – a world that is more just, inclusive, open, critical, civic, civil, ethical.

It is maybe more a crisis of the imaginaries and of desire, rather than a financial one. A crisis of thought and critique, and of the desire for both of them, while we struggle in the tight condition of being forced to focus on a continuous present, where the emergency happens.

In this scenario it is almost impossible to think, to learn from history, and to form new imaginaries about the future.

This condition, of course, starts from the education system.

In our case, it starts from ISIA, in Florence.

This wonderful school of design has been home for some of the most prestigious names in Italian industrial and communication design, and has a wide history of excellence and innovative practices. It is a public institute of higher education, in which all those who demonstrate their potential talent for design can gain access to an effective and innovative environment which also feels like a family: everyone knows each other’s name, professors don’t mind spending hours on students’ projects, and both students and professors actively harvest opportunities that can be accessed and shared by the whole school.

This is a peculiar model, and a really interesting one, which escapes from the model which sees design schools progressively becoming the places whose objective is to produce the next wave of chainworkers for the creative industry.

ISIA produces good designers who are able to think and to design, which in Italian is “progetto”, which literally means to “project”, to evaluate possible futures and to choose from them in ways that are aesthetic, functional, social, political, psychological, anthropological, poetic.

In the current scenario, paradoxically, this has become not competitive.

Everything points in this direction: from the financial cuts to public education; to the facilitations for private schools; to the recurring patterns in which private entities interact with schools; to the configuration of students’ curricula.

We find ourselves in a peculiar situation of synchronicity: the continuous emergency produces students who are not ready to deal with it, because they are cognitive chainworkers. They don’t know history, they have underdeveloped critical skills, and they don’t develop the capacity to “project” in critical ways. They are stuck into the continuous present, in the emergency (of finding a job, of creating a startup that will most likely fail in a few months, and so on).

It is the crisis preserving itself, through emergency.

In all this, roles are also quite encoded. Students protest. Education institutes beg for hearings and money. Governments give out uncertain streams of unstable pocket money. Private entities colonize, to produce chainworkers or startuppers.

In ISIA a decision was taken.

Starting from the Near Future Design course, and quickly spreading to the whole school, we decided to reinvent our reality with the most our powerful tool: the Design. We started building the Near Future Design of Education, to push a bit further people’s perception of what is possible, and using this shift to enact a performance, in which the design actually comes to life.

We have identified 11 axes onto which to imagine the transformation of the education system.

The action at ISIA is a performance. As in all performances, the objective is to create a state of suspension. A condition in which the possibility to discern between what is possible and impossible, allowed or forbidden, true or false, granted or denied, stops. And to use this state of suspension to push our perception of “what is possible” a bit further.

This action is not about “changing everything”. As it is not about complaining, populism or escape.

This action is about desire, imaginaries, access, language and, accordingly, about our possibility to perceive, think and, thus, construct.

To acquire a new language – a new tool – with which to think about the world, and to create it.

As in every performance, it is the audience who does the large part of the job. In performances, “passive” audiences do not exist. “Believing” in the performance – in that which happens – is an active, emergent operation: it deals with recognising a new language and, thus, a new possible “world”. It deals with assuming a new sensibility, which includes a new perception of the world, in which the performance is possible.

It deals with desiring that the performance be true. And, thus, with making it true, participating to the adoption of a new language.

This, in other words, is what Designers do. They build worlds. In which a certain “thing” (a chair, a service, an education system…) is not there in the beginning, but then materializes, thanks to the Design.

Good designers don’t work alone.

Good designers know that learning to become a vehicle for the points of view of historians, anthropologists, engineers, economists, sociologists, psychologists, researchers and people is of fundamental importance. Uniting all of these points of view to understand, first of all, which are the important questions to be asked.

Every designer knows that when “clients” ask for something, they really don’t know what they’re asking for. They have ideas. But single ideas are not such a big deal.

If, from an idea, we are able to derive well-placed questions and a process which is open to multiple points of view which are technical, social, political and poetical: there, here is a great thing to achieve. It is there that great projects start: from permeability, and from the possibility for participation.

They are not the product of the imaginaries of a few people, but, rather, the offspring of the possibility for expression of multiple perspectives, in a state of suspension, in which the Design (the “possible”) is not yet known. What it is known is that it is possible to participate to its definition.

The Design is a participatory, relational, performance, in which the world is created. The “Near Future” of the world.

The students are now in a constituent phase, in which they will unite into a Foundation – or other form of legal organization –, organized using Holacratic models. This new organism will enact the design, by changing the rules of the game. Stepping away from protest mode, and moving into the making mode by changing roles: from subjects begging their rulers to receive hearings and a few coins to survive, to partners, co-creators of the future of the education system.

From the point of view of the course, the story will have a peculiar twist. At the end of each academic year it is common practice for the students to produce a publication featuring their Near Future Designs and the methodologies and techniques used to conceive and implement them.

This year’s publication will assume a very distinctive form: a series of European projects – which will be actually presented – and an open toolkit (made from software, tools, information and opportunities for interaction and interconnection), to make the process replicable and scalable.

The story has just begun, and you will be able to follow and take active part in it on the physical and digital pages of Nòva24, on Il Sole24Ore, and on the many forms of presence which this wonderful group of students will be maintaining on social networks and in cities.

The future does not exist: it is a performance, which we enact with every single one of our decisions.

And, thus: let the Performance, and the Design, begin. You are all welcome.

Starting from the next few days on Nòva and right now on this Facebook Group: