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Impacting the Social



Interview by Bryan Boyer with artist Candy Chang and futurist Stuart Candy about design and art projects created for public engagement and social impact.
Bryan Boyer,
Liz Danzico and
Andrew Shea
LEAP Dialogues:
Career Pathways
in Design for
Social Innovation
Edited by
Mariana Amatullo
Published by
at ArtCenter
College of Design
Lead Editor ································ Mariana Amatullo
Editors ······································· Bryan Boyer, Liz Danzico, Andrew Shea
Funder & Content Partner ········· Autodesk Foundation
Funder ······································· VentureWell
Book Designer ·························· TwoPoints.Net — Hamburg, Berlin, Barcelona
Managing Editor ······················· Jennifer May
Publisher ··································· Designmatters at ArtCenter College of Design
Printer ······································· AGPOGRAF Impressors Barcelona, Spain
Distributor ································ DAP/Distributed Art Publishers
Content Editor ··························· Alex Carswell
Research Assistant ···················· Erika Katrina Barbosa
Copyright © 2016 Designmatters at ArtCenter College of Design
All rights reserved
ISBN 978-0-9961964-2-0
First published in 2016 by Designmatters at ArtCenter College of Design
Bryan Boyer: You both do projects that are performed in the
real world, in the city. Why is this important to you?
Stuart Candy: I work across settings and formats—museums,
galleries, boardrooms, conferences, universities, city streets.
Operating in diverse sites from project to project is more
important to me than any one project by itself. To my mind, all
contexts of deployment are “real world,” although each has
its own affordances, limitations and publics. The same goes for
different media—online game, workshop, installation, mailout,
design jam, short film and so on. To riff off Marshall McLuhan,
each medium is a different massage. These different contexts of
encounter, and alternative ways of massaging those contexts,
are not merely interchangeable aesthetic options but design
parameters: how would you like to massage those you wish to
Experiential futures practice is location and medium agnostic
because it is more about enabling futures than using or advanc-
ing a particular mode of expression. Anything that you can
cause to happen to, with and for someone is, in principle, fair
game; the entirety of experience, the whole of the sensorium,
is the canvas or design space. The term “experiential futures“
tries to convey this encompassing, transmedia idea of the range
culture shift
guerilla futures
dangerous conversation
public space
of options at our disposal. The corollary is that each interven-
tion within the practice must be highly specific to topic, site,
time, audience, etc.
What‘s interesting to me about urban settings is that they are
less scripted. I find it important to be prepared to use unscripted
places because most people, thoughts, decisions aren‘t neces-
sarily happening where one has an invitation. When there is
something that people should perhaps be considering, and they
aren‘t aware of or able to enter the museum or workshop or
boardroom or town hall where the conversation is officially con-
vened, it can be useful to instead bring the conversation to them.
This is how our “guerrilla futures“ practice emerged. Formal,
solicited projects often encounter roadblocks, and since you
have to adapt to constraints in any project, it can be interesting
to work with “found” challenges and opportunities instead.
Candy Chang: I’m interested in how places shape us. I studied
urban planning and at the same time I made street art, which
led me to think more deeply about public spaces. In a built
environment where citizen’s flyers are illegal yet businesses can
shout about their latest products on an increasing number of
surfaces, we need to consider how public spaces can be better
designed so that they’re not necessarily allocated to the high-
est bidder, but also reflect our needs as a community and as
individuals. The places we share have a lot of potential to help
us connect, reflect and make sense of our communities and our
lives together. William Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban
Spaces encouraged me to trust my real world experiences, and
making street art gave me the moxie to just try things out and
see what happens.
I’m an introvert, and the participatory public art projects start-
ed out as a way to ask my neighbors things I was too shy to
ask in person—or as a way for the quieter people to share just
as much as the loud ones. Over time I realized these installa-
tions had other benefits. They’re anonymous, so you can open
up in ways you might not have otherwise. They allow people to
easily participate on their own time. And they’re places where
we can collectively reflect together. I think Stuart’s work does
that well in his own way, and I admire his democratic approach
to foresight work. I’ve been interested in creating safe spaces
for honesty and vulnerability, and I like how Stuart is interested
in making “safe spaces for dangerous conversations.”
SC: One doesn’t really get anywhere very interesting with
futures until one starts to entertain possibilities that deeply
challenge current ways of thinking. I’m invoking the spirit of
philosopher Alfred North Whitehead here (“It is the business of
the future to be dangerous”) as well as my mentor, Jim Dator
(“Any useful statement about the future should at first appear to
be ridiculous”). A company may be facing some change in the
market that no one in it recognizes; a government may need
help even to see, let alone respond to, unexpected shifts in the
political landscape. In any case, the “dangerous conversation”
confronts that which is uncomfortable and vulnerable, and
therefore marginalized, but potentially transformative. Likewise
for other kinds of community, and for individuals. Creating a
safe space for that means first of all finding ways to suspend
the very powerful reflex of avoiding such sensitive topics.
One of our earliest experiential futures projects was for the
State of Hawaii, almost a decade ago, to kick off a sustain-
ability planning process across the islands. Together with Jake
Dunagan, and with the help of others at the Hawaii Research
Center for Futures Studies, we immersed 550 people, ordinary
citizens and elected representatives alike, in four alternative
versions of the islands in the year 2050. One of the four was set
in the wake of a global economic implosion in the 2040s,
followed by an interval of chaos before the United States
military intervened to maintain law and order. With the old
economic and political regime discredited, they reinstated the
monarchy that the U.S. had overthrown in 1893.
As an experiential scenario, then, participants entering the
room found themselves cast as climate change refugees being
naturalized as citizens of the so-called “Democratic Kingdom of
Hawaii,” a military governance regime with a veneer of local
culture. Here the experience provided a container in which
some potentially discomfiting prospects could be engaged:
you’re already in the scenario by the time the rational mind
starts to mount intellectual or political objections. As we say,
it’s better to be surprised by a simulation than blindsided by
reality. Such a conversation may be difficult, but it can’t hurt
you nearly as much as not having it can.
At other times, offering hospitality to dangerous ideas can take
the form of adopting processes designed to include people and
elicit views that might otherwise (if often unintentionally) be left
out. For many years I’ve used Open Space Technology, a par-
ticipant-centered way of running meetings of almost any size,
and organizations like the engineering firm Arup, as well as the
Singaporean government, the leadership of Oxford University,
and the team behind the regional Burning Man event in Austra-
lia were all able to overcome initial discomfort with the emer-
gent character of the process to explore their potential contexts
and choices more freely and more effectively than usual.
BB: Who are your projects for?
CC: They’re for everyone—or at the very least for me! They’re
a way to satisfy my curiosity. My projects are more psycho-
logical now, but they started out very civic-minded. When I
lived in New York City, I learned about Jane Jacobs and how
she rallied her community to prevent the Lower Manhattan
Expressway from being built in 1962. It still shocks me to think
how different New York would be today if the Lower Manhat-
tan Expressway happened, because the “slums” Robert Moses
tried to clear out are now some of the greatest neighborhoods
in the city. It made me think about all the cities that could have
been, and how all the cities that we have today depend on
who gets involved. When we make democracy more acces-
sible, we make places that are more loved, more cared for and
more meaningful to us for the rest of our lives. If we believe in
greater democracy, our unbridled creativity is now required to
design the situations in which this can happen.
That’s what I like about Stuart’s immersive, thought-provoking
scenarios for residents to contemplate and kick around and
challenge. It’s fun and engaging. There was a lot of talk in my
urban planning classes about participatory planning as if we
were holding the doors back to an excited, well-informed mob.
In reality, there is no crowd on the other side of the door. Many
people have an ambiguous understanding of civic processes,
and many others are simply turned off by them. I’ve been to
many community meetings that are so dreary, only the angry
neighbors are excited enough to show up. There are a lot of
opportunities to re-imagine civic engagement so that people are
inspired to get involved in shaping the future of their community.
SC: A colleague asked recently whether thinking about the
future is a privilege or a right. Unfortunately, it’s actually a
luxury. Many may have the motive, but few have the means
or the opportunity. But this is not how things ought to work.
Normatively, thinking about futures is everyone’s right. My
work is interested in making futures more available, accessible,
habitual. It’s about urging people to claim their license to spend
time and creative effort there. With this broad mission in mind,
participation can look very different from one engagement to
I think this work is for people willing to ask questions and enter-
tain new ideas about the future. That’s less a demographic than
a psychographic—or better, a mindset—that you try to bring out
among whoever comes along, by providing opportunities to
think differently.
Another aspect of “who is this for,” is that currently I do a
good deal of work in an education setting. OCAD U has the
world’s first academic program in design and foresight, that’s
what drew me there. It’s exciting to help spread this practice
to where practitioners are trained. This lets us access a higher
leverage point in the system—how emerging designers are
acculturated. You try things out by setting briefs and develop-
ing methods, then see how a range of different minds adapt
and work the process through. The classroom becomes a lab,
and students—bringing their own backgrounds and concerns,
intentions and publics—extend experimentation into places one
might not think or choose to go oneself. I find this a more gen-
erative way to work than just doing my own stuff all the time,
and it also ultimately makes the work “for” a wider and more
flexible constituency.
BB: Are your projects provocations, or something else?
CC: Each project is an experiment that challenges what our
public spaces are fundamentally made of and how they might
better reflect what we value as human beings. After I lost
someone I loved, I went through a long period of depression.
I made the Before I Die project as a way to make sense of my
grief and find consolation with my neighbors. Their responses
helped me more than they will ever know, and I’ve learned just
how universal our struggles and desires are after reading
responses from Before I Die walls in over 70 countries. I saw
even more struggles in the Confessions project. From my
experiences, people are yearning for safe spaces to be honest
and vulnerable with the people around them. It’s cathartic and
consoling. You’re not alone as you’re trying to make sense of
your life. You’re not the only one who feels like they’re barely
keeping it together.
During one of my gloomiest periods of existential confusion,
I found a lot of comfort in a book called The Middle Passage by
Jungian analyst James Hollis. He said, “In the end, we are only
tiny frightened animals, doing our best to survive amid other
tiny frightened animals.” This always consoles me. I return
to this sentence when I lose perspective, and it’s something
I remember when I consider our communities. Our personal
anxieties extend into our public life and many of the conflicts in
our communities come from a lack of trust and understanding.
There are a lot of barriers to opening up and while the barriers
remain, it’s easy to forget the humanity in the people around us
and become impersonal, and even adversarial. These personal,
anonymous prompts offer a gentle first step towards honesty
and vulnerability in public, which can lead to trust and under-
standing. These are essential elements for a more compassion-
ate society. They’re essential elements for social cohesion.
SC: A provocation can spur thought when it succeeds, but
sometimes it generates rejection. There’s probably a need to
invite or seduce as often as to provoke. I’m interested more and
more in projects—and Candy has done many of these wonder-
fully—that enable people to generate their own ideas, as
opposed to responding to ours.
The Thing From The Future, for instance, is a card game that
my Situation Lab co-director Jeff Watson and I designed. People
have used it as a tool for warming up to strategic conversa-
tion, for design ideation and prototyping, and as a party
game played for fun. This combinatorial prompt generator, as
you understand how it scaffolds imagination, becomes very
adaptable and useful. We recently released the game under
a Creative Commons license so players can customize it more
easily to their local contexts and needs. I like projects that offer
frameworks for participation and produce surprises. Instead of
specifying an experience in every detail, they offer conditions
that invite others to grow their own.
BB: What does the future mean to you? Is it a worry,
an invitation, something else entirely?
SC: Ashis Nandy calls futures a “game of dissenting visions.”
It’s a gift of sorts, a psychedelic playground where we can
make new perceptions and actions possible, and incubate real
and far-reaching change.
Another brilliant cultural commentator from India, Shiv
Visvanathan, invites us to see the future as a commons. I love
this idea. Public imagination is the ultimate renewable resource;
we are still learning how to use it wisely.
CC: The future is something I’m excited to shape with others.
I’m interested in the relationship between public space and
mental health. The urban historian Lewis Mumford once wrote
that the origin of society, the reason we came together in the
first place, was not just for pure physical survival but also for
“a more valuable and meaningful kind of life.” Some of the first
gathering places were graves and sacred groves. We gathered
to grieve together, worship together, console one another and
wonder together. I think one of the greatest missions of modern
cities is emotional communion. Not only does this serve funda-
mental needs of the human spirit, it cultivates compassion and
trust, which are vital for civic respect and collaboration. I’d like
to expose more of our interior world in public so attention to
mental health becomes less stigmatized. I’m currently creating
a public device for philosophical reflection that is inspired by
the I Ching.
I’m also intrigued by how we deal and don’t deal with death.
After anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote the book The Denial
of Death in 1973, a theory emerged called terror manage-
ment. In a nutshell, it argues that legitimate anxiety about our
impending deaths was solved by creating cultures that provide
comforting arrangements, including the hope for immortal-
ity. Immortality can be literal, as in heaven or reincarnation,
or symbolic, as in publishing a book or having children. Our
current cultures try to give us meaning and value, but they can
also distract us and take us away from the deep encounter with
ourselves. This helps to remind me that culture is man-made and
we can change it.
Stuart Candy, PhD
Situation Lab &
Assistant Professor,
Faculty of Design at OCAD University
Candy Chang,
Moderated by
Bryan Boyer
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