This project is a call to redesign work before it redesigns us. By asking what might happen – through Future of Work scenarios – we can position ourselves as active participants in what will happen.
As a designer interested in systems, my efforts are focussed on finding out specifically how design can contribute to creating more sustainable work futures.
My research draws particularly on Transition Design and Systems Oriented Design theories. As my background is in the social sciences, I am interested in the interface of design and social themes, which is very much the disciplinary boundary area where this project is situated.
In grappling with some ‘wicked problems’ and systemic entanglements surrounding the work ‘system’ that we have inherited from past generations, I use a variety of design research methods. For example, my framework of four Future of Work scenarios (accompanied by visual collages) juxtaposes possible avenues for work, over the coming decades. Some are not pretty, yet wholly plausible. The true outcome is likely to be a hybrid of the scenarios. How can we ensure that we get the best of all worlds, not the worst?
Firstly, by positioning ourselves at the centre of the changes that are taking place. I advocate engaging with existing systems in order to build resilience and balanced relationships between humans and technology. We can do this by design. Design is future-making: not only the ‘what if’ but also the ‘how’.
Secondly, by acknowledging the inherent systemic entanglements that we are dealing with. No single actor can change a system, but we can work in its context to put in place enabling conditions for systems change. Seeking solutions? No, just resolutions. A new social contract will emerge over time. We need to ensure that workers still have agency within it.
Thirdly, by acknowledging the place and space aspects of work. Yes, these contribute to the inherent inequalities of work. Yes, covid-19 has also contributed to these. Both workplace and workspace are socially produced and socially producing. Place-based solutions are part of ‘building back better’.