Designs for Different Futures

For much of the modern era, the desire to envision and potentially shape the future has been informed by ideals that are progressive or even utopian in spirit. Artists and designers are often inspired by the belief that the future can be not only substantially different but also better, morally as well as technologically. The work in Designs for Different Futures, an exhibition organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Art Institute of Chicago, is the result of designers thinking through possible futures in surprising, ingenious, and occasionally unsettling ways.

In announcing the exhibition, Timothy Rub, the director and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, stated: “We often think of art museums as places that foster a dialogue between the past and the present, but they also can and should be places that inspire us to think about the future and to ask how artists and designers can help us think creatively about it.”

The designers included in this traveling exhibition grapple with a variety of questions: What role can technology play in augmenting or replacing a broad range of human activities? Can intimacy be maintained at a distance? How can people negotiate privacy in a world in which the sharing and use of personal information has blurred traditional boundaries? How might designers help heal or transform people, bodily and psychologically? How will society feed an ever-growing population? Designing for unknown futures requires both the exercise of imagination and the acceptance of uncertainty—a practice that policy-makers, technologists, and scientists would do well to emulate.

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Designs for Different Futures will be on view at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, from September 12, 2020, to January 3, 2021. The exhibition will then move to the Art Institute of Chicago from February 6 to May 16, 2021.

UPDATE: Due to COVID-19, the Walker Art Center’s exhibit has been extended until April 11, 2021. The Art Institute of Chicago has not yet announced its plans.

Cite this Article

href="">Issues, “Designs for Different Futures.” Issues in Science and Technology 36, no. 3 (Spring 2020): 6–11.

Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, Spring 2020