“The further ahead in time we want to forecast, the further back in time we should look.” –Brad DeLong, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury from 1993-1995
On Friday, September 19th, professor Laura Forlano and ID adjunct Megan Halpern held a workshop–or, more accurately, a gameshop–on the future of work. Approximately 30 people, including labor organizers and advocates, foundation administrators, scholars, technology experts, and designers, gathered at IIT Institute for Design for the event, which was part of a three month project on the future of work supported by the Open Society Foundations. The group played with the ways technology and labor are intertwined throughout history, and imagined new scenarios in the past, present, and future in the hopes of using factual and counterfactual histories to think in new ways about the future.
The day was structured in two parts, game play and prototyping. Laura and Megan drew inspiration from cultural probes, reflective design, meaningful play, and critical games to create a board game in which participants created imagined interventions into labor history. Players traveled across a game board that took the form of a timeline to engage with historical technologies throughout several eras. In ancient Greece, for example, they were presented with information about devices for measuring time such as the water clock; in the late industrial era, they examined the assembly line; in the present, they focused on technologies associated with the automated warehouse; and in the future, they played with ideas surrounding robots and artificial intelligence. Each turn, teams moved through time and were tasked with creative actions like “design a corporate logo” and “plan a collective action” within the designated time period and technology. Their particular space on the board provided them with a perspective from which to approach the task. They might, for instance, land on “child factory worker, England” in the era of the steam engine.
In the second part of the workshop, teams used lo-fidelity prototyping (with materials such as string, cardboard boxes, metal mesh, felt and blue tape) to build on some of the ideas that were proposed during the game play. Groups were asked to think about the most counterintuitive revelations during the game, and to build on those by creating an object, prototype, platform or experiment of some kind.
Proposed User Experience
Laura and Megan had two aims in mind when we began this project. The first was to explore the ways design methods like prototyping could be used to help labor advocates create new alliances and different approaches to the opportunities and challenges they face in day-to-day organizing around the future work. The second was to use the past to examine the future. Both of these goals focused on helping labor advocates plan for the future, but early interviews with labor organizers and activists were revealing. For example, the challenges that labor advocates face are more immediate; for them, working for more equitable labor policies means planning through the next election cycle, not the next century. Additionally, continued struggles for living wages and other rights means that engaging with the ways new technologies are reconfiguring (and sometimes eliminating) labor is more abstract. These interviews informed the game design, and ultimately, Laura and Megan are hopeful that their reimagining work game helped open the door to longer term thinking and planning as well as new possibilities for partnerships between technologists, designers, labor advocates and workers.