The future of wellness, consumption and design…explored

Propela's conference

Propela's inspiring conference of tomorrow

The Future Of_ conference 2017 was a powerful and poetic sequel to last year’s launch, leading guests through eye-opening and unexpected versions of the future. The curators Propela, invited architects, scientists, futurists and artists to share how they are pushing the boundaries of the present to forge a new tomorrow. Propela’s driver? “You can usually tell if you’re working on the edge of the future, if you’re feeling uncomfortable. We invite everyone to observe themselves throughout the day.”

After a day spent being thoroughly inspired, WGSN’s Consumer Insights Editor Alix Blankson reveals the key talking points below:

The Future of Wellness is design-first and democratic.

Biological architect Rachel Wingfield is shifting wellness from the individual (i.e. high-priced wellness pods) to the many. Her work transforms public space, employs live materiality that compliments the environment, and acts as a call to action for all designers to tackle issues such as air pollution, food scarcity and mental health. Wingfield labelled her bottom-up approach as “restorative place-making.” She ended on: “health comes from human connections.”

The Future of Consumption lies in better understanding the present.

The ethnographer and industrial designer, Paula Zuccotti highlighted that today, “we have the same behaviours and lifestyles, but our relationship with things have changed”. Working with brands like Nokia, Starbucks and Google, her user-centric research transforms consumer products. Her book Every Thing We Touch presented the value of semantics:

  1. Things are not always what they seem: a phone is “today’s most popular camera.”
  2. People are not always what they seem: if a 28-year old illustrator buys a blender, don’t assume it’s for food. “You don’t know the story behind each product for each individual,” Zuccotti stated, before revealing the blender’s use for mixing paint.

Four post-grad students then pitched their projects challenging The Future of Gut Health, the emotional response to consumption, touchscreens and human body transplants. The winning project Mela, inventor of bacterial chocolate, is definitely worth a read.

Creative scientist, Dr Kate Stone introduced new frontiers of physicality in The Future of Paper…and the possibilities are huge. Stone shared her vision: “When I walk down the street I imagine I can touch something and magic will happen like in Mary Poppins.” With society yearning for play and simpler times, “the future will look more like the past than the present.”

This led nicely onto the sentiment of Natsia Audrey Chieza’s Future of Nature talk. Biofabricator, Chieza explores how we can push nature’s boundaries by using bacteria’s pigment in textile production. “Technology is enabling us to test and build with nature. It’s digital, it’s design and ultimately it will destruct.” Chieza sees biotech as the new fashion-house norm.

Lastly, speculative architect and storyteller, Liam Young showcased his powerful and dystopian tour of our smart cities. In The Future of Humanity he outlined how the data we give up to our devices everyday will soon master us. The city will be “fraught with the same contradictions of ourselves,” Young forecasted, along with the new city hum of a drone orchestra. Playing a roboticized soundbite, the three-screen performance ended: “In the future, everything will be smart, connected and make it all better…” See the city through the machine’s eyes here:

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