[PtM] Reading Response: Extrapolation Factory Operation Manual

Hot Take: Your design optimism is just a new form neoliberal imperialism.

I really don’t care for the pictures of white designers “empathizing” with brown research subjects.

I know we’re supposed to be responding to Extrapolation Factory Operations Manual, but something about the IDEO book is rubbing me the wrong way.

Now to the actual response…

It is inspiring to learn about speculative design and to see the fruit of the labors outlined in the book on display online; but, ultimately, I found the way the information is presented to be frustratingly limited.

I’m so into what the Extrapolation Factory does based on the projects exhibited on their website that it’s a bummer how boring their Operation Manual is. Yes, it’s useful to break these methods and ways of thinking down into replicable bits but it sure is hard to stay focused while reading it. It’s rather dryly written. I find the act of creation such a bodily thing it is so hard to focus and absorb these things.

Also, I have questions about the Futures Cone. I am frustrated that it doesn’t further explain how it’s supposed to be used. Based on the diagram alone, I take it we are meant to use it when investigating a specific scenario. You can’t work without a context. Then I take it that we supposed to look at it from various perspectives. And then thought different contexts (trends?) in order to arrive at our different cones… maybe? Like I said I’m frustrated and I feel this same way about the other methodologies they mention. This doesn’t feel like an operating manual but a brag.

I’m trying to unpack the unease I feel when reading things like this: namely, reducing the act of creation and community building down to a few actionable games. It’s like trying to code humanity.

I used to give workshops on how to incorporate creative brainstorming techniques like this specifically for creating direct actions and media components of activist campaigns. On one hand, this would’ve been extremely helpful to read back then. It would’ve placed our work in broader context which would’ve helped reduce the feelings of isolation and despair that can happen when you’re in a constant state of crisis. I was just talking with someone recently about how it seems that because of the high rates of burnout in activism it’s so hard to hold onto knowledge and I feel like every few years or so a new crop of kids are reinventing the wheel.

On the other hand, that experience left me stricken and lost and more disconnected than ever before. I thought it was because we weren’t working hard enough (see burnout above). I wonder if it’s the methodology that wrong. I kind of think you can’t design around humanity. You can only create containers (to use a facilitation term) to hold conversations.

Perhaps needless to say, I am deeply skeptical of using design principles on human behavior. If anything, the methodologies outlined herein reveal more about our current selves than possible futures.