Saurabh Nimsarkar is an acclaimed designer with expertise spanning physical, digital, and transport realms. Currently at the forefront of democratizing air travel with Wisk Aero LLC, his impact extends beyond mere product design to shaping future landscapes. With a distinguished career featuring roles at the Mayor’s Office in Los Angeles and partnerships with design powerhouses like Michael Neumayr Design, Honda R&D Americas, and Godrej Interio, Nimsarkar is a driving force in crafting tomorrow’s realities.
Design, according to Saurabh Nimsarkar, is a catalyst for reshaping our world by questioning conventional norms, sparking conversations, and creating tangible thoughts. While many designers today merely echo techno-deterministic views, Nimsarkar believes the design should be a platform for questioning these narratives and unveiling new possibilities.
On similar grounds, this piece explores ACTIFY – a toolkit crafted by Nimsarkar that fuses participatory worldbuilding via artistic mediums, laying the foundation for envisioning future narratives.
In the realm of design, two distinct types stand out: traditional and speculative. While traditional design zeroes in on tangible solutions, speculative design thrives on questions, inviting us to ponder alternate futures and challenge the status quo.
However, speculative design has faced critique for often being too insular, reflecting only the designer’s vision. Anne Galloway highlights this limitation, suggesting it risks sidelining diverse perspectives in favor of a singular, expert-driven narrative.
ACTIFY revolutionizes speculative design by flipping the script. Rather than being solely expert-led, it engages the broader community. ACTIFY’s methods turn everyday individuals into visionaries, while designers evolve into translators of these shared dreams.
Thus, ACTIFY creates a symbiosis between designers and the community, fostering a richer tapestry of future possibilities. It’s not just about design—it’s about collective imagination.
Inspiration for ACTIFY sprang from a profound quote in “Speculative Everything” by Dunne and Raby: “Help people construct compasses rather than maps for navigating new sets of values.” This idea struck a chord, challenging the prescriptive nature of tools like Google Maps, which often curb our explorative instincts.
Where maps dictate a set route, a compass offers freedom, fostering exploration, serendipity, and genuine inquiry. It’s about championing the journey itself, rather than the destination.
ACTIFY embodies this philosophy, enabling users to discuss and debate their own trail, crafting unique rules and methods. It’s not about showing the prescriptive endpoint but empowering the people to co-create their own desired futures.
Inspired by Dunne and Raby’s philosophy of constructing compasses over maps, the ACTIFY toolkit offers a unique approach to design: providing ingredients for imagination rather than concrete steps.
ACTIFY’s foundation lies in its sandbox, a tactile space filled with sand, evoking universal childhood memories. Within this, abstract miniature props serve as metaphors, sparking creative world-building. The toolkit also boasts an array of cards, from theme-proposing notes to role-defining ‘covert and overt’ cards. The ‘contingency cube’ brings in unpredictability, while ‘influencer cards’ root designs in the reality. Cue cards foster thematic exploration, and the ‘postcard from the future’ nudges participants to envision power dynamics in their worlds.
The experience then elevates from the sandbox to the ‘white room,’ where participants breathe life into their abstract ideas through life-size enactments, replete with real-time emotional responses and spontaneous improvisations.
In summary, ACTIFY doesn’t aim to prescribe a single future. Instead, it provides a toolkit for designers and community members to ponder, debate, and navigate the multiple pathways that lead to myriad futures. The focus is not just on what the future could be, but on how we can collectively imagine, explore, and experience a tapestry of possibilities.
The ACTIFY toolkit offers a transformative 3-hour workshop experience that deeply engages both participants and the facilitating designer in a journey of collective imagination. Beginning in the sandbox, participants initially mold their imaginations, culminating in life-sized role-plays in the ‘white room’.
The Designer, in this process, are both observers and inquisitors. By documenting participants’ choices and probing with strategic questions, they extract the nuances of the envisioned world. “Why is the police station on a boat?” or “How do the elite traverse this landscape?” provide insights into participants’ societal constructs.
After the workshop, the designer delves deeper, analyzing discussions and choices to discern how individuals conceptualize power dynamics and innovate within their constructed worlds. The culmination? Crafting speculative artifacts that echo the uncovered narratives, values, and envisioned futures. In ACTIFY’s universe, designers not only observe but also translate ephemeral visions into thought-provoking speculative creations.
With the ACTIFY toolkit, Saurabh Nimsarkar delved into the future theme of the energy crisis and its effect on the electric car realm. Participants at Honda R&D were given a blank canvas to envision life in an energy-scarce world. Their scenarios, meticulously documented, fueled a comprehensive STEEP framework, examining social, technical, environmental, economic, and political dimensions. From this analysis emerged innovative visuals: inter-vehicular charging, personal mobility devices, eVTOLs, electric pods etc. ACTIFY, in this process, catalyzed the transformation of abstract ideas into concrete solutions for addressing energy scarcity in electric cars.
Saurabh Nimsarkar explored the intriguing contradiction inherent in the concept of ‘Wandering in a Future of Self-Driving Cars’. Intrigued by the emotional experiences associated with purposeless strolls, he investigated the emotional geography of walking, unearthing sentiments of unexpected discovery, serendipity, and fascination. This stands in stark contrast to the prevalent narrative around autonomous vehicles, which celebrates aspects of predictability and rationality.
With the help of ACTIFY, Saurabh invited participants to contribute their perspectives on what transportation could look like in a world dominated by autonomous vehicles. In this creative space, participants unleashed their imaginations, weaving elaborate stories, which were further enriched by a contributor who subtly inserted the business-driven goals of the autonomous vehicle industry. These multifaceted insights led to the creation of thought-provoking speculative objects, encouraging contemplation on our evolving relationship with technology and the quest for individual freedom in a landscape increasingly controlled by algorithms.
As a testament to the profound impact of his work, Saurabh Nimsarkar was extended invitations to serve as a guest speaker at prestigious gatherings, including the 4th World Congress of Psychogeography and the Navigating the City event hosted by the International Institute of Information Design in Austria. These invitations underscore the power of visionary thinking and the capacity of tools like ACTIFY to ignite meaningful conversations and drive change on a global stage.
Nimsarkar’s journey serves as an inspiring testament to the potential of design to not only envision new horizons but also to navigate the path toward them, propelling us all towards a brighter and more inclusive future.