UrbanIxD Summer School

Nicolas Nova
Re: UrbanIxD


There’s a need to think about these differently, at least have a conversation about them and avoid taking very new possibility for granted.

Nicolas Nova is a writer, ethnographer, and a consultant at the Near Future Laboratory. He is also speaker at our summer school.

How would you place your work in the context of the contemporary design/art practice?

My interest in “Design fictions” makes me interested in the intersections between design and art. Said differently, I’m intrigued by how creative practices enable to speculates about new ideas through prototyping and storytelling, how they can help designing, challenging and understanding speculative future realities.

How do you see the current relation between the design and art?

They both correspond to a creative practice that operate with different constraints. It’s curious to see how some people are concerned with being on one side or another. That’s not really my problem. I think both are important and can benefit from one another, especially because of the different ways they operate and the type of outcome they produce.

What is the role of the critical design approach today and how important is it in your work?

I do not necessarily frame my work under the “critical design” umbrella, “design fictions” sounds a bit closer to my interest.

Unlike foresight-related tools (opportunity maps, scenarios), design fiction use standard objects and media conventions as a way to express ideas about the future: a fake product catalogue, a map of a fictional area, a newspaper, a short video showing a day in the life of a person, etc.). To some extent, design fiction is like science-fiction in that the stories bring into focus certain matters-of-concern, such as how life is lived, questioning how technology is used and its implications, speculating about the course of events.

Why do you think it is important to be critical/to question the current scientific and technical development?

Having a background in life sciences, cognitive sciences and human-computer interaction, I have always been amazed by the lack of consideration given to “why” questions in scientific and technical development: why are we doing this? Why are we developing this piece of genomic sequencing? Why is this bit of geopositioning device relevant to our society as a whole? Assumptions are rarely questioned, and scientists or engineers’s preconceptions about life, cognition, society, etc. are scarcely challenged. There’s a need to think about these differently, at least have a conversation about them and avoid taking very new possibility for granted.

How do you perceive the influence of the new technologies to life in the future cities – especially if we focus on human activities experiences and behaviour in these cities?

The biggest change ahead is what Stephen Graham calls “the diffusion of software-sorted geographies within which computerised code continually orchestrates inequality through technological systems embedded within urban environments”. This is currently changing the way we shop, work, move around, etc. and it’s not just happening in the western world.

What are the biggest issues and challenges for interaction design in an urban context?

Taking into account the different stakeholders of the urban environment (different citizen groups, city councils, companies, individuals, etc), their problems and the way they behave. Their diversity makes each situation unique and complex with different interests, timings and needs.


Curious Rituals (2012)


Curious Rituals was a research project conducted at Art Center College of Design (Pasadena) in July-August 2012 by Nicolas Nova (The Near Future Laboratory / HEAD-Genève), Katherine Miyake, Nancy Kwon and Walton Chiu from the media design program.

It is a project about gestures, postures and digital rituals that typically emerged with the use of digital technologies (computers, mobile phones, sensors, robots, etc.): gestures such as recalibrating your smartphone doing an horizontal 8 sign with your hand, the swiping of wallet with RFID cards in public transports, etc. These practices can be seen as the results of a co-construction between technical/physical constraints, contextual variables, designers intents and people’s understanding. We can see them as an intriguing focus of interest to envision the future of material culture. The aim of the project is to envision the future of gestures and rituals based on a documentation of current digital gestures (.pdf, 20Mb) and the making of design fiction films that speculate about their evolution.