Max Willis MFA, PhD

design research for sustainable futures

cv - contact:max[at]maxwillis[dot]net


Design Research

The background to my work is Critical, Speculative and Futures Design research, all of which are methodologies that combine creative and constructive aspects of design with participatory information engineering and technology prototyping to explore new ways of being, new social, political and environmental realities, and new paradigms of knowledge creation.

Speculative Design explores potential futures to elucidate current states of affairs and how to overcome challenges we face, and roughly follows a formula of 1) deriving constraints and motivations from local environments, 2) situating concepts and new ideas among existing precedents and 3) informing speculations on available technologies and 4) prototyping the future with real-world interventions. This kind of design restricts speculations to plausible, entirely possible constructions that remain connected to the actual and the familiar, yet which confront and dislodge the status quo to allow for new possibilities, new futures to emerge.

Critical Design is the radical re-interpretation of design practice as provocation and disruption. This research component takes on a design activist perspective, exploring Critical Theory's focus on emancipation and freedom from hegemony, challenging the status quo, and fostering mindful introspection on the potential for technology and design to shape society, politics and the environment. Critical Design explores ethics of design and the values embedded in our systems and artefacts we create. It recognizes postcolonial responsibilities to bridge the North-South digital divide, to address inequalities in access to information and communication technologies, and the urgent need to develop Open Science.

Futures design, or Design Futuring is a form of constructive design research that focuses not on predictions or forecasting, but shaping preferred futures, defining and following pathways to manifest sustainabiity transitions. To the extent that the future is mediated by technology, research through design practices in futuring query how we can develop technologies to effect the kind of future we want. Continuing in the critical vein, futures also challenges whose vision of the future should come into being, whose will likely take hold in the end, and how we can collectively and equitably design for sustainable futures.