Photo by Philipp Deus from Pexels


Aaron Howes
4 min readApr 22, 2021

As our group considers creating another video for our final crit (or acting out a live performance), I realise that I haven’t reflected on the video-making we did for the mid-term crit. Around two-thirds of that presentation were about process and how we ended up going in the direction we have but the other third was spent sharing a video we’d made in response to the question, “why empathy?”, exploring how more empathy could impact the city and individuals.

By each role-playing a different character, everyone explored empathy from a different perspective, meaning that individually we deepened our understanding of the potential consequences and as a group, we broadened it. Johnathan took on the role of a citizen disgruntled by his neighbours before growing to empathise with their potentially difficult situation. Graeme played a reformed criminal who now empathises with his victims. Nicolai made the case for being more empathetic towards our city’s non-human inhabitants (which led to us all buying model pigeons with plans to do some Yo-Yo Machines-inspired work). And I played the role of a designer, inspired to innovate by a greater sense of empathy and connection to others.

We all filmed individual segments between one and three minutes long before editing them into a single, shorter video that explored questions around the more empathetic city.

To film my segment, I wrote a script, bought a tripod and pretended to be a vlogger for an hour, going through each line multiple times. Suffice to say, watching myself back afterwards was painful. But I hopped into iMovie, which I’d not used since I was about fifteen, and edited them together. The jump cuts between different parts of the script needed ironing out, so I used Pexels to find free to use stock videos and edited them between scenes.

What’s been fascinating about the role-playing experience is that I’ve found myself falling back into this character time and time again since making the video as a way of thinking about the consequences of our design choices. I feel like I embodied a persona which I think could be an interesting technique to develop, extending the traditional method of creating design personas.

The response to our group video during the mid-term crit was mostly positive and role-playing appeared to successfully give everyone multiple perspectives on our design space. The question now is how we expand upon this to tell a more complete story for what we’re calling The Library of Human Experiences.

One video I found inspiring, for entirely the wrong reasons, was this promotional video for the Redrow luxury London apartments. I’m not entirely sure if it’s real or satire. In fact, it fits squarely into Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s description of satire in Speculative Everything: “The viewer should experience a dilemma: is it serious or not? Real or not? For a critical design to be successful viewers need to make up their own mind… a skillful use of satire and irony can engage the audience in a more constructive way by appealing to the imagination as well as engaging the intellect. Deadpan and black humor work best but a certain amount of absurdity is useful, too.” Well, is it serious? It certainly appealed to my imagination in a dystopian sense. And it’s got me thinking about how we could utilise a style like this as a critique to the smart city while leaving people wondering where our personal opinions really lay.

Another, rather different, video that inspired me was win > < win by Rimini Protokoll. It’s actually an installation and the video below (which doesn’t do it justice) is just a video of it, but I had the pleasure of seeing it live in Singapore in 2019. The installation envisions a future in which jellyfish are the only survivors of an apocalypse, immersing viewers in their underwater world.

“For at least 670 million years, jellyfish have been floating — unchanged — through our oceans, and pretty much everything that damages our ecosystem seems to benefit them: overfishing brings down the number of predatory fish that could reduce the number of jellyfish. Plastic bags in the oceans kill other predators like turtles. On top of that, jellyfish flourish in warm water; it extends their breeding season, while many fish suffer from the lower oxygen percentage.”

While the Redrow video got me thinking about the effects of satire, this got me thinking about presenting speculative and fictitious futures as a critique of the now. I also wonder if, like the installation, we could immerse people in and have them engage with such a future. This would be difficult given the limitations of Zoom and the available presentation formats but an exciting space to explore.

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