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Ep10. Solarpunk & Design of Sustainable Future Experiences

Design leadership & strategy Featured featured-podcast Innovation Podcast Process

In this episode, I’m talking to strategist and designer ⁠⁠Kevin Richard⁠⁠. We delve into a few sustainable futures-focused topics and how designers can design them. In particular, Kevin shares his thoughts and ideas about Solarpunk as a concept and assemblage of narratives that could inspire more sustainable action.

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The following notes are automated with AI; thus, they contain incorrections.

Kevin: [00:00:00] I define Solarpunk as the concept of this, you know, optimistic future, right? You change the medium you design, actually. You don’t design the software so it changes people. You. design a medium for people to change their way to interact together. So I have like five principles that I extracted from, um, Solarpunk.

So the first one is to design scaffolds for growth and diversity. 

Vy: Hey, this is Experience Design Podcast, and I’m your host Vy, and today I’m talking to a serial guest on this 

Kevin: podcast, I guess that’s 


Vy: a right title, but it’s Kevin Richard and we talked with Kevin on several different topics from strategic design to multi ocean strategy framework.

But today we’re going to deep dive into solarpunk 

Kevin: and the futures, alternative futures, sustainable futures. What does that actually mean? How does, I guess, the 

Vy: idea of solarpunk could influence UX designers, service designers, [00:01:00] anyone 

Kevin: who designs basically to think a bit greener, but in the right terms. 

Vy: And this is exactly what we’re going to explore in this episode.

We’re also going to discuss some principles, some tactical elements to this. If you enjoyed this session, what helps most is if you could share it with a friend just to spread the good. Conversations around why solar punk and and why why did you get so I guess obsessed of 

Kevin: it? So I I think I have to explain how I came to solar punk and how I came to explore it um So at the beginning of this year, I was working on, um, a project we discussed together, uh, it’s a multi ocean strategy framework, and we wanted to merge two movements, uh, together, like the strategic design, you know, approach and, um, systemic design approaches, that’s So the two are kind of living their life on their side, you know, when we wanted to put them together.

And by accident, I [00:02:00] discovered like Solarpunk while I was investigating systemic design and some other trends like regenerative design and transition design. And this is how I, you know, I discovered the term. I said, Oh, it’s interesting. I never heard this term before. So I started to look for, you know, either, uh, books on that or research papers or art movements and stuff like that and I, five months later, I wrote an article about it and this is, I didn’t reach a point where I feel like I really covered everything that would be covered with the, with the, the subject.

We could, we will discuss it a bit, but because there’s two main ways to understand SolaPunk. At least to me, uh, that are quite different in what they allow us to, to do one of the way of understanding it as a concept, for instance, as a concept of what should be the future, there’s a lot of variations, but you can, you know, make sense of it and say like this come some kind of, uh, boundaries to what it is and it.[00:03:00] 

could be more or less clearly defined, right? There’s another approach, which is a bit more like, um, uh, what we could call, uh, an assemblage of, uh, themes and narratives that’s, that are constantly evolving and that are more into the presence than just, uh, uh, like a run, uh, a proposition. And, uh, this part is actually still, uh, changing.

And it can be like a lens to understand some, some social movements, for instance, there’s still elements that we, that I can learn from it today. And especially how you translate that to the design process or to. A, uh, design process. I guess 

Vy: you did almost like a strategic design research project, right?

Like you kind of build up the knowledge from what exists and kind of drew some stuff. And that’s why I wanted to talk to you. Cause you, one of your articles was focused on why is it relevant for UX designers specifically. Or like tech, there is a lot of interesting themes, but kind of to pull back a bit, because I think a lot of people are going [00:04:00] to listen and they don’t know what solar punk is the punk element to it.

And the solar element probably kind of going to give some ideas and you can visualize some stuff, just like you would be with cyberpunk or fusion funk or steampunk, you know, to drop just a few keywords, which kind of like maybe going to give, but what is solar 

Kevin: punk? Ultimately. As a concept, Solarpunk, well first it’s a term that emerged in the, at the beginning of the 2010s, something like that, as a term, but with something that existed like prior to the definition of the emergence of the term itself.

So there’s a lot of artists and writers and authors and many people that contributed to this movement before even the name came, right? Usually it features self sufficient cities, towns, right? In terms of energy. So it’s, it’s close to steampunk in that, uh, in that, uh, concept that we take, uh, one technological aspect specifically, and we, we use it as a focal point [00:05:00] and we see.

Uh, what if it constrains the society in a way where it changes how the society work, right? Or how it’s, um, organized. And so Steampunk did that with the steam engine. Um, and Solarpunk do that in a sense with solar panels and, uh, other forms of re renewable. energies. So usually you see solar panels in, uh, solar punk, uh, artworks, but you see also like a lot of, uh, winds, um, turbines and, and stuff like that, that, that produce, like that creates this idea that the city or the, um, the, the design space is self sufficient in terms of, uh, energy.

There’s also like a lot of, um, organic and green vegetation features in, uh, cities. It’s always overgrown. 

Vy: It’s that’s where like, if, if you type solarpunk, it’s always like, uh, it’s, it’s less about the city to me, but more like a farmland almost like it’s, it’s a very 

Kevin: green. Usually in the visuals, there’s this kind of mixture [00:06:00] between, uh, the farm and this idea of returning to some kind of basics doing the work, but doing the work for being self sufficient as a human being.

So the, the, the farm becomes this kind of idealization of what it means to be autonomous, right? As a small group of people. Like you produce what you need for yourself, right? So this, this kind of idea in that, but the city is not, is usually not that far away. Uh, so there’s a city which is, uh, embedded in the landscape.

So point of reference, but it’s not the only way to look at, uh, unk. So you have like, if you look like for UNK cities, you, you have a lot of, um. organic features in the design of the city. You find some kind of renaissance or a new wave of Art Nouveau in the way that the architecture is made, right? And there’s a lot of connection with uh, the soft mobility movements because the, usually the cities are features like less cars.

There are walkable cities for most of them. There are space for [00:07:00] people and vegetation and animals, which is also like all of these things are aesthetics. features that’s that’s make Solarpunk as a visual, uh, concept, right? If we stay on on at this level, this Could be just seen as gimmicks, right? Because it’s not that original, but there’s another notion of, uh, solar, uh, in solar punk, right?

It’s the, this, the kind of, um, lights and, um, hopefulness, um, hopeful, um, uh, vision, optimistic vision of the future. So, so that stands for the technology, but it stands also for this kind of, um, better future that’s, uh, that you can see. And usually the, the, the narratives. It’s beyond the pure aesthetics of the Solarpunk narratives and the kind of stories that are written around this concept.

They are generally speaking optimistic about the future, although they talk about challenges and crisis and stuff like that, they are rather optimistic in how they treat the [00:08:00] subject. So it’s not a dystopia. Right. So that punk stories are not dystopian in any way, even like they could say they are, um, an answer to, to, uh, dystopian stories and the kind of pessimistic kind of narratives you can find in the mainstream media in general.

Like when you talk about the future, people like it’s easy and it’s, it’s kind of, it’s became a trope, right. In a, in a, in a sense, like you talk about the future and. Everyone can imagine a future where the human society collapsed, uh, where we, we had to make like hard choices. Like it’s kind of obvious right now, if you talk about the future, right?

There’s this kind of, um, future with, uh, high tech where we are mixed together with the tech, but also where we lost something in, in the process, right? Rather the space or rather how our own humanity or something else, right? So this is where the dystopian aspect comes in play. And Solarpunk is, uh, uh, an answer to that in a way.

It’s, uh, it’s, it, it wants to [00:09:00] reject this idea that the future is necessarily some kind of, um, Um zero sum game for humanity. You’re 

Vy: referring to like the cyberpunk. Do you see it as a counterpoint to that? It’s, 

Kevin: um, it’s a counterpoint to cyberpunk for sure. Um, but I would say first it’s just a counterpoint to, uh, what I called the, um, the mundanity of the minions of the world, which is not necessarily linked to cyberpunk itself because you can find like a lot of stories or kind of narratives that are about the future and that are pessimistic.

And it’s all about, um, some kind of, uh, like a form of end of the world for humanity at least. But that is not this, like, that doesn’t have any relationship with Cyberpunk per se, right? So, uh, you can make the distinction. But the two, um, like Cyberpunk tries to address the two in two different ways. So the first is not seeing the future as a dystopian vision of the future, like where humanity lusts against, quote, [00:10:00] nature as a shapeless, right, a concept.

Because most of the time, you know, a way to treat nature in stories today is some kind of external force that, that is not, we are not part of nature. We are external to, to nature, right? And it’s kind of external force that manifests through catastrophic events. Usually we, humanities needs to come back like some kind of, um, to some kind of a primal state where we have to survive and nature gets back or takes revenge on, on us.

So there’s this kind of, um, padding where it’s a dichotomy, right? Where we, we are external to nature and we took something from nature and nature takes to try to take, take it back, right? And this is kind of a, a revenge story. Um, Well, in the article, I talk about that and the fact that it’s, it’s highly connected to biblical stories and this kind of narrative talking point that, that, that is, that are existing in society in general today.

And this idea of that there’s necessarily a degrading aspect to the passage of time, [00:11:00] that time is a bad thing, that it degrades what we create as humans. And that the only way to change that is to fight back. against this degradation, right? To, to be an active in an active state of interventionism against it.

Uh, and this is what we call innovation. And this is the basically preventing and undoing the passage of time. And that requires us to see in. In entities, a form of, uh, salvation, like an entity can be the savior, the great savior of, of this situation of this crisis against, um, our fight in our fight against, uh, this, uh, degradation, right?

And the entity can be a person or it can be a product or a solution. And, um, like if you think about this, this way, like it’s interesting to see how it connects to a form of narrative that exists in today in, um, in technology and in economy where the, this kind of, um, techno solutionism aspect [00:12:00] of the narrative.

Either try to put some figures as the grid saviors or the technology itself as the grid saviors. And this is where you can see a connection with Cyberpunk itself, because Cyberpunk, when it was invented, was a criticism of technology itself. Right? Nowadays it became so mainstream that it lost this, this, this meaning, right?

It’s, it’s cool. It’s, um, it’s, it’s used to sell technology, basically shifted from the punk narrative to the mainstream. Yeah. I don’t want to go necessarily on a long tangent. We can discuss about Cyberpunk itself because there’s a lot of interesting. No, no, no. Because 

Vy: it’s such a stark contrast between Solarpunk and Cyberpunk in particular, but even those two, um, Or, or maybe Fusion Punk is, is a bit closer, you know, some people probably is aware, are aware of Fallout games, um, which have been really massive back in the day and the game itself.

And, and I’m, I’m just going to, you know, kind of [00:13:00] cover like a very, very small segment of it. But the narrative there has always been that there was a really good side, like almost like a dichotomy of its own with Fusion Punk, the perfect world where everything is run by Fusion. Cars, um, personal assistance, uh, gardening tools, like everything had a fusion core in it.

Like every single element, which, which is super basic. However, the world simply shifted. Nuclear war started and things of that nature. And now it’s kind of like a, like a dystopia type of thing. So it’s always has been like almost like a comparison. Okay. It could go really well if it’s managed well, however, likely it’s not going to go that well.

And I think Cyberpunk has. I also been kind of positioned that way. There’s a lot of excitement of, I don’t know, like body enhancement, augmentation of skills, abilities, stuff like that. You know, like, um, the systems which are bulletproof because of a purely digital backgrounds and like cyberspace, but then it’s shifting into hacking.

Corruption, politics, [00:14:00] uh, injustices, stuff like that, you know, like all that. Like it’s almost like every single movement brings possibility of a really bright future and also possibility of a really, really bad future. Did you see any effect in Solarpunk? Because it’s, it’s so outlined so positively, but like, I wonder what could actually be opposite 

Kevin: of that.

I define Solarpunk as the concept of this. optimistic future, right? I told you that there’s two ways to look at it. So if you look at the concept itself, it’s, well, it’s not supposed to be, but to, to, you know, to embed some, some part of dichotomy because it’s optimistic. Right. But if you look at it from an assemblage of narratives and, and, and, and themes and stuff like that, um, and what is.

Today in the present, uh, elements of Solarpunk that you can, you could find, then yes, uh, there is, uh, such things and you can find appropriation of the, of Solarpunk ideas by either corporations or venture [00:15:00] capitalists that want to use this narrative that is appealing to a lot of people because they want to break free from a system that feels, remove their, their, um, their sense of, uh, Meaning creation and the sense of autonomy.

And so they want to, to use that, you know, to exist within the, the Cyberpunk ideas. Uh, and they, and they appropriate the idea and they propose something that is contradictory to what Cyberpunk tries to do, but use all the features and the visual aspects of it nonetheless. A great example that is, uh, recent is, uh, California Forever.

I don’t know if you know, uh, this. this project. So I don’t know if it’s a venture capitalist firm or some investors that’s wanted to buy some lands. I think it’s near San Francisco and create a new city. They’re entirely autonomous until entirely, uh, self sufficient as, uh, in terms of energy and workable and with no cars and stuff like that, you know?

So you’re, you, here, you have like all the talkie points of Solarpunk, but it’s proposed by a system that [00:16:00] is the system that to, to escape, right? It’s a subversion of it, especially when you, you know, where comes the money and what they did to, to actually build the project. So they bought some, some lands that are used to produce food today and they want to build a city from scratch there.

This is not a Solarpunk proposition. It’s the opposite of what it tries to do. Um, buying lands, uh, you know, removing farms and creating something from scratch is not the idea. A city that will then be, uh, a project of, um, an economical project in the sense that it, it will aim to, well, people will try to get money back, you know, at some point.

So how does it make money? And then to what ends, um, are the kind of questions that, um, Solarpunk, uh, criticize. So this kind of subversion of, of the theme, the fact is that Solarpunk is not that recent as a, as a concept, but it’s not, not, it’s not really yet clear. Like there’s not a, you asked the question earlier, there’s no central [00:17:00] point.

There’s, there’s no one way to understand it. There’s not one way to define it. The reason for that is that you find in Solarpunk a lot of ideas related to decentralization of power. And this idea of, uh, Especially distribution, power and decision to a more local and human sized context. I mean, I don’t think people that are really into Solarpunk want a central authority to say what is Solarpunk and what it should be and have like this clearly defined concept.

Because then it will lose this ability to be many things at the same time. Right. So, um, this is where it’s, it’s, uh, contradictory a bit because you need a definition to understand Solarpunk and what it proposed, but it’s not only that. Um, and if you look at, um, who are close to the Solarpunk movements, you have like a lot of different communities from that are doing a lot of different things from communities in the soft mobility movements, uh, walkable cities.

new form of urbanisms, [00:18:00] architecture, arts, literature, whatever. Like you have like even social sciences. So you have like a lot of different communities of sometimes professionals, sometimes people that are just passionate, passionate about the subjects and they do their things on their side. They know that there’s other communities.

Some people are part of many, but you know, there’s not like a willingness to. Put everything in the middle and say, Hey, let’s do, let’s do this big thing that is still a punk, right? So 

Vy: that’s my kind of perception has been as well, because it’s also like, I mean, I don’t know how you feel about this notion, but like from vision perspective or maybe ontological design, it’s, or, or maybe a lot of other like speculative type of elements.

If you, the futures you think about or talk about or write about are likely gonna like, like our actual future is going to resemble of that. So like, it’s quite important to talk, like, let’s say that the people who talk about, you know, cyberpunk and all the different bits or technology, or they just simply call it the tech, you know, like [00:19:00] movement likely there are going to be the ones making it happen.

You know, the people working in tech, obsessing with tech are probably going to continue and create a future where tech is first and likewise, people who probably going to think about sustainable futures, planet centricity, again, solar punk are likely going to be the ones who are going to infuse ideas.

And then shape, but the challenge of that, and, you know, do challenge me too on this, but is we’re likely still gonna end up in this turmoil or this mixture, you know, this yarn ball with different colors, of course, it’s might not be a bad thing whatsoever, but I feel like it’s, it’s yet one facet, like there, there almost cannot be just one future, like, because we cannot 

Kevin: clean reset.

No, I do. I do pretty much agree with you. I won’t speak for everyone in the Cyberpunk movement, uh, because I don’t know everyone in the Cyberpunk movement, but for the few I exchanged with, I think they are pretty conscious of this as well. Like they don’t want a narrow version [00:20:00] of a future that they have in their mind, but they want to participate in creating a better version of the future that they think is necessary.

Um, at least at their local, in their local context, like where they live and where they interact the most, right? This is the difference with the narrative around, uh, technology in general, which tends to be globalized, right? They want, we want something to be the best for everyone, everywhere at the same time.

And this is something that you cannot, you cannot find in Solarpunk basically, because they, they, as I told you, like this, this idea of distribution. And, uh, and a local context is something that, uh, this is something that is really important. And so this contradicts the, this aspect, but I do pretty much agree with you that, um, it would be a mixture.

I find it’s actually a good thing, personally. One of the aspects of Solarpunk that is connected to future thinking and this kind of, uh, movement is this idea that first the, the, the future is actually the [00:21:00] present. unfolding, right? So you, you don’t have like a certainty about what it will become. And so all the action in the present will influence the, the, the future.

And so it’s why it’s important when you want to, you think about the future to be in the present, to be in the now and to be active. in the now, which is, seems to be a contradiction in itself. But actually, if you think of the future as something that is constantly unfolding, makes totally sense. And, uh, you want, uh, diversity.

You, you want, you don’t want to lose that diversity. And I can take an example, like in evolutionary algorithms, they create population of, uh, individuals with a pool of genes and stuff like that. And they try to see how the population evolve given some ecological constraints. And when you run the The algorithm, you can find yourself in some, what we call, uh, locon suboptima or locon optima, where actually the, the, the diversity of, uh, in the population of genes just collapsed it, and only the, the individuals [00:22:00] express only certain genes that, um, succeeding in their environment, but it’s, it’s, uh, it make the whole population more fragile to any external events.

And actually to, to, you know, to escape this kind of situation, uh, researchers have to introduce, uh, diversity again in the, in the gene pool to make sure that, uh, the population can survive, uh, longer because otherwise it just collapsed or it goes into an exponential, but hyper fragile. Right. And you don’t want, you don’t want that actually, because then it will consume resources and kill itself basically.

Just to say like, you can take evolution as a, uh, as a learning to, to what you, you, you need as, um, dynamics and constraints in, uh, designing the future. You want diversity, you want to, to, to create some constraints, but you don’t want to define it too, too much because then it will necessarily lose. Any, any form of diversity, right?

Vy: It’s also like, maybe it’s, you know, the [00:23:00] narratives playing in my head, but I was thinking about almost like, uh, okay, if you want solar punk features, which are, you know, like monolith type of approach where you didn’t have much, much kind of like diversity or modulization from other aspects or narratives.

But you almost need to do freedom fighting approach and maybe that’s what you could categorize. Um, you know, those, uh, just stop oil movements, which, which are quite large across the globe, you know, like that type of thing. I feel like I don’t know if it’s the right thing to call them a radical forces where people kind of step out and try to fight for that feature, but still like, I’m sure it’s.

Quite incremental at that it’s, you know, you can’t like we have this systems, which just can’t be rewired that easily. You kind of have to almost pick, pick out different parts and then rebuild, rebuild, rebuild and do so 

Kevin: like continuously. Yeah, in the article, I could something that’s a Morpheus says in matrix in the matrix movie, uh, when he’s.

He [00:24:00] presents the Matrix and what they tried to do to, to Neo. He says that, um, the, the system is, um, is what they are fighting against. But when you are in the system, what you see is the mind of the people that you are trying to save, but they are so attached to how the system works that sometimes you have to fight them as well to liberate them, basically.

And, well, this is the message of, uh, rebellion and as well as, um, activism. Right. So what, what you say about, uh, being a bit radical in your approach is, I feel, connects to punk narratives in general. All of them are a form of rebellion against, of, um, of a mainstream system. That’s, so usually they approach it as a critique, a criticism, um, of the system of, of the, um, the kind of, um, unintended.

Uh, but bad consequences that the system generates, um, and then they are radical in the sense that they want to be radical to, to be noticed in a way, right, to, to [00:25:00] be visible. And this is where it’s, it’s kind of a weird place to be, I would say, uh, anyway. So I’m not personally, I’m not an activist, but, um, you want something better and greater for, for everyone.

But at the same time, you make a choice to potentially do some things that might go against any form of, uh, SQL way of doing some, some things, right. To, to make this change happen. Right. Uh, and so, uh, yeah, you need to live with this kind of, uh, contradiction in your, uh, personal ethics. Right. I would say designers are.

Not necessarily activists, but they can be activists if they, if they want to, um, and then they will have to deal with this kind of consideration as well. 

Vy: I agree as well, like to me, designers are changers basically, and you know, any evolution or any activism requires change. Quite frankly, there’s no one else as, as good at finding out issues than most designers because that’s what we’re wired, but that’s the only 

Kevin: thing to add.

Yes. But most designers [00:26:00] still remain in. Like they don’t necessarily question the, um, the system, they question an aspect of the system, but they, I’m, I’m, I’m not really convinced that we could say that, um, designers are changing this. I mean, they are bringing change. I agree. But within the confine of the existing system, um, and it is even truer, I would say when you.

You work only on tech because tech is the expression of the system we are in, but it’s hyper transactional. It’s meant to be, uh, an extension of the social and political system we are living in. And because of that, changing the tech is not. Necessarily changing the, the system itself, right? So I would say it’s, it’s where I’d say it, if you really want to be an activist, uh, and I’m not calling anyone to necessarily be an activist, right?

People do what they want to do, but if you want to be an activist, you cannot just do what designers usually do. Um, and, [00:27:00] um. Or what they are taught to do, I would say you need to be a bit further than that. And this is where it’s, it’s, it’s, um, I would say it’s difficult to really, to actually want to change the system.

It’s more difficult than doing design as we are taught to, to do, I would say. Yeah. And 

Vy: you have to have the right perspectives, but to pick up on something you said, which was specific to technology. And in my mind, I guess maybe it’s talking about the solar punk too. It’s designers to me there. Or, or everywhere else are architects also are kind of civil engineers also are engineers because inevitably people design things like even, you know, someone who’s working on, let’s say something like social sciences are basically designing the processes.

And, and, uh, touch points of how to iterate with different people or how things work basically on human level, like everyone’s ultimately a designer. And I know people might come kind of conflate this with everyone’s a UX designer, but that’s not what I [00:28:00] mean. Like, but everyone designs decisions basically, or they make some sort of choices to do better things.

This is where I think it doesn’t matter where. And please challenge me, but it doesn’t matter who you are or what profession, your specialty or hat you wear. Let’s say architects who would take on solar punk ideas, they would still design it within very limited constraints. I saw this example the other day, maybe it’s something you shared actually, where the garden cities, which is more so like civil engineering.

and city mapping and architecture combined have been one of the big movements, I guess, coming out from Solarpunk ideas. In UK, I’ve been to one, which is well in Garden City, but reality is a bit kind of, it’s not as ideal because, you know, it’s designed on those. fundamental principles of, okay, with this, it’s all circular, it’s all sustainable, super green.

But after years and years of adding industrial stuff around it, uh, adding more suburbs, you still end up with a city with just more parks [00:29:00] ultimately. And that’s where I think it’s kind of like, it doesn’t matter how you approach it. It’s very limiting. It is, is it something which you observed as well, that it’s kind of like, if you would just take solo punk ideas and you would want to redesign something, it’s, it’s likely going to be.

Small, or it’s likely going to be kind of like community sized, 

Kevin: maybe would be better. Yes, yes, I think I think it’s something that is. It’s by design of Solarpunk that you don’t want to be, to have like, um, some form of standardized approach and globalized approach to how to do things. Yes, it’s limiting, but the idea behind is like, if a lot of communities of different sizes do some similar things, you know, on the larger scale, it does actually produce better conditions than not doing that, right?

So that’s the, the idea. So, You have to see it like in two different rhythm, like it’s the first, the local [00:30:00] aspects and then how the local aspect influenced the larger aspects, right? Uh, which is not something that most people are trying to do, I would say. And especially in design, we see first the objects and the immediate interactions with it, but we are usually, we stop there, right?

We don’t go. Any further, I’m not saying that any kind of, uh, Solarpunk inspired, uh, projects necessarily aim to do that, because most of them are just sometimes just gimmicks. Uh, unfortunately, especially in architecture, you have like huge buildings with green everywhere and cool, but that’s not, it’s not because you have the aesthetics of Solarpunk that you do Solarpunk.

You know, in a sense, because you just mimic the, the feature of, of it. You don’t really think of how, what does that imply in, in its local context? Perhaps you, you wouldn’t build a building at all. If you, if you look at what you want to do in a set up and context, right? Um, if you look at a broader [00:31:00] scale, perhaps the aim is to do some small changes here and there.

See how it does influence the larger scale. Give you an example. Yeah. You don’t come from a car centric city to a workable city in one day, right? You need to, to do small changes everywhere. And over time it improve the city, but. It’s, it’s not possible to, you know, just do like tabula rasa approach where you, you just, uh, you know, destroy everything and rebuild everything.

I mean, it’s exactly the problem with the forever, uh, California forever city, right? Where you, you start from scratch because you think like starting from scratch is the best approach because yes, you have less constraint, then you forget about the context itself. Right. Where people live and where people live is not in, I mean, in a place that doesn’t exist is in the existing cities and, and how can, what kind of things you can start to do in this place to improve it?

Right. And you have this movement that, um, you know, try to. Uh, creates green space in the [00:32:00] city where it was not supposed to be. I don’t remember the name of, uh, you know, they’re just, uh, Oh 

Vy: yeah. I remember that. Yeah. We’re using the bleak spaces for, I can’t remember the label, but I know exactly what you mean where we used it for like allotments and gardens.

Or, you know, even to 

Kevin: grow food, I think. Yes, they plant vegetables and you can, and people in the, you know, from the local community can just pick them up and, and use it to, to, to cook stuff. I mean, it’s, it’s a form of activism, activism, uh, because it’s, it’s illegal in a way, right? So it’s, um, it’s a kind of rebellion act, but it’s, it’s to show people that it’s possible to change the space in which they, they, they live.

Right. Um, and, uh, an urbanist looking at the, uh, this could be inspired and say, okay, let’s create spaces where people can actually, uh, do this kind of thing. Right. Open up possibilities for people to have not only place to live, but place to [00:33:00] interact, uh, which is, uh, something that’s car centric cities like lust, right?

You have less space for people to interact. Uh, you have more space for people to just commute to places and to park cars. So you, you don’t change all of that in one day, right? But you can start like removing parking spots. Yes, people would not, not everyone would be happy with this at first, but then instead of just having like this empty spaces, you use it to create a place where people can actually interact in a better way with their local neighborhood or, you know, communities, place for kids to play.

And over time, if there’s a place for kids to play, kids play, then we want to make the streets even safer for them. So you restrict access to cars, you build space for pedestrians, you build space for, for bikes and stuff like that. And over time, you end up with a bookable place. I’m not saying you don’t need cars, you know, at all.

But there’s another abundance of place for cars, you know, compared to, to humans. Yeah, you do that in one [00:34:00] place, you do that in another place, that at some point you want to connect these two places together, so you have to do it for an entire street. And over 10 years, maybe, uh, you end up with, um, a walkable city.

But it takes time. That’s, that’s for sure. I’m very 

Vy: conflicted, Phil, and maybe, uh, want to challenge you a bit on one thing, which kind of like I get where, where solar punk is coming from as, as I guess, a collection of narratives or the way people describe a concept, but it’s always focused on cities. And granted that’s where the most of the people, you know, most of the population is, but yes.

Every time I look at the concepts of Solarpunk, and again, maybe it’s more criticism of actual concepts than ideas or, you know, what we’re discussing, but to me, it appears like a village, which has maybe a couple of families, but it expanded beyond what we needed. It’s all like cognizant of the amount, the population, the community size that in reality, those cities, which are shown.

To have a few wind [00:35:00] turbines, um, you know, solar panels everywhere, massive fields and greenery and things of that nature would probably would triple or 10 X or like, they would have to be so massive to actually support those populations. And I get your point as well, that, okay. Yeah, not necessarily what’s going to happen.

you know, or realistic that you’re going to start small, you’re going to end up at the better areas. But I feel like maybe that’s where the shortcoming is of, of the movement. It’s kind of like portraying something as way too utopic, you know, and again, you could argue vision and stuff like that matters, but 

Kevin: I think it has to be said, I’m not a proponent of Solapunk.

I’m fascinated by the topic. I want to talk about it. Because I want to be inspired, not saying we should aim for a Solarpunk, you know, future as it is shown in the beautiful artworks you can find. Because I do agree with you, it’s like, it’s not, I don’t think this kind of future, it will be the future we will have anyway, right?

I don’t think [00:36:00] Solarpunk is an utopia. I don’t believe that. And why that is, it’s not a cohesive proposal. It’s not something that has, that is sound enough to be, to have like legs and work on its way, it’s, uh, to me, it’s a, it’s a collection of. Ideas and principles and narrative and stuff like that to me, it’s actually better framed this way.

And I like to think that Solarpunk itself is an imaginary for transition to move away from the current system to another one, which we don’t know which one it is. There’s no formulation of what is this new system, right? But it’s not the one we have now. That’s the, that’s the actual proposition is an empty thesis to.

It say, it says basically it’s not the system we have right now. It doesn’t work on the long run, right? The system we have right now. So we have to change to change it. We need new imaginary. We need. new ideas. We need new ways of understanding [00:37:00] the world and designing in it. Right. So that’s, to me, it’s the true proposition of Solarpunk is beneath the surface is exactly that.

Uh, it doesn’t say what should be things. And this is where to me, it’s, it’s not an utopia. Um, and basically an utopia is, uh, utopia comes from, you know, topos, uh, in Latin and topos is the territory. And so. utopia is, it’s actually no place. It’s no territory. So in utopia, by definition is something that, that has no place, uh, but we want to reach it anyway.

Right. I don’t know if it’s a utopia and to this definition, it’s not, it’s not to me, it’s not a, a no place because if you look at the movements involved in Solarpunk, they are really in the present. The thing is, like, if you take a movement like Strong Towns or stuff like that in the, the, the US, they try to show to city makers that it’s totally possible to create mixed use places where you create a lot of [00:38:00] diversity and this increase the value of land, this increase the value The economical aspect of cities, because most cities in America are just losing money, uh, every year because they just, you know, expanded the city.

Like you said, suburbs and roads everywhere. Um, this is a way of making, of doing Solarpunk, right? In a sense it’s, uh, it’s in the practice is to say, well, we need more mixed use places in Europe. We have more mixed use places, although we, we were influenced. By the US for some of the recent construction, I would say we have like, because of how medieval cities were built, have a lot of mixed use places.

And these are actually the places that people want to live in the most, right? Just the, the, the value. And we can do that kind of things without, uh, necessarily having like this kind of, uh, beautiful artworks, uh, and results. And this will be closer to what SodaPunk aims to do. Basically that’s having the artwork, like.

Taking it and seeing the landscape and say, yeah, we, we did, it’s, it’s all green and [00:39:00] solar panels everywhere. Good job. Yeah. 

Vy: Just the picture does tell, you know, the story of a thousand words. So it matters for narratives of things. Visualization is so important. Even like, I don’t think words would do the justice.

Maybe a lot of the listeners might like, it’s fascinating as. Probably not as much as for you, but, but I’m, I’m still like very appreciative of that, especially from, I guess, service design lens, a lot of these ideas. Let’s see if you as a designer would just take on that picture or definitions or principles.

If you’re obviously proactive, you’re able to kind of trickle it down to a specific design decisions. Or even let’s say, I don’t know, like how the services are combined, but how do you imagine, let’s say a UX or coming into this concept or into these narratives, this, this assemblage of ideas and kind of being able to do better in daily situations.

Like, do you have any examples of what, what that could look 

Kevin: like? What you said prior to that is like, it [00:40:00] sounds to be highly focused on cities. And obviously it’s not where most designers work. Like they’re not, we’re not all working on cities. Uh, and this is where my. I would say my design principles comes from to try to extract some of the, um, what makes Solarpunk.

Taking out from what it says, basically, which is most, most of what it says is related to the designed space and the physical design space, right? Um, and we are not all working on this kind of stuff and making less about the space itself, but dynamics and kind of constraints we want to put in place to, uh, achieve the same kind of results on the same kind of ideal stats.

Uh, Solarpunk is trying to say, and I think one of the main aspects of Solarpunk is what it says is that we should be less focused on the objects that we are designing, on the technology itself, on like designers are really, well, we are making products for most of us, right? Either like physical objects or digital objects.

And, uh, we are really [00:41:00] focused on that. Right. And what Solarpunk is saying is, well, the object is cool, but clearly it’s not sufficient to make the change we want to see. So what we need to do in fact, is to focus on actually what we want to, to change, you know, in a given context, in a given space, what you actually want to do is change how people interact, uh, either.

together or interact with, uh, um, with other people or with organizations and stuff like that. And actually think of this specific context and how you want to influence it to make this context like better in a way. Right. And Not being focused on the object, but what kind of objects are on our technology is necessary for the change to happen in this specific context, and then do only the object when you believe it’s the right way to, you know, to actually change this context, it’s a bit less like standardized in a way, which is.

Kind of contradictory to [00:42:00] what we do with technology usually, right? We want it to work everywhere the same way in an ideal way for the best for everyone. Here it’s a bit different. You probably want to do certain things in a specific context in a certain way and do certain different things in a different way in another context, right?

To give you an example, I, so I worked in, in the financial, in the finance space and we, we had this, um, A product that, that enable teams to work together and to actually treat some kind of, um, cases like it was a case management, uh, tool and people believe the issue was the software itself. Like was the piece of technology, uh, but we did go into the place, the physical place where people work.

We try to understand what people are trying to achieve, how they interact together, how they, you know. They will pass information to another team, to another individual, map out all these interactions. And then Arne says, now what we [00:43:00] need to do is to change how they interact together. The technology is irrelevant for now.

Uh, let’s see later what we will do with this piece of technology. The main issues are when they try to interact between two teams, something is missing, something is not working, right? So we did like a bunch of prototypes from a chat to even just. Uh, you know, phone calls to see how they will, how it will influence how they transmit information.

Guess what? Phone calls works better than chats. Uh, and, uh, we ended up designing a way for, for them to first put in place a ritual within the teams to make sure that they, they are used to transmit the right information at the right time to the, to the right team for the right purposes. So they have like some kind of, um, routine in place.

To make sure that it, it’s a, it becomes like a habit, right? To do that because it’s a, it’s a bank, you know, everything is a secret. Not everyone wants to share anything with other teams if they don’t have, they [00:44:00] don’t have to. So, so you, you had to break this kind of secrecy mentality to. In a way to make sure that the right information is transmitted at the right time.

And only then we worked on the software and we say, now we do changes. So it reflects what is needed in this specific context. But then, you know, it was like actually made for that. And only for that. And for a specific team, I don’t know if it would work for another context, totally different from that, but it worked pretty well there, right?

So this is an example. You change the medium you design. Actually, you don’t design the software. So it changes people you. design a medium for people to change their way of, to interact together. And if software is the right way to crystallize the medium, then, then it is. But if it’s not, you can like phone calls worked just to say, so you could, you could do that.


Vy: such a good example too. Like the worst to me would be if you know, someone is listening or [00:45:00] reading about solar punk and they just then decide. To go and make a mixed reality or VR experience of solar punk. Well, maybe actually that’s not the worst example of what could happen. Maybe you need that to communicate the ideas and kind of spark interest from, you know, the world.

But it’s a lot of ways to skin it, I guess, but it’s kind of like not just aim too high, I guess, but, but kind of keep it as a vision and then walk back of what could be done next. One last thing, I guess, which might be interesting for the audience is the actual principles, which you outlined pretty well, but I wonder if you could kind of give a bit of a context of why do you think that’s kind of important for Solarpunk and especially UXers looking at Solarpunk.

Kevin: So, yeah, so I have like five principles that I extracted from, um, Solarpunk. First draft, high level principles. So I need to revisit them at some point to make them a bit more concrete. But they capture, to me, they capture what [00:46:00] is important to understand from Solarpunk. So the first one is to design scaffolds for growth and diversity.

And the idea here is, um, So a scaffold is, uh, you know, this kind of structure that help grow or construct stuff. And you can see behind like there’s something, this is something found in, in nature as well. What, uh, how it is connected to, to Solarpunk is what we discussed today is a lot of things related to diversity and to, uh, the way you want, you want this diversity for the future.

But you want also to put constraints to direct this diversity in a certain way. So this first principle is really about that. It’s about how you can not design an object, but design, uh, um, uh, circumstances for, to increase the likelihood of certain. Outcomes, right? So this is the first principle. So the second one is affordances for local experiences.

Uh, this one comes to this idea in Solarpunk to scale down things to a human, to a human size. [00:47:00] experience or community size experience. And to do that, you don’t focus, again, you don’t focus on the objects, you focus on the context and how you can, you can help people see affordances. So affordances is, um, are the kind of things you see in this, um.

This picture here, uh, here it’s, uh, it’s a playground and you see there’s ways for people to, to hide, to climb, to slide, and these are clues in the context that you can do stuff, uh, actually in this playground and so you could. I mean, you could see designing for context, like the example I give you with these, these two teams that, uh, that, that needed to work together, how you create affordances for them to be able to do that in, in an efficient and effective way.

Right? So that’s the second principle. Uh, the third one is about something that we don’t really, we don’t really discuss. We didn’t really discuss today, but it’s about, um. more than human experiences. [00:48:00] So a lot of stories of, uh, in Solarpunk are about giving back or giving a place to other living organisms in our design space.

And especially like animals, right? Like if, if you are working on tech, obviously it can be a bit difficult to see how to do that. Uh, but I think there’s a place to say designers need to think beyond the human needs. It’s cool. That’s important to, to understand human needs, but if they go against, I would say the needs of the environment or the needs of other animals, uh, perhaps you need to also think about their needs and design an experience where humans are included, but also the other animals.

So it’s replacing the, I would say it’s not replacing human centric design, but it’s extending it. Extending it to the rest of the ecosystem, maybe to add, and 

Vy: I’m coming from the session of Samuel Huber earlier in a year on planet centering design. He was describing it as [00:49:00] actors, basically, which also could be inanimate objects.

Um, it could be a river, let’s say, which you. You need to design with or a lake or trees or, um, you know, boulders, like something which not necessarily is a carbon form, like something which has no life, so to speak, but has like a big meaning to, you know, to the communities, which should be protected. You know, it could be a lot of different 

Kevin: elements to this.

I agree. And, and we discussed that together with Samuel and, uh, this is where I see a lot of connection with his, uh, approach here. It’s not just considering them. Uh, are designing specifically for them, but you could say, like, for instance, a lot of the tech we create are for humans, uh, and give them a means of control over the, the, the, you know, environment, uh, and some of the solar punk stories, they ask what, what if we, we, we’ve shifts the focus and we gave animals, for instance, means to.

connect with us. So they [00:50:00] have means of control on us, but in a way where it’s kind of shared, you know, it’s, uh, equally beneficial. And some stories talk about technology that helps like animals to communicate with us, for instance, and give, give us clues on what they need or what they want. So that could be an idea, like, but if you design something not for humans, but for another species.

That would, uh, benefit us as well. That’s an interesting question, and I’m sure that this is not something that is necessarily pretty well explored today. Something that I feel is a really strong principle, and, uh, to me, it’s an ethical principle, is to design for human and non human autonomy, and this idea of bringing people a means to make decisions for themselves, to…

orient themselves in their own way, the way they decided is relevant to them instead of deciding for them what is good for, for themselves. Right. So this is a strong principle to me. It is really, really connected to, highly connected to previous ones. And I could [00:51:00] talk about this one like a lot, but I will stop there, but it’s also really, really connected to, highly connected to.

all the AI discussions and AI technology as well. So I think it could be like a discussion at its own. Um, and the last one is I talk about, uh, designing, uh, well, the needs for what we call multi ontological approach, which means basically that you need to take into account, uh, multiple perspectives in your design.

And we are kind of trained to do that, but we have also an issue. in the process of doing that, uh, because we are trained to synthesize those perspectives into one single cohesive, uh, view. And this is, this is an issue. Well, at least I think it is an issue. And how do you design for what, uh, what we can call worlds within worlds, uh, different worldviews without, um, um, you know, Averaging those [00:52:00] views, um, uh, designing which, uh, what aspect of those views are unnecessarily relevant.

Um, and one of the, the issue in the process of, uh, design of, of the design process doing that is that the, the level of interpretation of the context is still at the level of the designer. Is that the designer decide what is relevant for the. For the different contexts and the different people that perspective that the the encounter and this idea of designing for worlds within worlds.

It comes from a revolutionary revolutionary movement in the. In, in, in Mexico, um, that, uh, from, um, a community that was, um, uh, not part of for a long time, they were excluded from any decision in the country. And this movement is called the Zapatistas movement, and they decided at some point to rebel against [00:53:00] this, uh, exclusion.

And, uh, March. Do a march on the city and the Capitol, but, uh, in a non violent way. So they, they wear this, you know, dress up like a terrorist, but instead of weapons, they had like, um, musical instruments and, uh, they, they, they, they went to the Capitol and they played music and they, they, they, you know, they did a lot of, uh, Basically of noise to, to attract attention and say, we are part of this country as well.

Well, the, the leader of this movement, uh, said, uh, said this, that this, this is happier army. This is, uh, um, in this revolution, dancing is the girl. Um, and, uh, equal, uh, all the people participating in the movement, like mediators of dreams and sorrows that pass through this gateway of the worlds within worlds as a metaphor of.

their world where they were excluded from the other world, which is, uh, the other world they are part of, but excluded from, which is the, the [00:54:00] country they live in. Um, and that doing what they are doing, this revolution that they are doing connects the two in a way where they are still existing as two distinct.

two distinct worlds, but with a lot of relation between them. And so, so we need to do exactly that as well. We need to, to create a way, a process that allows us to, uh, keep these worlds as they are, make connections between them so we can design for the connections and not. You know, design for what we think this world needs.

Um, yeah. And that I guess would allow 

Vy: people to actually connect the dots or my interpretation is also kind of design more deeply inclusive experiences or, or, you know, when I say experiences, it’s everything from economics to politics, to, to decision making, to equity and equality within the society and things of that nature.

I feel like that’s what, what it kind 

Kevin: of touches. [00:55:00] It means also that you, you have to find a way where the kind of design decisions that you make is not necessarily you to make is to let all the people, you know, which are in their worlds that live in their worlds, that live in that, that have their perspectives to make decisions and you build upon their decisions instead of making decisions for them, which is not an easy process to, to, to, to inform.

And it’s, uh, actually there’s not. Yeah. Like there’s not much things to, that exist on that you, the, the, the close proximity, um, in terms of process that exists is a pre reversal design, but here again, they have like some, some issues where the interpretive, the level of interpretation of what is required and what is needed for the design within the design process is still made at level of designer.

So what we try to do with the multi option strategy framework, for instance. is to bring back this, uh, level of interpretation at the level of the participants, for instance. So that, that would be an example of how you, you could do it. Like it’s still [00:56:00] open to be, to be discussed and, and to be designed as a process, which is something I find interesting.


Vy: awesome. And thank you for so much for coming in and sharing your thoughts and also sharing the principles, because that’s like a perfect note to, I guess, wrap that episode too, you know, it’s. It’s quite actionable as well, like for those listening, uh, please take a look. Perhaps we can share a link to your article, whatever the principles are or to the slides or things of that 

Kevin: nature.

Yeah. My LinkedIn is, um, so you can find me Kevin Richards on LinkedIn. You can find the article on Medium as well. So if you look for, uh, what can designer learn from Solarpunk, there’s not many articles about Solarpunk. So you, you might find it quite easily. And, um, I link in this article, there’s a link to a page where there’s all the resources.

All the articles, all the content I read to create this, uh, to write down this, um, this, uh, article. So, um, there’s a lot of things to read if you want to explore [00:57:00] further the subject there. So yeah, go ahead and dive in this, uh, this, uh, weird and strange world. No, it’s, 

Vy: it’s awesome. And, and yeah, like, uh, makes you, makes you think about stuff, which is less.

Tech, I guess, obsessed. Um, yeah, it’s awesome, but thank you so much. Uh, thanks again.


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