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Matthew Cockerill: Hello, My name is Matthew Cockerill and I’m an industrial designer based in London. I specialise in creating near future products experiences for technology led companies like Samsung, Panasonic, BMW and Sky. I think, and design for the future to really try and uncover human and business value really with the idea of trying to increase business creativity.

So I’m not some kind of soothsaying magician with magical powers. Basically, the work that I do is about the pragmatic application of imagination, of research, and a vision to inspire businesses to think differently about the future, to help them make decisions that allow them to take advantage of disruptive technologies or shifts in human values. When we think about the future, we tend to think about this sci-fi settings set in some future world generally played out with invented technologies or very advanced technologies.

And really the point of science fiction is to entertain us, to help us explore human values. And they tend to come from the imagination of a single author or a single director. But how do companies who are building technology that will enable our futures think and how do they develop their ideas? Well, traditionally, they tend to do it in a very linear process that’s well-established within the industry. It doesn’t tend to be that a vision coming from a singular mind, perhaps Steve Jobs or Elon Musk accepted. What really happens is a company is sort of in the now and they want to start to think about how they develop their next product. And oftentimes it’s really about incremental change.

It’s about having the products they’ve got, improving the performance, offering more benefits to the customers. And in order to then think about what’s next, they’ll use business strategy to decide exactly what to do. They’ll perhaps use the c-suites, the leaders of the company, along with some management consultants, to really decide where they’re going to invest their money. From that point of view, their strategy and innovation teams then go about deciding, Well, what does that actually mean in terms of the things that we will build and then design and engineering build it? And that’s fine when you’re improving your existing products.

But when disruptions come along, whether that’s the emerging technology of machine learning, the metaverse or mixed reality, or the human shifts around the great resignation or around challenges around global heating, those kind of processes don’t really work to allow people to cope with disruption or even take advantage of it. And what you really need to do is start thinking a bit beyond the next product that you’re doing and think over the horizon to think about possible futures generally not in a sci-fi way where you’re projecting 100 years ahead, but really to think about 4 to 8 years ahead.

And that’s what I help companies do really to help them understand possible futures. So then allow them to think about what might be right and to experiment before they invest the millions and sometimes billions in actually building those product solutions. Because if they don’t do that, what happens is they simply iterate on their existing products and services and then those really become disrupted by something that comes along that they weren’t expected or that waste a lot. By investing in future product concepts that maybe give good demos and are quite exciting at press launches but don’t really connect with people’s lives or the future worlds that they live in.

So when we’re thinking about the future, to try and explore it for clients, it’s not very helpful to use science fiction actually, because it’s so far advanced ahead of time. It’s not generally focussed on people’s everyday lives. It’s normally a fantastical adventure to entertain us. It’s not really going to help a business decide how we’re going to launch and ship a product. The aesthetic of the future from the sci-fi stuff sort of creep into business communications with this vague imagery around advanced technology with some white lines or some blue colour that gives us a vague feeling of the future without actually us understanding what the hell is. And what I am trying to get to is a real understanding of the future. To help inform businesses, the other aspects of the future that companies sometimes do is future concepts that they launch trade fairs like this.

So a BMW car launched a few years ago. But the point of these concepts aren’t really for the company. They’re for external facing audience. They’re for customers, for shareholders, and then for the market to really try and shift the perception of the brand or help maintain that perception. And it doesn’t really connect with the actual products that people design and develop within the company. So what I’m really interested in doing is doing future experiences and building future worlds that can influence these people. And they’re the C-suite.

They’re the leaders of the company who have to make the bets to decide where to play and how to play. So whilst I don’t take inspiration from science fiction, I do take inspiration in my process from the techniques of film and theatre production. The idea of developing stories and building worlds. And the idea of pre-production around script, writing around rehearsals to actually get everything ready and make sure the story that you’re telling is going to deliver some value.

So if you think about films or TV shows, one of the first things you do from a treatment or a script is actually to visualise these future worlds because we’re trying to paint a picture of a future world. Of course, in science fiction, they’re quite fantastical and totally original. But in order to when we visualise them, what it allows is the production crews, the people who are going to make the props, build the sets, the actors who are going to have in this world get comfortable in this world and understand how it operates. Then through script writing and also then rehearsing through table reads to begin with and then standing up and actually walking through the experiences.

You actually get to test out that experience to understand whether the story the filmmaker telling is is really powerful and believable or if it’s a load of rubbish. And what you’re really trying to do is get all of this right and rehearse all of this and understand what’s going on before you get into the expensive process of film production, of filming and then post-production. So that mirrors really the process that I try and do and take inspiration from. And so it’s about building some future worlds. If we take today’s world, it’s not very helpful to then create future concepts in this world, because this world is already known, it’s already quantifiable and it’s already exploitable.

We can immediately start designing products and services for this new world that we’ve shifted from after COVID. So what I try and do is think differently about that 4 to 8 years horizon. So if we take something actually like technology itself, consumer electronics or laptops or cameras or computers, there’s a massive push now from consumers around right to repair around the idea. Because of the growing amounts of e-waste in the world, we really have to change the way our products are made, allowing us to repair them and keep them for longer.

The problem with that is that’s manufacturers addressing a need right now. But the accelerated climate change that’s being driven by global heating is really going to require businesses to adapt to a more radical point of view. So in order to help a business think about that, one of the things that I did last year was to think about an example of something like Apple’s iMac that they released in 2021 and imagine that as the last product they’ll ever need to make and will ever need to own. And the idea here is that products are developed within a circular system where products are continually re-manufactured rather than recycled and just repaired.

And so to bring that to life and to visualise it, you know, I created this very quick mock-up of a website for Apple for 2031 to help the business understand that concept. I’m not trying to design the product for that time, but the concept and the world that it operates in that allows that business to then rethink about how they might structure their business and how they might create products in the future. The second example is something like augmented reality and mixed reality. That’s starting to come to most of our phones and tablets, and we’ve all perhaps had a go of placing furniture within a room to see how it fits and things like that.

But it’s not really fundamentally making connexions with our everyday lives in a really meaningful way. But with HTC, a couple of years ago, I imagined the idea of mixed reality ten years out where the physical and the digital are more intimately connected, where physical products actually have sort of digital powers. So a globe allows you to show an aircraft of where your partner is, when they’re going to be arriving, or even give you tools to help around the kitchen slicing bread or pouring out ingredients.

But in order to get to these worlds, I didn’t follow a traditional new product development route where you’re focussing on the actual product that enables that is focussing on that experience and that story. So it involves storytelling. It involves set design, thinking about the scenarios, and positioning them, sometimes very simply, not with sophisticated computers in this case using small Lego minifigures, but just to understand the human dynamics of a future experience.

And then, of course, it requires writing those scenarios and those experiences, using script writing to imagine a real scenario, not just a glossy image, and then actually using those to interrogate that by doing, read through and acting them out. In this case, it’s a client in Japan where the guy on the right is actually playing a six year old child, and the guy on the left playing his father. It can feel embarrassing, but it actually puts you in this future concept and helps you make it more understandable.

And then finally, sometimes we might actually prototype live experiences in a house. So in this instance, there’s a technology set up here and we’re allowed to show internal stakeholders in the company and even future customers what we’re reimagining that might happen in the future. And it’s a very good way of validating, of understanding what they value and what they might think is just total nonsense. So ultimately, what gets delivered to the C-suite?

The leaders of the company can be a slick video like this that brings this world to life. But it’s founded on research, it’s founding on a technical roadmap. And it’s really been road-tested by doing the rehearsal of the experience, by prototyping it, by really interrogating it. Rather than provide a surface vision that really allows them to think about that future world differently. So even then, imagine the kind of future products and services that might enable that experience ultimately to allow them to make the big bets on where and how they’re going to play in the future, what they’re going to make to allow them to take advantage of disruption and hopefully deliver value to us and their business.