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PlayLab 1: A space of possibility

A space of possibility 

The first PlayLab was in itself a trial balloon - how will the participants react to a playful approach to exploring how we will live and work in the future? In short: very well.

When UN Studio and USM asked tellart – a team of explorers, inventors and storytellers who work on the fringes between design and new technology – to elaborate a concept for three workshops, we specifically wanted Maia Garau, the lead strategist, to create a playful environment. That is why instead of workshops, there were PlayLabs at the USM WorkHouse. “We wanted the participants to feel invited to play and to be stimulated by their surroundings. At the same time, we wanted it to be kind of a social experiment,” says Garau.

In order to not give too much away, we can reveal that although the purpose of all three PlayLabs was the same – to explore the future of work in a diverse and international group –  the outcome differed vastly according to the various backgrounds of the members of each group.

However, there was one thing all three PlayLabs had in common: they anticipated a shift in values in the near future. According to the PlayLab participants, the fact that work is connected to profit and financial rewards, for example, will no longer be the case in the future. Instead, work will be associated with a greater good – ideally.

The first PlayLab specifically raised the question of how one’s work can be rewarded with something other than money. Right now, depending on the skills we have, we get paid more or less for our labour time. The group of designers and architects were therefore wondering if there will be a new way of exchanging value. They were raising questions about trading one’s work with one another, e.g. offering to design a website for someone and in return having your house painted. Skill-trading forming a new, meaningful community. Or, if money will still be an issue, its role will be played by a cryptocurrency. With digital money you can distribute your profit much more precisely across a certain community.

If this outcome doesn’t sound playful enough to you, the methods that were worked out along the way will: besides a lot of ping-pong-playing, the group was, for example, invited to look at pictures of everyday scenes from all over the world, which worked as visual triggers: people crossing a street in Shang-Hai, co-working spaces in Hong-Kong, people shopping on a market in Marrakesh while checking their phone. The participants were asked to imagine these situations in 20 years by adding or removing things like vehicles, clothing and devices, and to think about new jobs in the future that would be appropriate to these situations.

Interestingly the first PlayLab predicted that the future of working spaces will be outside, in nature. That might have had something to do with the surroundings of the USM WorkHouse, situated in a remote location in Brandenburg, with a huge stretch of lawn, a little river and a peaceful atmosphere. Fittingly, the places they imagined were in fields and forests, with the new technology permeating these surroundings.

The overall outcome of this first PlayLab can be best described in the words of participant Chris Glass from Soho House: “My take-away is to really embrace the future as a space of possibility as opposed to something that’s frightening or potentially harmful for us.”