5 minutes with.. Cennydd Bowles
By Chris Bush | 24/04/2019
Meet Cennydd - designer, futurist and author of Future Ethics, who will be giving the closing keynote at Camp Digital 2019. We caught up with him to talk about the moral obligations of designers, his stance on readying large teams for organisational change and the importance of noticing what's happening alongside the design industry.
At Camp Digital, your talk is about ‘Building Better Worlds’. Can you tell us a little bit more, why it’s important and what the audience can expect?
Our future is crawling with seductive dystopias: surveillance, nationalism, autonomous warfare, climate crisis. Meanwhile the design industry has become obsessed with operational efficiency, modularisation, and detail. This is completely the wrong direction. I want to impress that we have a moral obligation – as individual designers and as a community – to discard these minutiae and focus on the issues that may otherwise destroy us.
You have worked with some of the world’s biggest brands including the BBC, Twitter and Ford. What are some of the biggest achievements you’ve had working with those companies? And the biggest challenges?
Most large companies seem to be motivated chiefly by fear of certain competitors. I like to think in my time with these teams that I’ve encouraged them not to be frozen in those particular headlights, and instead to focus on their distinct customers and values, creating their own futures in that image. There’s also a more personal aspect. Emotional energy is a precious resource within large teams; if I can help recharge people for the long, difficult work ahead, my time has been well spent.
Of course, change in any organisation is slow, and any designer can really only help one company at a time. This is why I try to spread my message through writing, teaching, and speaking. Camp Digital will hopefully give me a chance to energise a broad and eager audience.
Ethical design and technology is something you’ve discussed at length. What makes you so passionate about this area of the industry?
It’s tempting to gesture wildly at what’s all around us: the slew of ethical mistakes the industry has been making, and the negative swing in press and public sentiment that’s resulted. But more positively, I think neighbouring fields can offer some answers, if we care to look.
I’m excited to bring ideas from futurism, speculative design, science fiction, and modern ethics into the world of digital tech, and see how they might transform our practices. I’m driven as much by our potential as our failings.
Your book, Future Ethics, came out last year – what’s the best piece of feedback you’ve had from readers?
‘I want a few million copies of this book to be crop-dusted over Silicon Valley’ was flattering, not to mention potentially lucrative. Generally, I’ve been thrilled by readers’ appetites for a serious, intelligent book on the challenges ahead. It gives me confidence that the industry is ready to shed its flimsy ‘move fast, break things’ reputation and take proper responsibility for the social impact of its work.
What are you most looking forward to at Camp Digital?
Jonny’s talk on The Death of Intent sounds intriguing. He claims ‘It’s mostly about death’: that’s an entirely relevant topic for the future we’re spiralling towards. I’ll also be involved in the Tech for Good Live panel, so am looking forward to injecting some lively disagreement where appropriate.