Thanks to their joint projects, international workshops, exhibitions and publications, as well as the educational work at the Design of Visual Communication Department at the Arts Academy in Split, Ivica Mitrović and Oleg Šuran have established themselves as pioneers of research and critical practices in the Croatian design in the last couple of years. Their work demonstrates how design can become more relevant for our times and the future. Their field of interest at the moment is the so-called speculative design practice, which tells us how important fiction is in order to better understand the needs of the real world, and shows us that we need to start talking about the future again in order to better appreciate the current moment.
ORIS: Your interest in the speculative design practice begins with the workshops on what used to be called interaction design. The spirit, and to some extent the methodology of those workshops was in fact similar: the students and the participants were encouraged to think critically, to approach the design and technological issues and topics askance, to engage in issues of their environment etc. Do you also see it as a continuity, or are there some crucial differences?
IVICA MITROVIĆ: Our path, via Interactions, an informal educational platform within the Design of Visual Communication Department of the Arts Academy, starts with the introduction of a new design specialization, the interaction design, which arises during the 1990s and which is connected to the rapid development of digital technologies. It was inspired by my 2001 residency at the most propulsive institution that dealt with design and digital technologies, the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, a place where Arduino was created, the first prototyping digital tool for designers and artists. Interacting with the pioneers of this new design practice, such as Bill Gaver or Gillian Crampton Smith, significantly influenced our educational activities within the Department. During that period, in 2004, we also hosted a large summer school of the European project Convivio, after which we independently initated a series of international workshops in Split. Within the context of the Design of Visual Communications Department, the interaction design methodology has from the very beginning been linked with the critical approach to design upon which the Department had been established in 1997. The collaboration with Inga Tomić-Koludrović and Mirko Petrić, with a background in humanities and social sciences, with Tomislav Lerotić who works in art and activism, and Darko Stipančev who has a very creative perspective on technology, shaped our approach in which the technology was approached in a critical manner, and the individual and the society as a priority. This reflexive approach was in fact totally in line with the English critical design that laid the basis for the speculative design practice on the international level. So, this transition from the interaction design to the speculative design practice is in fact a natural process.
OLEG ŠURAN: It is all interconnected. It began with something that made sense at the time, and which was new; noticing and following what others were doing, and what was being talked about. I was a student at the time, and it was a popular thing to try, and then it stopped being popular. But then, as you study, and you gain knowledge and experience, you become aware of the usefulness of such approaches. Otherwise, you might see it as blowing smoke, like: I don’t know anything, so I’m going to make things up.