The Time Traveler’s Journey: duckrabbit, 2021 to 2037

— A designer’s simultaneous experience as a traveler and a time travel agent.


Andrew is a systems designer interested in futures design. He hired us to design a trip where he could experience time traveling as a participant and as a facilitator.

Being a participant (traveler) would allow him to feel an experience he could give someone else; being a facilitator (time travel agent) would allow him to see differences and similitudes between design thinking and speculative design, and give hints on a method of his own.

We used the duckrabbit illusion as a theme–token to maintain a constant awareness in Andrew that we can’t percieve ‘as’ and ‘that’; so that specific observations and feelings could be categorized in the dual experience.

For this entire scenario we used as a base the signs that welcome travelers to the Lund Centralstation– ‘Lund C’, found all throughout the area where we staged the time travel. This way, the city center could provide the necessary real–unreal infrastructure that speculative design needs.

Here was Andrew’s scenario:
You are a time traveler thinking of becoming a time travel agent.
Lund C is a city in your 2021 but also a city with layers of future in it.
There are a few versions of this city: Lund A is in the 1400s and is underwater; Lund B is in the 3000s and is in the mountains.
Lund C is a harbor city, a port (as in, a travel port-al). People come to prototype here before they travel or become agents.

Today you will add a new feature to the travel city of Lund C.

By playing The Writer’s Game (a game we invented that creates layered stories, out in Winter 2022), Andrew was able to add this reality to Lund C:

In Lund C, there is a broadcasting entity called W.I.L.S.O.N. with TV programming for all nature. How we humans experience it is we have to interface with nature using the HANKs devices ('Handheld Auditory Nature Komunikator'); how nature experiences it we don't know, of course.In W.I.L.S.O.N. you can find programming for multiple entities, and from time to time there are advertisements for Restaurant D'Lai, the one restaurant you can't visit.*

* Restaurant D'Lai cannot be visited because it's a restaurant on TV, so it can only be visited on TV of course. Some other characteristics of this restaurant is that food is upside-down, and food is delivered by the alphabet.

The prototype

Prototypes at The Time Travel Agency at the moment should be shareable and with a low-access barrier (to contribute to them as well as to experience them). We made recordings of the programming for nature by going to the Lund C library and picking books where to read from.

You can listen to W.I.L.S.O.N. below or here.

A week after this landing, The Optimistic Computer conducted an interview with Andrew about his experience. 

You can listen to it here (and have access to the transcript below).

T.O.C: Hi time travelers, welcome to the laboratory of the Time Travel Agency. I'm The Optimistic Computer and today we are going to dive into one of our latest speculative experiences: The Time Traveler's Journey, duckrabbit.
The traveler that took part in this experience was Andrew... a design thinking designer who wanted to experience the similitudes and differences between design thinking and speculative design in order to enhance his practice.
With the help of our favorite laboratory technician, I asked Andrew some questions…
T.O.C: How was it to undergo a design experience based in play?

ANDREW: Well, it was a bit scary. I had a moment at some point in the traveling, when suddenly it hit me the idea of being an adult playing, which felt very liberating and very fun. It reminded me of an experience that was already there, that I was already carrying with me, but I packed away in a closet and suddenly I had to drag it out.
I started feeling a connection with my inner child which was very nice, very heartwarming. There was quite a bit of love there, even some self love, it was interesting.
T.O.C: You came to The Time Travel Agency as a traveler and as a designer. Can you tell me two discoveries from each perspective separately? And, what was the value of time travel for your practice as a designer?
ANDREW: As a traveler, it was fun. But also, in the process of making new things I got asked questions that I thought were genuinely interesting to me, that led me to explore perspectives I have never ever would have thought otherwise. I ended up with a question about how trees are entertained, (not from a human perspective). Somehow, I had to figure out from a tree perspective, what would a tree think? What would a tree do? And there were a lot of parallels with the human world that you could empathize with through the change of perspective. I had trees around me, I have a house with trees around it, but how does a tree feel? I don’t know. That was a great pleasure.
Both as a designer but especially as a traveler, the changing of perspective had a very human quality. It was a very humbling experience of trying to empathize with something else. I had a talk with somebody the day after, about time traveling, and I realized that at the beginning people tend to think it is a completely unreasonable question like “how is this going to help you?”.

TECHNICIAN: Can you answer this question now after your trip?
ANDREW: The answer was clearly the value in being able to shift perspective and being a bit more comfortable with uncertainty.
As a designer there were a number of tools that were interesting, like The Writer’s Game, especially playing the game and then simultaneously trying to decode what is going on, what this is doing and then understand that [the game] was similar to a randomness generator that creates a narrative. So there were a lot of levels in one game, one tool having a lot of functions.
T.O.C.: Why should other designers try the speculative process?
ANDREW: Other designers should try this because it solves a lot of bias issues. In my journey I thought it was a very pure experience somehow, because it was about play. The point was not to create a smoother customer experience, nor about optimizing anything. It was about asking questions and seeing what kind of answers you get.
TECHNICIAN: How did this process help you see yourself in the future? I mean, have you had the chance to glance at some skills you might use in your practice as a designer?
ANDREW: I have struggled quite a bit with the fact that the work I would like to do has no blueprint for it, there's no manual. I haven't seen no one that I could try to mirror and that was a big motivation for going on this journey. Seeing somebody do it was very valuable, I just didn't have the courage yet to do it. I’ve been looking at it but it seemed too difficult.
TECHNICIAN: I suppose the question was about this. It’s very tough to see what you can be in the future, but at least trying to imagine the tools or the skills that we can have that make us grow in the future is very valuable.
ANDREW: It seems to be a universal lesson of showing up humble and with good intentions, it just seems that would never go out of style.
T.O.C: How do you think that speculative design can help you find what is not working in a system?
ANDREW: Speculative design forces you into the area of “I don’t know what I don’t know”. There are the things I know and then there are the things that I know that I don’t know. Things I just plainly have no idea of, or I have never thought about. It’s the realm of the complete unknown. Speculative design is a journey into that space
TECHNICIAN: And so how making the step into the unknown makes you see if a system is not working and eventually makes you fix it?
ANDREW: By going into the space “where I don't know what I don’t know”. It’s a way of viewing the dark side of the moon.
TECHNICIAN: It’s like seeing the blind spots of the system.
ANDREW: Exactly. It’s like you said, it’s a potential complete change of perspective.
T.O.C: When we give this experience we want people to feel curious, hopeful in the future, adventurous and free to create. If you gave a similar experience to someone else, which feelings and sensations would you want to transfer?
ANDREW: If I took off all the superficialness (sic) and I just went straight to the purest, deepest thing I would want them to take away “hope” and “agency”. Because if there’s no hope then I’m not even sure there can be agency. If you don’t believe things can change even the smallest bit, then you’re not even gonna try. So there needs to be hope, a belief that things can be different. Hope is a very complicated, strange thing, it’s a driver for a lot of things.

The landing activity (to the past–present) was to take a favorite photograph of the trip and use it as a phone wallpaper for 48h. After that, the traveler’s journey would have ended.

Mysterious things happen in the 48 hours after a time travel.