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Icons For The Near Future, From Printable Meat To Autonomous Car Warnings

These visuals create a thought-provoking shorthand for the issues that will be created by our emerging technologies.

Icons For The Near Future, From Printable Meat To Autonomous Car Warnings

When Hypermorgen, a Berlin-based interdisciplinary lab for futures research, started designing a new website, they wanted to find an email icon that would signify that their email was encrypted. It turned out that nothing quite right existed, so they decided to design their own–and eventually extended the project to include other symbols of the near future.

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“We realized that icons are a nice way of condensing a lot of information in a very tiny space and therefore could be quite thought provoking without lots of text or talk,” says René Schäfer, co-founder at Hypermorgen.


“Cory Doctorow once said that science fiction ‘creates the narrative vocabularies by which futures can be debated, discussed, adopted, or discarded,’” Schäfer adds. “As we live more and more in the future, a visual and narrative vocabulary becomes even more important to discuss desirable and non-desirable futures and their intersection with probable developments.”

The first batch of icons–selected by looking at the company’s list of emerging technologies and deciding which would initially be easiest and fastest to create, while having the most visual impact–includes slime mold computing, graphene, printable meat, and exoskeletons, among a handful of other concepts for technology that are on the verge of becoming more widely used.

“Slime mold computing is my favorite,” says Jörg Schatzmann, another co-founder. “It turns out that slime mold is better in computing some non-linear tasks, like the optimized routing for our roads, than most of our computers.”

Each of the icons is available for free download on the Noun Project, a growing library of symbols from designers around the world that includes everything from climate change icons to graphics about innovations in education.

The team at Hypermorgen plans to continue adding to their list of icons for the near future. “Some of the most serious and interesting cases are still sketches, but we hope to make a second batch soon,” says Schäfer. And they’re hoping that the current set will start to get some use.

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“The technology behind the icons almost exists, so of course it would be great if they show up in some places and we could see some real and serious use of them,” Schäfer says. “We guess an ‘autonomous car warning sign’ might be closer than we think. But first and foremost they are meant to provoke different associations to start discussions about the future.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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