Imagining the future and trying to portray it was the aim of a recent virtual meeting organized by Repubblica.it. Some ideas to emerge from that on-line gathering are a suitable starting point for the risky business of predicting where design is heading. That matador of all such rendez-vous, Bruce Sterling, science fiction writer, father-founder of cyberpunk but also a design enthusiast, puts his finger on the issue of security: “we are bang in the middle of a global war on terror which makes us worried and paranoid and is getting us used to a growing amount of danger”. How do designers respond to the fear assailing us? That might be the first point in the proposed future scenario. Certain signals suggest that designers are trying to be reassuring, providing antidotes to the fear and concern. They offer, instead, tender affection. The scenes they envisage are populated by creature/objects of the fantasy world enlisted as our companions. They no longer conjure technological landscapes but cosy household reality, as witness the exhibition “The New Italian Design” (Milan, Triennale, until April 25, 2007). Sterling claims in his latest essay, “The Form of the Future” (Apogeo, Milan, 2006) that they no longer purvey products but “knick-knacks, highly unstable objects, baroquely multi-functional, adaptable and easily programmed”. The knick-knacks possess a high cognitive charge that entertains us and distances the vice-grip of fear. Not surprisingly, the latest mini-project from Fernando and Humberto Campana, the two Brazilian brothers whose emotion-based design is permeating the international scene, is itself a “knick-knack”. It is called Mandacaru Formiga (The Little Creature) - a fluffy brown animal with two button eyes and a wire core, like Bruno Munari’s famous monkey: something to perch on the table but also to carry around on your shoulder or round your neck, or clip like a koala to an anglepoise. A companionable monster-ette to make us smile and slacken the tension. The toys are on the increase, the domestic animal-shaped cushions devised by Andrea Ruschetti for Faro’s Ludiko line, are turning into blankets and rugs to lie on or wrap around and feel comforted. The second point is that design is set to become more and more seductive, by hook or by crook: the glitter of metal, gold, silver, crystal; decorative motifs and colours. It will filch secrets from the applied arts, reviving inlay, embroidery, fretwork. Or it will turn to sci-fi and go futuristic, impressing by super-lightness or transparency, fluid shapes and gleams of unexpected intensity. Or tread the path of revival, re-proposing period pieces from the Fifties and Sixties, years when modernity was in the offing - but now injected with the future. The third point again ties up with seduction: design will flirt with eccentricity and border on art. The market is growing for one-off pieces and limited series. Art galleries are converting to design, buying sole rights on design stars, as Gagosian did with Marc Newson. Items that industry lacked the courage to back will become “artworks” commanding fat sums at art fairs which, like Art Basel and Miami, have opened a design section. Eccentricity is anyway becoming a basic requisite to catch the consumer’s eye amid the plethora of objects and visual stimuli. It is the most effective way of dangling the illusion of something special. Fourth point: objects must be meta-stories. It is through talking about them that people understand how to use them to best effect. And not only: they have to tell stories to bond with the user, speak to her/his imagination and sensibility, arouse desire. They have to tell stories if they would rise above the pure object plane and become “technosocial relations”: these we need, more than actual things, of which we have a surfeit. The fifth point connects with eccentricity and is that designers are themselves acquiring glamour as personalities. The father of industrial design, Raymond Loewy, cultivated a glittering lifestyle and used to say: “you can’t flood customers with facts in a meeting-room: you have to seduce them. What can’t be got across by reason may be got round by a rumpus. That’s what design glamour is about”. To Raymond Loewy and his colleagues Henry Dreyfuss and Bel Geddes, being design men was a showy variation on being theatrical. Modern variations on the theatrical, to cite a few, are Fabio Novembre or Marc Newson - young, seductive and successful; and always expected to come up with a surprise or cause a stir. As Bruce Sterling (op. cit.) maintains, these protagonists have found “that ostentation of a design attitude is the fastest and most efficient form of public relations. Being design cuts the cackle”, he concludes, “it avoids elaborate discussion. It provides useful results. It attracts business. It increases capacity.” The sixth and last point may seem to contradict the foregoing, but in an age of uncertainty it manages to rub along with them like a deliberate counter-melody: design is in search of the simple and supernatural. It aims at a kind of comforting zero degrees so as to lighten excess stimulation. It goes in for the un-stated, cutting down the technological and expressive demand. “Since we can’t get away from technology,” says John Maeda, the visual artist and IT theoretician, “all we can do is accept living in a complex world, simplifying all that can be simplified”. By cutting out all one can: weight for starters, as Tom Dixon has done with his latest stackable polystyrene armchair Grab: the material of packagers, liftable by one hand. By normalizing wherever possible, as recommended by Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa, authors of the book Super Normal (Lars Müller, Baden, 2006), which came out to mark the exhibition of that name at Tokyo’s Axis Gallery. Jasper Morrison states: “Super Normal is commonest in the world of things designed in complete anonymity, though it is also possible in the world of design stylists, and I think it is not just preferable, it can also open design up to a quite new way. Free from the mantle of Design!” One conjectures that the novelties to come will partake of these and suchlike paradoxes.