Finding Neverland: Boris van Hoytema on the Upside of Utopia (Plus 5 Mantras for Design)

According to Boris van Hoytema, we are all inherently revolutionaries — at least when it comes to tomorrow.

“Even if we don’t try to, we will create the future,” he explained in a Friday talk at SNDDC, challenging an implication by Abraham Lincoln that there has even been a choice.

Van Hoytema’s talk dissected the future in three distinct ways:

  1. “Present Futures,” or our current concept of what might happen next.
  2. “Past Futures,” or the wild ideas that our ancestors had for what our society and world might look and function like today, even though many were completely off.
  3. “Future Futures,” or the tomorrows that we could hypothetically create by acknowledging our roles in shaping everything that will come after the present moment (note from a physics geek: Google “Butterfly Effect” — NOT the Ashton Kutcher movie — to understand how this philosophy is actually backed up by science) and using it to our maximum possible advantage.

While the presentation’s breakdown of the BBC’s Future of News project — which van Hoytema worked on — was admittedly sweet, the philosophical takeaways nearly trumped the technical analysis. Despite insistence that he is not a futurist, his borderline obsession with the way design thinking has carried civilization through time provided valuable perspective on why even the most trudging of design days matters to humanity in the long run.

Since visual and news media movers and shakers regularly operate in high-stress environments, here are our new favorite mantras for design, as derived from van Hoytema’s talk:

  1. “A map of the world that does not include utopia is not worth even glancing at.”  As a designer, dreaming is in your job description. Embrace it.
  2. “A utopia” is “a scenario for the future.” Having a vision for your ideal outcome doesn’t make you a hopeless optimist — just a detailed planner with the ability to do pro-and-con analyses of your concepts.  In this sense, every tomorrow is a prototype.
  3.  “We’re unable to predict the mid-term future.”
    According to van Hoytema, it’s easier for humans to perceive what we’ll have in 50 years than in 5.  Making peace with the fact that we’re all equally clueless about tomorrow makes brainstorming the possibilities that less daunting.
  4. “It’s basically the designers who, in no small way, create the future.” By making a business out of impactful problem solving, innovation happens by default.
  5. That being said, you have an equal role in shaping the future, regardless of your role in the media food chain.  According to van Hoytema, even if our job descriptions ceased to exist, creation would still happen — it would just be a question of who would step up to the plate, what would be made and how it’d be constructed.

Check out his full presentation below: