It's World Cup kick-off week, so finally time to write up some thoughts about a project that has occupied a good bit of the last six months, and one that I've enjoyed immensely—Winning Formula. This project, which looks at the future of data and football (soccer), mainly through the form of daily sport tabloid from 2018, was conceived and directed by Fabien Girardin of Near Future Laboratory, and supported by a great lineup including FutureEverything, the National Football Museum, the Centre for Contemporary Culture Barcelona (CCCB), and Fundación Telefónica. It was also supported by ECAS, a European Commission Culture Fund, and MEDIAPRO. It's also gotten some nice press recently.
For Winning Formula, Fabien brought together a team including me, Philippe Gargov, designers Bestiario, and a handful of additional writers including Natalie Kane and Margot Baldassi to imagine and create a 24-page full-color print newspaper that takes a snapshot of a fictional near-future day in April, four years from now, as the European football season is reaching its peak, and the 2018 World Cup in Russia is just around the corner. The project had several aims: to explore a future where Big Data more deeply infiltrates and influences the Beautiful Game through technology on the players, on the pitch, in the home, in media and so on, as well as to experiment with a very practical and simple piece media artifact as a means of moving this discussion and exploration into some new arenas. The project includes a map of emerging connections created within the football ecosystem, and opportunities for non-professionals to play with media-grade analytics applications that show what some broadcasters and teams already have at their fingertips.
From the outset, rather than make a high-concept, flatpack app-driven view of a fantastic future or focus on the usual suspects of robotics or tiny drones, the team wanted to give the newspaper, which we called Today with intentional irony, as much of a realistic, mundane feel as possible in appearance and content. We wanted it to be a practical, simple and ephemeral artifact, one that could hide in plain sight. With Today, we wanted to depict an uneven near future where the major dynamics which shape the everyday carrying on as they typically do—punctuated by evolutions, interjections and disruptions presented by rapidly evolving technologies, but grounded in a believable reality. [Note: I talked about this process of "unshocking the future" recently at Data Ecologies '14, using Winning Formula as the example.]
From the basic grid design to the feature and department selection to the choice of production (using Newspaper Club, running on traditional newspaper presses), the aim was to create something tangible, accessible, and even realistic—after all, despite the claims of some, print isn't dead yet, and it's even taking on new life in some areas. Print will still be the key touchpoint for sport and cultural information for hundreds of millions worldwide in four or five years, just as it has been for the past hundred or more. Change takes time.
We also focused on key tensions and uncertainties: between tradition and innovation, between intuition and analysis, between people and silicon, between legal and illegal, between political and personal, between commercial and amateur, to name a few. We wanted to look at just the sorts of tensions that technology's advance creates in many other spheres of life, played out on a global field, so to speak, where passions, allegiances, and affiliations can run deep. From the lead story on Big Data-as-Manager to an exploration of data doping to second-guessing referees in the big game, to the technopolitics of a World Cup to back-page pieces on cricket in China and graphene-clay court tennis, we tried to explore different corners of a near future through the familiar vernacular that shapes sport reporting.
A few people have asked questions about the "scenario design" process up front which gave us the storylines for Today. Interestingly, the process more closely resembled building a video game or writing a TV show: agreeing the general mechanics and physics of the world (which we I'd say set on 'strange-normal'), then working within the grid of the publication as our scenario frame, as such. Keeping the various narratives and mini-scenarios we developed as independent writers and futurists in synch with each other, functioning plausibly within the same world, was key for us and required ongoing coordination of an international team to ensure a reasonable level of continuity in this imagined future.