by Jerry ElengicalNov 30, 2022
In the conversation on the perceived medical benefits of several psychoactive substances and mind altering drugs, and amid the race and debate for their legalisation in a number of major countries across the world, I am reminded of my conversation with Tim Parsons and Jessica Charlesworth on their presentation at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2021. Titled Catalog for the Post-Human, the collection of myriad objects explored the possibility - or the need - to augment ourselves to simply survive. Though dour in its vision and sensibility, the speculative design project’s Morning Ritual - a kit for microdosing to enhance productivity, a variant of your morning coffee if you may - particularly caught my attention. The sound logic with this product in the "post human" catalog of products remained that the augmentation would become rather necessary in the face of rising competition, not just from fellow workers, but from the omniscient threat of AI and robotics making the need for a human workforce redundant. A microscopic, reeled back version of the same idea, though catering to and geared definitively towards to-day, is the delightfully perky range of products from London-based creative design studio, NewTerritory.
The usage of psychoactive and psychotropic substances as mood or productivity enhancers, though garbed, doesn’t remain a secret entirely, and the aforementioned debate mostly stems in the need for their regulation for medical purposes. The conceptual intervention by NewTerritory, aptly titled Human Nature, looks at their consumption in a controlled manner, solely for the substances' therapeutic properties and the resultant effects on productivity thereafter, along with how the intervention could be visualised as a service in a direct-to-consumer model. The scope of this thumb sized intervention hops from product and industrial design to branding, packaging, and graphic design, to discussing the ethical and even cultural ramifications of the consumption of these substances, crafting what comes pretty close to a viable solution for commercial consumption with a distinctively playful aesthetic.
The project, as the studio states, emerges as the driver of a superior consumer and user experience in response to promising research around the positive effects of using psychoactive drugs as mood altering substances. A range of products catering to the same have been carefully devised with their design language alluding to a figurative lightness, a state of meditative trance, playing with the notion of breath and the flow of air. This is most directly manifested in the collection's base product, 'space set', designed as a set of inhalers with supporting mouthpiece capsules to hold micro-doses of different concoctions of mood altering compounds. The compound-hosting capsules - the variable in the design of individual inhalers - which attach to the ribbed, cylindrical base, would form part of a personalised pack being delivered directly to the consumer. The product's ecosystem is further augmented by a smartphone app and a compostable tracker, enabling users to personalise, plan, and regulate their weekly microdosing rituals. The final product's mechanism incorporates piercing the drug-carrying capsule to deliver the drug to the user, while making the product somewhat inconspicuous in a domestic setting.
As part of a comprehensively visualised product strategy and with the view of offering a range of products embodying the stipulated experience, the concept works with four key areas of human wellbeing, incorporating them as variants of the basal design. Dream, using melatonin, decelerates the mind while igniting the parasympathetic nervous system, appending the product's name to the mental state it is supposed to induce. Relax makes use of CBD to release cognitive tension, limiting the production of stress hormones in the body. Focus bears a controlled dose of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide to engage the body’s sensory functions, temporarily increasing the user’s concentration and short-term memory. Create, the supposed tool of choice for creative professionals, uses Psilocybin to enable divergent thinking and augment their ideation skills and processes. Individual capsules atop each of the inhalers assume the shape of the name and function the product delivers. So, while Dream is topped by a translucent cloud, Create's divergent thinking is manifested in the twin forking blobs; Focus is capped by a pointed tip, and Relax remains a defined yet amorphous extension into the unknown.
The product experience comes together at the beck of a holistic approach and design process, including the attractive packaging for individual products based on their characteristics and composition. 3D printing, regenerative and biodegradable materials, and commercially available materials including foam glass and reusable silicone were experimented with for creating both the stem and the capsule of the inhaler.
"Our overriding motivation behind this project surrounded the changing perceptions of what drugs of this nature can provide for the human psyche. It's as much an educational project as it is a practical one. We want to imagine a world where a tailored microdosing platform can support cognitive brain functions - in fighting depression and sleep deprivation, for instance - and to ask what this might look and feel like, states James Ravenhall, Creative Director at NewTerritory, on his vision for the project and the team's aspirations for the product to be rather commonplace - a home administered solution among other objects of palliative care in the domestic sphere.