Dezeen Magazine

Keiichi Matsuda explores dystopian future of the workplace in new film Merger

London-based designer Keiichi Matsuda suggests how augmented reality will define the workstation of the future, in a short film that explores the growing obsession with productivity in the workplace.

Called Merger, the four-minute, 360-degree film presents a near-future reality where the virtual and physical worlds have meshed together in the workplace of a young accountant.

Competing with the algorithms that have come to dominate corporate business and have pushed many humans out of the workplace, the accountant has optimised her work environment with gesture-controlled augmented reality interfaces to control every area of her life. This allows her to be "on call" for her clients at all times.

Despite this, she struggles to keep up and eventually decides that the best way to serve her clients is to merge with the system.

"The idea of work will need to change completely"

Matsuda said he hoped the film would trigger a conversation around the contemporary obsession with productivity and efficiency in the face of mass automation.

Keiichi Matsuda explores dystopian future of work in new film Merger
Merger shows virtual and physical worlds combining in the workplace of a young accountant

"We need to restructure our society in a more radical way, where automation becomes an asset instead of a threat," said the designer.

"The idea of work will need to change completely within our lifetimes," he told Dezeen. "The breakthroughs in AI and automation over the last few years are paving the way for mass job losses in the next 10 to 15 years. We have seen this before with 'blue-collar' jobs, but this time it looks like it will be 'white-collar' office jobs that will be hardest hit."

"Ultimate workplace productivity design"

The main character sits at a desk that is the focus of her day-to-day life, with interfaces projected onto the surfaces around her that change throughout the day as she moves through her tasks and activities.

The station is optimised to control her diet and exercise as well as her work. It is even used to organise a date – the one moment during the day when she steps away from her workstation – that goes wrong.

Instead of taking breaks to eat, she drinks a food supplement. Drinking meal replacements such as Huel and Soylent is an idea that has already taken root among the tech community over recent years as a way of reducing the time that an individual needs to spend away from their screen.

Keiichi Matsuda explores dystopian future of work in new film Merger
Interfaces are projected onto the surfaces and change throughout the day

The workstation the accountant uses is based on real products that Matsuda developed in his work as an interaction designer. Among other roles, he was previously vice president at Leap Motion, a hardware and software company that focuses on using human hand-tracking as a way of controlling technology. The background of green fields and blue skies is a play on the Windows XP background design called "Bliss".

Matsuda suggested that the workstation in the film could be considered the "ultimate workplace productivity design".

During his research for the film, Matsuda became interested in the ideology of productivity that informs many decisions made about work today. Many of the phrases in the script are taken directly from blogs, talks, self-help books and courses that focus on productivity.

Keiichi Matsuda explores dystopian future of work in new film Merger
The station is optimised to control her diet and exercise as well as her work

"To the individual, it promises that if we work smarter, we can complete our work more quickly and free up our time for other things," said the designer. "Productivity should enable us to complete our work in less time, but of course it doesn’t always work out like that. The actual effect is that people work the same amount of hours (or longer), but their expected output is higher."

"So many of the products we use are about trying to make our lives somehow smoother or more efficient, and the ideology of productivity is part of our lives whether we like it or not," he added.

The film can be viewed on a normal screen, using a mouse to click and drag to different positions, but an immersive VR version is also available.

Matsuda's work explores rise of augmented interfaces

It is the latest of several movies from Matsuda that imagine a near-future reality dominated by augmented interfaces.

In 2016 he released the short film Hyper-Reality, set in Medellin, Colombia, which imagined a future where virtual overlays had come to dominate the human experience of the city with games, internet service, diary functions and more constantly popping up in the main character's field of vision.

His other previous films include a vision of the city of the future produced for Dezeen's exhibiton on the future of mobility during the London Design Festival in 2014.

Matsuda previously produced a film for Dezeen imagining how virtual reality will shape the future of transport

The designer initially trained to be an architect, but shifted focus after becoming disillusioned with the industry. His work now focuses on interfaces that connect design, architecture, technology and new media.

In a 2014 interview with Dezeen, Matsuda suggested the developments in technology like Google Maps could eventually lead to a form of virtual time travel and that the role of the architect would become closer to that of a video game designer.

His earlier projects include an installation at the V&A in London called Prism, which combined visualisations of data streams from across the city.