Design and Futures

I had the fun opportunity to open the IDSA's NED event in Boston on Saturday and hopefully plant a few mindbombs among the 450-odd students and design practitioners in the audience (thanks again to Jordan and the NED crew for the invite!). It's an especially appropriate time to be talking about the intersection of foresight and design. It's been central to Changeist, as you can see from the front page of the site, for some time, and it's becoming central to discussion of foresight thinking now.

The Association of Professional Futurists' recent annual meeting was located at Arts Center in Pasadena for this very purpose—to bring the two communities together and talk about how methods from both disciplines can cross-pollinate, leading futurists to think more creatively, and hopefully helping designers build foresight into their ideation processes.

The second was the topic of my talk on the day, with the goal to hopefully begin to expand the horizons and thinking of the young designers in the room so they can start their working lives understanding the related nature of foresight and the critical role it can play in their approach to design—moving from passive to active foresight. Some words from the glowering Messrs Gibson and Sterling—the former's observation about the uneven distribution of the future in the now, and the latter's description of how designers mine the future to make the present, helped the listeners to see their role in context to noticing and drawing on indicators of change, and think about how they could build them into their work. 

Stuart Candy's post a few days ago on "Killer Imps" talked about the linkage between futures-led design and design-led futures. This was a useful construct to help help the group see further the common space between the two: they share forms of exploration, observation, critical thinking, advocacy and the ability to potentially accelerate preferred outcomes. At a time when we are witnessing important shifts—from serving abundance to dealing with constraint, from enjoying objects to requiring tools, from the desire for experiences to the need for solutions—integrating foresight into design more tightly is a must, not a maybe.

The theme of the event was "Revolution," and no revolution is complete without an uprising of the people. My concluding message was the need to take the insurgent's approach to this integration: not to try and force it overnight, but to carefully, steadily build towards it. By making important connections with likeminded professionals (creating a common front), gathering and sharing intelligence (probing and scouting), and looking for weak-points and opportunities to make important breakthroughs in thinking (picking your battles), we can ultimately win the day.