Insight Artifacts for Digesting the Future

Looking at the shelves behind our desks, we see the results of a busy year—both topically and geographically. One thing that jumps out is that our output this year has taken a different, and happy direction. Instead of being dominated by piles of bound PowerPoint decks (though those still happened) we have managed to co-build an increasing collection of what for lack of a better term I'd call insight artifactscards, booklets and other items co-created with our project partners—digital information architects, a digital foresight and innovation lab, a food innovation studio, and design researchers among them—to help those we work with better engage and interface with the future at an individual and collective insight level. 

This approach builds on a foundation we laid several years ago experimenting with maps of insight psychogeography, music and media developed to add layers of experience and sensation to enhance uptake of ideas and information. It took a while to get back to this point, but increasingly we are leading, not being led, when helping organizations' intake and uptake of understanding about the future.

The goals are multifold: to ease and speed ingestion into the organism by making insight more granular and flexible, not locked in the text of a dense deliverable; to create systems of insight where these single items can be moved around, recombined and essentially played with in order to make the resulting models of the future more adaptable; to turn insights into social objects—to give them "handles" that many people can hold onto at the same time, and which draw people into collaboration; and to make these collective insights attractive touchpoints that draw the user back again.

Why bother to break these insights down? Rather than have to solve for the whole spaceship at once, this Lego-like approach allows people and organizations who aren't normally in the business of considering the larger future to build that spaceship a few bricks at a time—their spaceship, not a knock-off of someone else's grand design. 

A similar dynamic of artifact creation has emerged in adjacent areas of media and design. Groups like Superflux and BERG London and the communities that work around them are doing great things in designing media to provoke new thinking about what is possible. By making the future playful, and playable, through combinations of information, media, and design, they are also opening up new ways to ask "what if?" that are particularly useful in the new realms they are trying to navigate—wicked frontiers where the problems are not yet evident.

From what we can see about 2011, we'll be accelerating even more directly into this area, adding to the systems of insight artifacts we've created this year, and bringing more digital tools to bear to pinch, twirl and slide these insights in new directions. We hope to see you around a table top or screen in the near future with some of them.