Foresight & Futures

Designing a Future for All

By Eric Boye

For whom are we designing our future? How do we account for our unintended consequences? What does it mean to have an agency in the future?

I recently attended the PRIMER19 conference at the Parsons School of Design in New York where we discussed these questions during the speaker series, breakout sessions, and hands-on workshops. PRIMER is a three-day, global conference for futurists and speculative designers to share best practices and inspiration in speculative design, strategic foresight, and inclusive innovation. 

Ayodamola Tanimowo Okunseinde, Assistant Professor, Parsons School of Design, on thinking in the future to help solve for today’s challenges.

This year’s theme, Futures for All, challenged the notion that design for only one type of end user was the appropriate path. Instead, we must consider our unintended consequences and impact we have on others. For years, corporations, governments, and leaders have presented their visions of the future to their target consumers through marketing and advertising. Historically, for many of these, shaping the future has been through the lens of gaining profit, market share, voters, etc. At the conference we discussed how storytelling can be a powerful tool to sell the latest product, service or lifestyle, but this view can have unintended consequences beyond their original intent.

By designing a future strictly for the traditional target consumer, one must ask, who are we leaving behind, what adverse consequences are we creating, and should those who implement and shape the future be held responsible for these consequences?

To help answer these questions, speakers and workshops discussions illuminated several key insights—insights which suggest new applications for Futures in solving client challenges:

  1. Engage with and depict diverse backgrounds in storytelling. Design a future for all by utilizing community involvement in futures planning, devising future utopia scenarios based on current realities, and ensuring a broad range of backgrounds and cultures are depicted in our storytelling. Ytasha L. Womack said it best, “imagining oneself in the future gives self-agency.”
  2. Employ new critical design techniques. Apply discursive design principles and new techniques for critique and reflection. These techniques can reveal unconscious biases and draw attention to the unintended consequences of the products and services we deploy.
  3. Design for exponential impact. Consider exponential changes, rather than linear movement, in planning processes. In doing so, reinforce the importance of understanding the holistic implications of design choices.

Design, storytelling, and speculative futures can all be powerful tools to shape and influence the mainstream – but what if we utilized the power of design to design a future for all?

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