When we think of distant futures, we tend to envision trends coming to their full expression. “In 30 years… everyone will…” or “No one has…” statements. We often neglect to imagine a “day-in-the-life” that evokes “sometimes” or “might” statements. It’s just much easier to do this (I’ve described it in my paper Making the Futures Present, AHM Greyson). Those nuances affect the difference in how we make strategic decisions today. We can do this by practicing living in the future, as if it is the present. The Tofflers propose that an individual can be “pre-adapted” to an otherwise unfamiliar future by seeing and hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling a new world.
The Tofflers describe “experiential simulations” that are designed for the public to help people to pre-adapt. “He will be able to interact vicariously with the people in his future,” they wrote, “and to undergo carefully contrived experiences designed to improve his coping abilities.” The Tofflers suggest that experiences within a myriad of future-oriented environments encourage and develop long-term thinking skills. For example, their concept of “enclaves of the future” help compensate for our temporal lack of “future heritage.” These enclaves are environments like a community square, a gated community, or remote villages. These communities provide a focal point for contrived “work-learn-and-play” environments staffed with artists, poets, labourers, and other skilled talent. They are a public design studio for families and communities to become conditioned and prepared to “cope with their own personal tomorrows.”
“Local government, schools, voluntary associations and others,” they wrote, “also need to examine their potential futures imaginatively. One way to help them do so would be to establish community ‘imaginetic centers’ devoted to technically assisted brainstorming. These would be places where people noted for creative imagination, rather than technical expertise, are brought together to examine present crises, to anticipate future crises, and to speculate freely, even playfully, about possible futures.”
An experience of the future is a shot in the arm in the present. We can immerse ourselves in authentic debates. We designers must practice humanizing our futures for the citizens, customers, and creators we serve. Ideally, when we design we aspire to address the burning question of people like Greta Thunberg, “Is this what we want for our next generation?”
Experiential learning can help us to be deliberate about creating the future we want. Elements of storytelling: character development, setting, plot, conflict, theme, narrative arc, situation, and props, contribute dimensions of understanding. It is a process and a product for constructing future experiences and artifacts to help us think critically. Uncertainty is a fertile space. It can help us learn how to cope.
A call to action
I call on all designers to address an immediate question in our work, “Is this what we want for our next generation?” Robust imagining of a person, place or thing supports the scenario in our mind to become a reality. We get to decide, if it’s a reality that we prefer, long before we see it play out in the real world.
Speculative design is an emergent form of experiential simulations that connects people with uncertain consequences. Anab Jain is a speculative designer, Professor of Design, TED Speaker, Futurist, and director of the design and film studio Superflux. She says, “We have learned in our work that one of the most powerful means of effecting change is when people can directly, tangibly, and emotionally experience some of the future consequences of their actions today.”
Our “Think like a futurist” hands-on workshop at the Interior Design Show #IDS20 was our favourite project in January. The theme of the show was Design Your Future. We thought it would be rude if we didn't give them a hand with a little strategic foresight.
Its time for Futures Festival again. The organizer's asked David Buwalda to share a little about the experience of presenting at last year's festival and they published his response: http://futuresfestival.online/david-buwalda-presenter-story/
This year's festival is free to register for. The theme is a good one: Radical Transformations.
Register here: http://futuresfestival.online/