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
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
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:
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.”
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.
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
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?