We recently attended a CIID Future Casting workshop hosted at the UNOPS headquarters in Copenhagen, facilitated by Ulrik Hogrebe and Filippo Cuttica. During this intense week, our team at Marino Software got to step outside typical design constraints, and free ourselves to think more critically about the future we want to build (or avoid!) and work hand-in-hand with people in the United Nations and from all over the world.
The aim of the week was to explore the possibilities of a world to come with the outcome to have created tangible artefacts to use for debate — evidence of our imagined futures. We weren’t aiming at designing for ‘production’, so our solutions were focused on the future context surrounding a given trend — not on the technology itself.
When we design a new product or service we should always have people in mind. But what about the context surrounding people? How might a future social, economic or environmental climate influence our products? Or even, how could our products influence those contexts?
Consider how new devices and evolving economies have shaped the way we interact and communicate in just a few years. Think about smartphones, the sharing economy, the rise of health consciousness and sustainability awareness — just to name a few — and how they have changed the way we live today. Considering these trends will help us ideate new experiences that are made possible by their intersection.
We also believe the main use of design is problem-solving. This is true, but it could be much more — it could also be used to ‘speculate’ how things could be. We are not saying future casting or ‘speculative design’ is going to predict the future, but instead, it can help us explore the possibilities.
Future casting doesn’t necessarily predict the future, but helps people and explore the possibilities.
Future casting is a process to help people and companies model and plan out different future scenarios. It serves as a guide to develop ideas for new products, services or experiences for that imagined future.
It’s meant to be provocative, to help us imagine all the possible futures that could be and open a discussion about what we would like our future to be — or not to! It doesn’t just tell us what the future might be like but inspires us to think what the role of a company might be in that future.
By employing future casting, we can not only adapt to growing trends — and the ones to come — but impact and influence the future.
‘We will be archeologists of the future’ — our week began under this premise. To get started, we were asked to imagine that we were archeologists from today, who had travelled back in time to the 1950s and we had to tell them about our time. It was a great exercise to put us into the mindset.
People brought a variety of objects to talk about our time and get the debate started — from coffee capsules, anti contraceptive pills, protein chocolate made from crickets, a stress ball or eco cigarettes. These artefacts say a lot about how we live today and would be a great debate-opener if we had to describe our context to a person from another time.
Each group got assigned a trend as our starting point — they went from Space Manufacturing, Emotional AI, Augmented Reality, Designer DNA and Extreme Bionics. Our group got Augmented Reality (AR).
We got started by looking at how Augmented Reality got to where it is now, what is currently happening in research centres, what are the competitors and allies to this technology and what people and industries AR might disrupt.
Even though sometimes we might want to jump in and immerse ourselves into the technology and its possible applications, we need to understand where things come from to know where we are going.
Remember, an enabling technology might already be there, while applications for it might not have been ‘discovered’ yet. Before we get ahead of ourselves and build something we need to question — is the world ready for it? Is there a real need? We need to go further than ‘product-market’ fit and look at the ecosystem on which our products or services are going to live in.
We used 4 different techniques to imagine our futures: The Future’s Wheel, Timelines, End states and Headlines from the Future.
The Future’s Wheel is a casualty mind map that helps us find connections that we might miss otherwise. It gradually works out the steps to an end point and considers STEEP factors (Social, Technological, Economical, Environmental, and Political).
For example, a transportation company might have used future casting in the past to consider the intersection of the sharing economy (a social and economic trend) with the Internet of Things (a technological trend) and then develop ideas for the experience of a car-sharing program.
Scenarios take us into a possible future. They are story-like narratives that describe a world to come and tell us how we got to this point. People need to be able to follow the story, there shouldn’t be gaps with ‘magic moments’ where they can’t understand what happened in between. It’s also important to relate the story events to people and places, and not just focus on a western context.
Scenarios may come in sets that represent alternative sets of assumptions and likelihood (probable, plausible or possible outcomes). We used end states to describe alternative outcomes of AR within the world. We thought about the future possibilities of AR collapsing, getting widespread but regulated or being fully ubiquitous. For all of these we wondered, how would people feel about this? What would be the steps that will bring us there? If the tech became successful, why was it? What would the implications of this happening be?
We imagined what events could have lead to the end states and wrote headlines to represent their implications. These had to be attention-grabbing and as believable as possible. As we UX designers use prototyping to make our ideas feel ‘real’, writing stories in the form of headlines helped us make our ideas come to life.
Studying failure is as important as success
Studying failure is as important as success. Stories about social issues and difficulties around the implementation or adoption of a technology can help us understand the context better.
We looked at the ideas of a fully AR-powered city infrastructure being hacked and therefore cities becoming blank canvases, AR digital partners, people performing AR-assisted procedures such as CPR and the rise of remote work resulting from the expansion of AR into the workplace — amongst other possible trends.
After exploring different end states, we chose to base our future in 2041 where Augmented Reality was widespread but regulated. We imagined by then it would mostly be used in the workplace but at the same time it would play the role of supporting people to augment their skillset while also being widely utilised in the entertainment industry.
We started sketching artefacts that would represent the future we imagined, such as regulations, social issues, ecosystem, products and experiences derived from it.
Then we decided on which 9–10 physical artefacts we could create in the next day and went a bit deeper on what they would be and how could we bring them to life.
Artefacts are a great way to get a feel for the future. But, how do you make one? One way is to take an existing object and make it slightly unfamiliar to help you tell a story.
An example of this would be our ‘Medical Relief Kit’ (eye drops and nausea relief pills), which takes a current product but gives it a new edge, being designed for AR-related nausea and discomfort. We also took a selection of glasses and transformed them into the first AR glasses for kids or AR Microsoft contact lenses.
We also thought about how AR would affect physical spaces and created ‘Workplace Regulation’ stickers — which would indicate on which spaces AR would be allowed to be used.
As I mentioned before, we imagined a future where the use of AR in the workplace would be widespread — so we created evidence of AR-assisted cardiovascular surgery training in the shape of tools and a training manual. On the consumer side, we created an AR Car Repair Kit, which would enhance car owners skills.
News articles are also a great way to tell stories. In this case we used multiple artefacts in conjunction with each other, such as an article in a magazine (I know — would they even exist in 20 years?) and a ‘Thank you’ card. The article talked about the repercussions of an AR-assisted home medical procedure gone wrong, and the demonstrations that followed the case — where people were reclaiming their rights to professional medical care. On the other hand, the ‘Thank you’ card represented a more positive side. It was sent after a successfully AR-assisted CPR procedure was performed on a baby demonstrating that AR could enable people to amplify their skills in successful ways.
We also thought about fashion and sustainability and created an AR t-shirt that would allow the wearer to carry endless design in one single garment.
And that was it! — our team was very happy with our artefacts! Everyone in the class did amazing work, it was a pleasure to get to know people from all different countries and backgrounds and I was really inspired by everyone’s creations :)
An approach to tell stories
We learned about scenario planning and a combination of different techniques that allowed us to lay stories out in time and also by likelihood of them becoming a reality.
Think of the context and implications
We learned to evaluate current contextual trends and use speculative design to debate potential ethical, cultural, social and political implications. Knowing about the context help us test how well our strategies will work under various conditions, so being more aware of this was definitely a takeaway.
Identify design opportunities
We used a mix of trends and factors to identify what products or services might exist in the future. Learning the future casting process is definitely very valuable to identify design opportunities and build future-proof products.
A change of mindset: design for debate, not for production
We are often be fixated on technology and the products derived from it, without paying that much attention to the context on which these technologies were originated. During this week we created artefacts to debate this context.
Prototype for a future world
We learned how to design and create artefacts such as headlines and physical objects to get a feel for life in a future world and engage people in tangible ways.