Designing for a world that doesn’t exist.

Futuristic space beauty city by Pixel Point

As part of the Design Futures unit of the MA Service Design program at UAL, my team is currently working on designing a desirable future service scenario for the London Borough of Southwark, with a particular focus to help with the Local Council’s vision of a zero-carbon emission future in 2030.

In order to do this, we have to ask ourselves all sorts of questions, such as: What is the future of education? Do physical universities still exist? How environmentally conscious are people going to be? Who will own energy? Will more information about individual carbon emissions help change behaviours?

Being someone who is known to be practical to a fault, I found it difficult to wrap my mind around this and design a service scenario for a world that:

a)I had not been a part of.

b)That NO ONE had been a part of.

So how did I start?

For starters, watching a lot of videos and reading about the process of Research through Design helped a lot. For me, research has always been the process that would help me come to a conclusion, that is backed by data. Now I was introduced to the idea of research whose purpose is to induce further knowledge that others can use to design other areas.

And how exactly should I do that?

This question was very eloquently answered in Design Research Through Practice:

“People listen to other people, influence them, pay attention to things others see as important and mold their opinions on things like ethics based on these social influences.”

We as designers have always tried to bring social context into design by creating storyboards and other visuals, with the aim to define the behaviour of a service. We create characters who live in this context and come up with many stories about them to imagine new behaviours that can help improve their lives.

Basically “people experience things together.”

This taught me the importance of creating future artifacts, something that acts as a door to the world that you are trying to create, so everyone can experience it together.

Creating objects instead of service blueprints to explain services is something that was extremely new to me, but in this case very rewarding.

An example:

Picture owned by the Author

This is a business card, that I envision would be a normal sight in 2030:

Old and reused material implied by the rough edges, along with the indication that new roles will be created in the future like a “Carbon Manager”. The creation of such roles helps us speculate the increased emphasis that future industries will have on the reduction of Carbon Emissions. This further makes us wonder if educational institutions will create new curriculums that can teach and advocate the skills required to become a “Carbon Manager”.

The creation of such a simple artifact helps give a small sneak peek into the envisioned future world.

But what do I even mean by “future”?

There are millions of variables at stake and it is nearly impossible to predict the future for one simple reason: the future does not exist. The only thing that we can do is to observe the signs that occur now and look for the stories of tomorrow. There are many futures competing to exist, and it all depends on the millions of choices that we make every day.

But till then the creation of such artifacts help us get a step closer to understanding our preferred future.

Ending with a quote that unintentionally (or intentionally?) best describes the process to design for the future:

“The best way to predict your future is to create it”-Abraham Lincoln