Don’t stop thinking (and designing) about tomorrow

By Robert Hickson 06/05/2013


Nesta is a UK NGO interested in, among other things, innovation. They have just produced a very useful report about foresight – Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. If you want a good short overview of benefits and challenges associated with futuring, I recommend it.

The authors re-iterate the point that prediction isn’t the only, nor most useful, objective for thinking about the future. It is often more effective as a planning tool, enabling organisations, communities or countries to help shape the future or to be better prepared for (un)surprising events. They emphasise that governments and firms need foresight capabilities to help address systemic challenges, and illustrate some of the different and evolving foresight approaches countries and businesses are taking.

A torch analogy is used to illustrate the identifying plausible, probable and preferable futures.

One of the most interesting parts of the report for me was the interest that designers are taking in foresight to help people get more engaged. The report highlights one firm, Superflux, which has been working with a range of organisations to help make thinking about the future more tangible. Examples of their projects, including tarot cards for creating scenarios, can be found here. [NZ’s Landcare Research has also produced a card set for similar purposes].

Stuart Candy, who works for Arup, a design and engineering consultancy, points out the similarity between foresight and design processes. Both he and Superflux stress the importance of involving designers in futures exercises (“design futurescaping” or “experimental futures”) to both explore the range of futures and identify the preferred ones.

As Stuart Candy says

Innovation without foresight is dangerous. Foresight without innovation is pointless.

I’m not aware of design studios, or university design departments in New Zealand, being actively involved in foresight to this extent. But I’d love to talk with you if you are, or would like to be.