Webinar summary: Using design to explore futures

Webinar summary: Using design to explore futures

Last week we hosted our webinar: exploring the future through design. We talked about how we can use design to create tangible perspectives on the future and develop strategies and opportunities for multiple future scenarios. A key skill to be prepared for change in an age of disruption and uncertainty.

We opened the session ourselves to share some of our latest thinking around innovation and then we asked our two speakers, J. Paul Neeley & Hanne Österberg to share their thinking with us. This created a perfect mix. First showing how design can be used to create experiences of potential futures that help us make decisions about these. And secondly how it can be a driving force to find business opportunities in abstract futures and trends. We ended the session with a crowd hungry for more, and also ourselves looking forward to continue the conversation in the future.

Watch the webinar here

Innovation in an age of uncertainty and crisis

We started out our webinar introducing why we feel our current age of ecological crisis and rising uncertainty needs a different innovation approach. To understand potential futures and account for uncertainty the solution lies in thinking in multiple future scenarios. We cannot predict the future, but we can explore the possible, probable and preferable futures and prepare for them using strategic foresight. This requires companies to explore outside of their own boundaries to see how the ecosystem they are part of might shift. 

By fusing foresight, design and systems thinking we created an approach to understand changing systems, create scenarios for the future, spot opportunities and design a portfolio of innovations that is robust, resilient and relevant for a multitude of futures.

Start from the impact you want to make in the future

The starting point for us is about defining the positive impact we strive to make in the future, independent of the future scenario that might unfold. We need innovation to help us navigate complex change and uncertainty and maintain a focus on what is most important. Therefore innovation should be connected around one central mission to support directed action across teams or even organisations towards achieving an ambitious goal. Combined with multiple future scenarios, the mission acts as a north star to guide different innovation efforts linked to different futures, that all come together to solve the central challenge.

For instance in automotive there can be multiple scenarios for the future of mobility that will most probably co-exist to some degree. For each of these pockets of the future we can think of innovations that drive towards the mission and create a robust innovation portfolio. 

Explore futures and experiment to validate emerging opportunities

Livework’s approach to exploring the future follows a two loop process of exploring potential and plausible futures by mapping the ecosystem a company is operating in and spotting the potential for change in the system by looking at human drivers and socio-technical trends. The unfolding potential futures then form the basis for discovery of opportunities that articulate the role a company can play in this future. These opportunities when translated into minimum viable expressions of the future can then be tested and experimented with in a cohort to build the understanding of where the future is headed and which opportunities hold the highest potential for the business. 

A crash course on speculative design from J.Paul Neeley

After our introduction we handed over to J. Paul Neeley. He gave us a crash course on speculative design. Speculative design is the practice of designing future products and services to explore the impact of emerging technology and trends. J. Paul showed how this approach is gaining popularity to help build and expand our understanding of the future.

Speculative design helps to define what futures we want to create

One of the fundamental concepts underlying speculative design is distinguishing between different levels of probability. There are things that are likely to happen and things that are less likely to happen but still possible. Speculative design works on these different levels of probability to get a better sense of what could happen and create space for the conversation of which of these futures is desirable. This enables companies to think about what is needed in order to work towards these futures.  

And this is a practice that is becoming more critical as the future is happening to us faster and faster.   The time it takes for an innovation to scale up has gotten shorter. “You can have an idea here in this meeting and scale that in a matter of weeks” J. Paul illustrates. This idea – also known as possibility dilution – means that all possible futures can arrive much earlier and that is it critical to think and prepare for them.

The value of service design for businesses  

The way organisations can get started with this is actually quite easy since it builds on a familiar design approach, and companies actually have quite a lot of work already done in terms of foresight research. Speculative design can build on this existing research to create future prototypes and then feedback the learnings into strategy. The value that speculative design approaches deliver can roughly be summarised in 3 points

  • Speculative design creates a tangible future experience that enables us to think about the impact of different futures. 
  • Speculative design opens up a creative space for innovation by allowing people and teams to think beyond the boundaries of today. 
  • Speculative design  enhances decision making, because we understand more of our potential future context. Rather than running into the future and crashing into it this helps to better understand and anticipate before we get there. 

J. Paul highlights how organisations ranging from governments to Fortune 500 companies have started to use speculative design. One of the highlighted example projects J. Paul describes comes from Superflux that created the air of the future if climate change is not addressed. This air is toxic and smells really unpleasant and allowed ministers of the United Arab Emirates to breathe that air and experience the impact of climate change beyond a data point in a report. This ties into an important closing note that it does not just make business sense to invest in speculative design, we also have a moral obligation to spend more time thinking about the impact of our actions on the future and future generations. 

Hanne Österberg shows us how to translate futures to tangible business impacts 

Following up on J. Paul, Hanne Österberg shares her experience from being in an accelerator team within Philips. In her practice she looks at potential futures and also at the consumer problems worth solving for a business within those. Her work is all about going from abstract futures to tangible and concrete opportunities. Envisioning and imagination are extremely important, but we also need to think about this will manifest itself and become a reality

Making megatrends digestible for business and consumers

Hanne illustrates how in her work she makes abstract trends and developments more tangible. It starts from megatrends. Big forces that are shaping our world over a longer time. Things like people living more in cities, people living more on their own, an ageing population. These things host a lot of societies biggest problems, yet for a business they can be hard to act upon. So the challenge is to digest them into something actionable. That starts with unpacking these large trends or futures into the value spaces we can play a role in. By unpacking the megatrend it makes it possible to discuss these larger trends with consumers as well as the business around a specific aspect to gauge whether there is a consumer problem and business opportunity. You don’t have to try to digest the entire future of an urbanised world, you can take an aspect of the future and then discuss it. Like creating communities in densely urbanised areas. Is that a value space for us, do we have skills there as a business. 

Visualising a future experience and co-creating a desirable future

This is the first step at making it concrete, tangible and discussable. A next step is in really visualising the experience someone might have in a future context, for instance using an experience flow. This step by step description of a scenario helps to talk about how someone life might look like in the future, which can focused on an individual future for instance discussing how life might look at 80 years old, or can zoom into something specific like the needs around being a young mother. 

Finally one level more defined Hanne’s team also looks at how desirable people feel certain futures and future solutions are. She explains how as part as bigger societal trends we can imagine self care at home become a more dominant way of providing care in the future. But how desirable is that future to people. How can we understand how people want to be helped under which conditions. Hanne describes how they used experiment cards with different statements and questions around health to understand peoples preferences in digitally facilitated care. The experiment cards helped to co-create a solution MVP informed by where people draw the line between receiving immediate help through the use of technology like conversational AI or of wanting to interact with a human professional – and having to wait for that a bit more. 

We'd love to chat

Wondering if we might be the right partner to boost your innovation efforts and prepare your organisation for the future? Feel free to drop me a note at jelte@liveworkstudio.com. Or read more about our offer here.