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Designing the future

55c226984277e7f45cd59596ddf81145?s=47 Laura Yarrow
November 18, 2021

Designing the future

Growing up on a healthy diet of 80’s sci fi TV, it was all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking my first web development job would be plugging people into computers, sending a rocket to saturn or creating some form of teleportation device. Imagine my disappointment when I landed my first job bug fixing a CMS system. It was not the glittering, technologically advanced career I was expecting.

As I moved into design and research, I realised that this fault in the way we predict the future for people is rife in the digital industry, often with UCD folks bearing the impact of these biased and misleading predictions when the organisations we work for get sidetracked by the newest shiny technology, and completely forget the humans who are using it. We live in a society where there is a surplus of poor design, and where products and services are churned out only because it was tipped as the newest technology. It’s often under the guise of “innovation” - but how much are we really innovating, and do we need it?

This talk looks at the historical cases of where the human has been forgotten, and technology was given centre stage - and the inevitable issues that resulted. From how offices and the workforce have evolved, flying cars, and the difference between telegrams and twitter, we take a look at how time and time again we fail to focus on what really matters when we make design predictions about the future.

More importantly, what can we do as designers to achieve progress, helping our organisations gain a more dynamic understanding of why technology changes, how people adapt to those changes, and how we might guide the implementation of these mighty, marvellous machines.


Laura Yarrow

November 18, 2021


  1. Designing the future Laura Yarrow Head of Design, HM Land

  2. Today • This will be recorded • Slides are available

    afterwards • I’m sticking around for the rest of the day We’re covering a lot of ground: • What is futuring? • Why is it useful for designers to understand futuring? • Strategy, culture, pace of change, predictions, and our impact on the future
  3. The future is ! 3

  4. None
  5. The o!ce has changed since the turn of the century.

    What can you spot in this photo that may have changed since it was taken?
  6. Maybe a better question to ask is, what is the

    same? What hasn’t changed?
  7. 1961 edition of Arthur Radebaugh's "Closer Than We Think"

  8. Design has a technology problem 8

  9. It also happened to me…

  10. A few examples 1911: Edison thought we would all have

    steel furniture in our houses 1876: “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — Sir William Preece, chief engineer, British Post O!ce. 1936: “A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” — New York Times. 1992: “The idea of a personal communicator in every pocket is a “pipe dream driven by greed.” — Andy Grove, then CEO of Intel. 2007: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” — Steve Ballmer, then Microsoft CEO.
  11. Organisations predict technology, not humans and culture 11

  12. 12 Prime Air drone deliveries “Just five years ago, Prime

    Air’s UK operations were at the centre of a frenzied public relations campaign, with Amazon executives claiming that drones would be delivering packages within a few years. The company o!ered tours of its secret drone lab to local schools, opened a huge new o"ce in Cambridge and released an array of promotional videos for the flights that received millions of views. UK regulators also fast-tracked approvals for drone testing, which made the country an ideal testbed for drone flights and paved the way for Amazon to gain regulatory approval elsewhere.”
  13. None
  14. 14 Deliveroo deliveries Deliveroo now has the most food merchants

    in the UK of all delivery platforms after adding further selection; UK expansion is ahead of plan with 72% population coverage at end-June vs initial target of 67% by year-end
  15. 15 Communications Twitter was created and launched in 2006. By

    2012, more than 100 million users posted 340 million tweets a day, and the service handled an average of 1.6 billion search queries per day. In 2013, it was one of the ten most-visited websites and has been described as "the SMS of the Internet”. As of Q1 2019, Twitter had more than 330 million monthly active users.
  16. 16 Communications A person visiting a local telegraph o"ce paid

    by-the-word to have a message telegraphed to another o"ce and delivered to the addressee on a paper form. Messages sent by telegraph could be delivered faster than mail, and even in the telephone age, the telegram remained popular for social and business correspondence. At their peak in 1929, an estimated 200 million telegrams were sent.
  17. 17 Storytelling via cave paintings We do know that all

    cultures have told stories. Some of the earliest evidence of stories comes from the cave drawings in Lascaux and Chavaux, France. The drawings, which date as far back as 30,000 years ago, depict animals, humans, and other objects.
  18. 18 Storytelling via powerpoint Are powerpoint presentations the newest form

    of cave art? We’re doing this right now… Photo by Product School on Unsplash
  19. Google product graveyard

  20. “Most new things fail. Objects or actions which survive for

    generations must be good at serving some hidden purpose…they correspond with something deep in our nature” Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile
  21. Wait, technology can be good - right? 21

  22. None
  23. Being a designer is like being a time traveller between

    the past and the future 23
  24. 24 Images courtesy of Hanna-Barbera productions

  25. Technology is fast and humans are slow

  26. Pace layers

  27. Pace layers The top “fast” layers innovate, and the bottom

    “slower” layers stabilise.
  28. Designers need to be aware of hyperchange

  29. Design Futures thinking 29

  30. Short term Long term Design thinking Futures thinking Past

    Today Future Investigate Design Past Today Future Investigate Design
  31. Diverge then converge Do/Make Diverge Instigate/Inspire Design thinking Futures

    thinking Today’s world Observations Needs Ideas Prototypes Insights How might we Concepts Product Signals Trends Drivers Artefacts Possible future worlds Personas Prototypes Stories Forecasts
  32. Possible, preferable, probable and plausible futures Example from Philip Cheung

    - The future of e-commerce
  33. Possible preferable futures 33

  34. Decolonising design Conspicuous consumption Artificial intelligence and paradigm shifts Design

    education Ethics, equity, inclusion Local vs global problems Mental health Trust White supremacy Unintended consequences Waste Community Climate change Circular economy Source: Fast Company -
  35. Who does this future exclude? Who’s future is this? What

    harm does this future cause, and to whom? Is this a better future, or worse? What does history tell us about this design decision? What harm does this design decision do to the planet, cultures, societies, and peoples + many, many more…
  36. “We are called to be architects of the future, not

    it’s victims” R. Buckminster Fuller
  37. Designers and researchers are built for futuring because we are

    naturals at sensing, scanning and spotting patterns 37
  38. Looking across the landscape to detect, identify and catalogue signals,

    trends and drivers embedded in the world around us Scott Smith Sensing and scanning
  39. Signals, Trends and Drivers Signals Trends Drivers Sensing and scanning

  40. What is a signal? “The thing or phenomenon itself, the

    signal - news items, photo, service, object, story or event that describes the subject, [and] the interpretation, which refers to how the signal is received, how it is linked to the interpreters ow view and world view, and how it is used” Mikka Dufva, Sitra Signals Trends Drivers
  41. What is a signal? Frequency - how often do you

    see them? Strength - what authority is it coming from? Direction - is the strength or frequency changing? Maturity - how long has it been around? Is it peaking or plateauing? Spread - is it contagious, spreading from sector to sector? Signals Trends Drivers
  42. What is a trend? Trends are like the weather fronts

    that create change in the climate landscape. They are an emerging or ongoing pattern of change, that give context to signals and can build over time. Trends have a meaningful time duration - do not confuse them with the modern concept of “trending” in social media. They are not short, seasonal or sporadic. Signals Trends Drivers Trend Trend Trend
  43. Describing a trend The name you give it must self

    describe It’s description must communicate what it’s changing, where it’s changing and who it’s changing things for. You must have multiple pieces of evidence (signals) to support this being a trend You must be able to describe the implications and impact this trend will cause to justify it as meaningful for the topic you’re exploring
  44. What is a driver? Drivers are the slower, long term

    dynamics that shape or compel trends that emerge from them. Drivers are the forces that underlie the characteristics of society, politics, economics, technology and the environment. Signals Trends Drivers Trend Trend Trend Driver
  45. Summary Sensing and scanning Looking across the landscape to detect,

    identify and catalogue signals, trends and drivers embedded in the world around us Signals something you encounter that provides evidence or insight to the future Trends An emerging or ongoing pattern of change Drivers Long term dynamics that shape or compel trends
  46. Not only are designers good at pattern spotting, we are

    great at visualising, mapping and storytelling too 46
  47. Clumps of signals forming a trend Trend Trend Trend Driver

    Driver “Employees are seeking to find a better work life balance by travelling less, and spending more time with friends and family” Global pandemic Climate change a!ecting cultural outlook Driver People moving from cities to countryside Advances in VR More jobs than people to fill them More people in higher education creating higher skilled workers Cost of living rises mean less people have access to a car Map signals, trends and drivers Annotate and add a narrative Tell a story or produce artefacts so people can engage with this future
  48. Strategic stories are “canaries in the mind” Rafael Ramirez, Director

    of the Oxford Scenarios Programme, and Angela Wilkinson, recently appointed Counsellor for Strategic Foresight at OECD Taken from Nesta’s report “Don't stop thinking about tomorrow”
  49. “Imaginative fiction trains people to be aware that there are

    other ways to do things and other ways to be. That there is not just one civilisation and it is good and it is the way we have to be.” — Ursula K LeGuin, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (Arwen Curry, 2018)
  50. Headlines from the future Future narratives and fiction Objects from

    the future Prototype/act a future service Future games Ethnographic experiential futures
  51. Principles for design futuring 51

  52. 1. Design preferable human futures As advocates for people, design

    work should be based on human needs, rather than the possible futures that put technology first.
  53. 2. Be a good design ancestor Be aware of your

    responsibility and impact. Understand how your work a!ects human behaviour, thoughts and desires, their relationships and subsequent actions, plus the impact your work has on the wider natural world.
  54. 3. Human, then machine Our work must center the human

    before exploring the technology that can augment their experiences. Include design in early stage strategic conversations to avoid people being forgotten.
  55. 4. Make futuring a social practice Build communities, representatives and

    interest in design futuring to include more people in the design process, and expose the strategic value in user centered design.
  56. 5. Make futures visible and tangible Allow others to connect

    with your work through storytelling, immersive role-play, and getting hands on with artefacts from the future.
  57. 6. Go back to the future Use the right lenses

    to understand patterns and trends from the past to make better predictions about the designs of the future.
  58. 7. Listen and interpret signals Adopt a continuous practice of

    listening and logging signals from the world around you that might inform your design practice
  59. 8. Focus on challenges that matter Ensure you put the

    impact of your actions above profits and “futurewashing”
  60. Principles for design futuring 1. Design preferable human futures 2.

    Be a good design ancestor 3. Humans, then machines 4. Make futuring a social practice 5. Make futures visible and tangible 6. Go back to the future 7. Listen and interpret signals 8. Focus on challenges that matter
  61. Conclusion A call to action 61

  62. “If you see a better world, you are morally obligated

    to go and make it happen” Diane Bell, Anthropologist
  63. @laura_yarrow The machine stops “I want to see you not

    through the machine,' said Kuno. 'I want to speak to you not through the wearisome machine.” ― E.M. Forster, The Machine Stops
  64. Thank you @laura_yarrow