The IFTF Blog
Futures Thinking is the New Design Thinking
It is becoming apparent that humans have the capacity to build pretty much anything we set our mind to. As we approach this new age, the question about what we’re making needs to shift from asking “what can we make?” and we need to focus on asking “what should we make?”
For over a decade the Institute for the Future has been creating Artifacts from the Future. These are provocative snapshots of a world that could be. They ask the question “what should we build?” And they help people imagine how human culture might change if we lived in a theoretical world where a particular Artifact could manifest and sustain its existence.
The Institute for the Future isn’t the only one making Artifacts from the Future though. Other groups such as Next Nature, Dunne and Raby, and Wired have helped craft dozens of Artifacts over the years, though not always under the same name (design fictions, critical design, and so on). We want to celebrate this collective imagination and promote proactive authorship of the future that we will all inevitably share.
Recently, IDEO created a series of design objects from the not too distant future that help ask the question, “what should we make?”
The spoon is a classic technology and design object. IDEO’s “Five Helpful Spoons” explores how new materials and technologies might help a cook craft the perfect meal. Normally the spoon isn’t something that you would consider an advanced technology, but when you think about it, the modest spoon has a significant impact on daily life and human culture.
“Noun” shows how in the future, new design and manufacturing technologies will let us remix the physical world, just like we can remix music today.
“Design by Termites” asks how can we collaborate with other organisms to manufacture products.
“Sculpted Memory” is a device uses the sound of a conversation to design and print objects in real time. Its effectively a twenty-first century talisman printer, capable of capturing a conversation and transforming it into a thing.
It is exciting to see more people creating Artifacts from the Future. Jake Dunagan, a colleague at IFTF, likes to say “the future is a safe place.” The world we currently live in is full scarcity. Jobs, money, energy, water, intellectual property, these are all scarce resources. But when we think about the future, it is a world of abundance. There is unlimited potential for what is to come, and everyone has the power to collectively decide that that future will feel like.
Right now, everything is up for grabs. Even the simplest objects that we tend to take for granted, for example the spoon. We have the power to transform existing objects or the create new ones, and to embed new values in them through mindful design. They may not be evenly distributed yet, but tools are becoming increasingly available for anyone to design, remix, manufacture, and share.
While we are navigating the paths of possibility, Artifacts for the Future serve as a medium of discussing the best course. They allow us to think a few steps ahead and get a glimpse of what that would might hold.
Anyone has the power to participate in this discussion. Gimp is a freely available photo editing program for your computer. There are thousands of hackerspaces, maker spaces, and tool lending libraries and garages all across the world where you can prototype the future. Go for it, make the future today! Then let us know what you come up with by sending an email to email@example.com.