Friday, 24 April 2009

Design in Alternative Futures at the Design Council

It has been at least 6 months since the design community I know convened as we did at the Design Council last night.

The design and public sector community came together at the Design Council to attend an event called Design in Alternative Futures. The invited presenter was Dr Alex King from the Horizon Scanning Centre, a Government department that research, among other things, future scenarios to inform policy.

King’s presentation was interesting for a few reasons but mostly (for me, especially in consideration of my research) for the methodological side. King presented and characterized 4 future scenarios of where society could go (if not already there):
  • Perpetual Motion: An open and individualist society contextualized by free markets;
  • Shaken Open: An open and collective society, such as those common to Europe;
  • Self-service: A closed and individualistic society which perpetuates a focus inwards and toward family;
  • Protective Collective: A closed but collective society which advocates national identity.
Scenarios were certainly talked of in the Dott 07 projects. A regular question asked throughout the programme was ‘how do you want to live?’ and many of the projects proposed new and different scenarios dealing with issues in health, education, food, mobility and energy.

Designers commonly research, project and communicate future scenarios. Consultancies such as Sense Worldwide forecast trends using design-led research tools and my PhD buddy Ben is currently undertaking research that deals with future scenarios in post-crash worlds.

Skills and tools possessed by designers can help inform strategy, policy, planning, brands… and it was interesting to see King’s approach to such research and extrapolations. King’s scenarios work was undertaken over an 8-month period and included:
  • workshops
  • interviews
  • online brainstorms
  • stakeholder meetings
  • research (am guessing desk and literature) and
  • expert meetings
We had a great Q&A session afterward. You can always bank on designers to ask the good questions. Some asked: How were the scenarios presented to Government? How much impact did the research really have on policy development? Was the research used as reflective and learning tools in Government? And how do we, as designers, use this kind of research in our own work?

The last question I felt was probably the missing link for most of the audience and I wondered if King’s work, which intervenes and informs at the policy level, was a mismatch to the level most designers currently intervene in business, society and Government?

King presented fascinating and well-delivered research on future scenarios that got most of us thinking- what and how could designers contribute here? I don’t know if we are quite at the stage of informing policy yet. Though I suspect we should be in the future.

Here are some other reflections on last night's event:
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