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Designing Futures




Insight Development

Credit Hours


Explores issues in design and contemporary culture at the intersection of digital technologies, ethics, and society.

How are futures imagined, performed, and made durable over time? Where and how are futures being made? Who is included and who is excluded from these futures? What is the role, agency and responsibility of design in making futures by creating the conditions for emergent behaviors, interactions, subjectivities, and societies? Where are the opportunities for design to develop possible alternative futures in a world of emergent, complex socio-technical systems? This course overviews a wide range of methodologies and approaches that have been used to engage in narratives about these futures including backcasting and histories of the future, predictive analytics and big data, forecasting and trend analysis, visioning and “visioneering”, scenario planning, anticipatory design, speculative and critical design, science fiction, design fiction, speculative fabulation and feminist futures, Afrofuturism and decolonizing design.

This course will use emerging social theories to critically analyze technocentric, human-centric and, even, post-human approaches to futures by considering social and cultural, ethical and legal, health and environmental, political and economic issues related to emerging technologies. Specifically, the course will engage with emerging technologies such as media, identity and augmented reality; algorithms and predictive analytics; artificial intelligence and robots; biotechnology and life sciences; sensors, networks and the ‘internet of things’; distributed systems and computing; new materials, fabrication and 3D printing; big data and quantified self; logistics, mobility, drones and autonomous vehicles; energy, waste and the ‘smart grid’; platforms, crowdsourcing and collaboration; and, payments and crypto-currencies.

Learning Objectives

Class time is focused on lectures, discussions, hands-on activities, and review of weekly assignments. Students will become familiar with theories and methods that engage with and critique techno-centric, human-centric, and posthuman futures. Specifically, the lectures, readings, and discussions will enable students to evaluate the social and cultural, ethical and legal, health and environmental, political, and economic implications of emerging technologies. The hands-on activities and assignments will introduce a range of methods from business, design, art, and engineering that have been used to create the language, images, things and narratives that bring to life possible futures.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will become familiar with the history of design, technology, and designing futures approaches.
  • Students will be able to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of various approaches to designing futures.
  • Students will be able to articulate and critique the social and cultural, ethical and legal, health and environmental, political, and economic implications of emerging technologies.
  • Students will be able to creatively and generatively design for complex sociotechnical systems using conceptual and speculative approaches to telling stories, making things and artifacts, and bringing environments to life.

Format and Grading

Students are expected to be on time for class and attend all class sessions. ‘A’ work is deemed to be that which is publishable in a reviewed journal or other outlets (no, Medium doesn’t qualify).

Enrollment Restrictions

Students are strongly encouraged to take Observing Users or Principles and Methods of User Research before taking this course.