Designing Futures

Course Overview
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 create alternative possible 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 networks 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 will be 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.

 Course Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. From Frankenstein to BioDesign
  3. Speculative Design, Experiential Futures and Design Fiction
  4. “The Future,” Italian Futurism and the Politics of Design
  5. Bauhaus Futures
  6. Cybernetics, Cyberculture and Counterculture
  7. Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and Robots
  8. Biotechnology and Life Sciences
  9. Feminist Futures and Afrofuturism
  10. Hacking, Making and DIY
  11. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Futures
  12. Sensors, Distributed Networks and the ‘Internet of Things’
  13. New Materials, Fabrication and 3D Printing

Format and Grading
Students are expected to be on time for class and attend all class sessions. If you will not be in class, please notify me in advance. For each class missed, your final grade will be reduced by 5 points i.e. 95 (A) to 90 (A-).

Grade Calculation
20% Class Participation
30% Weekly Assignments
50% Final Project

Enrollment Restrictions
Students are STRONGLY encouraged to take Observing Users or Principles and Methods of User Research prior to taking this course.