Predicting the design future.

Are futurists really breathing rarified air? Let me explain. I believe it’s possible to be so in tune with the forces of society and technology that you can be “near-future” accurate but, let’s face it, it’s still guessing. I’m not a futurist and I’m not looking to disparage anyone who is. As a profession I’m certain that legitimate futurists are a bit like designers. We immerse ourselves in the landscape of the problem. If we’re designing a better mousetrap we are learning everything we can about every mousetrap ever built, everything we can learn about mice and the technologies and processes that may affect that objective. That’s the design problem, our challenge. In my eye, if you’re a really good designer, you’re also going to ask, “What if?” and that would include the question, “Why do you have mice?” and “What if you didn’t have to trap mice to begin with?” When you start down this road, you’re bypassing the deterministic mindset of most business, government, etc. that assumes a specific future and a limited vision of what could be. So I’m sure that good futurists, are thinking the same way. “What if?”

Looking at a recent blog from author and futurist Jack Uldrich quoting from a new book by Dan Gardner, Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, And You Can Do Better , Gardner says, “the experts who were more accurate than others tended to be much less confident that they were right.” I haven’t read the book yet but, I’m guessing that the best futurists are going to have a healthy appreciation for the unexpected, the ambush that changes everything and that means that they are never going to be “sure.”

This is sound logic for why one of the designer’s many hats needs to be that of futurist. It also supports the notion of design fiction as fertile ground for exploration, either as curriculum or practice. As with designers, the best futurists and other consultants are probably those who leave you with more than a new design, prediction, or plan; they leave you with a better way to think as you move forward. That’s a lasting contribution.

Next post: The style dilemma.

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