How do we build for the future?

How do we imagine and build a solution for the future that screams,

I want to live in a future where this thing exists and is used by people.

Recently, the Appslab Team attended the Future Summit SF where we learned how we could better design and build experiences for the future. We saw an inside peek from how companies such as IDEO, AirBnB, Netflix, Lyft and Facebook design to solve complicated user needs in the future. Two talks made an impression on me that I want to share with you:

How do I shape the Future

IDEO has produced a variety of future concepts. Just by going out into the world, they have transformed government policies that  reduces the friction of voting.

Just by looking at human population, housing, limited natural resource and technological trends, they re-imagined a sustainable kitchen of tomorrow.

Before they come to the final concept states above, there are a few thinking exercises that IDEO design researchers and makers go through. One is to brainstorm what the future can look like. There are many possibilities that you have to consider when you think about the future:

The Futures Cone outlines the 4 types of alternative futures to consider.

  • Possible – There are those futures that we think ‘might’ happen, based on some future knowledge we do not yet possess, but which we might possess someday (e.g., warp drive).
  • Plausible –  There are those futures we think ‘could’ happen based on our current understanding of how the world works (physical laws, social processes, etc).
  • Probable – There are those futures we think are ‘likely to’ happen, usually based on current trends.
  • Preferable – There are those futures we think ‘should’ happen based on our socially constructed values.

From the number of possible futures you come up with, you are essentially breaking down your ideas into a number of probable futures to design and build for. Design for where things are going to be.

To help even begin thinking about possible futures, I’m taken back to my own undergrad HCI studies. My professor would have the class do a similar design exercise with great effects to generate creative solutions to business problems. In addition to focusing on the future, he asked us to consider 3 technological questions when brainstorming:

  • Imagine what solutions are possible if no technology existed (e.g., no cell phone).
  • Imagine what solutions are possible with only today’s technology.
  • Imagine what solutions are possible if there are no technological limits (e.g., instantaneous transportation).

In addition to those 3 questions above, it is important to go out into the world and perform some environmental scanning to see what future signals exist that may shape the world of tomorrow.

IDEO uses the STEEP frame work to help them get a holistic view of what can happen on the future.

  • Social
  • Technological
  • Economical
  • Environmental
  • Political

Expand your focus across time. I personally like to check out future timelines to keep abreast of research backed predictions of the future. Also, don’t forget to look at experiments of others.

Finally, you should bring our concepts to life by making. Like IDEO, our team found that the best way to test our hypothesis and concepts for the future is to prototype. We have played and experimented with a variety of technologies like AR and BCI headsets. A common comment we get from customers that come through our labs and see our demos is that it looks like we have a lot of fun!

The only way to experience an experience is to experience it.

Yes, our team does have a lot of fun, but it is necessary fun. Making for the future means that you are thinking for the future. To make informed design decisions and iterate on our imagined solutions, it is important to prototype and take that out into the world so that everyone can experience, understand and be inspired by what you have brought to life.

Hmmm…but I’m not creative enough nor smart enough

Creativity is finding connection between 2 unrelated concepts.

Humans by nature are very good at discerning patterns. Justin Stalh said it best that the more things you have in your head, the more chances you have at finding connections between things. Basically:

  • Read anything – Read books from different time periods, read about people who are different from you, read about industries you are not familiar with and read about different principles.
  • Keep your ears open – In the same vein as above, talk to people with differing views from you and differing cultures. This extends to social media as well. Follow people who are have different interests from you.

All and all, don’t forget delight. Regardless of what you imagine and build, it is real people who will be affected by it.


One comment

  1. Inspiring! Thanks for posting this, Tawny.

    I agree with IDEO that the best way to test ideas is to prototype. That’s what we do here at the AppsLab.

    I also agree with the importance of reading and talking with people outside your usual ruts. That’s something many people seem not to understand about creativity: it needs to be fed. Work environments which leave no time for casual reading or idle hallway chats become sterile over time. This is why I’m such a strong proponent of going out for lunch!


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