Openness and Near Future Design at I-Lab at Luiss University

We will be at I-Lab at Luiss University for a workshop on Near Future Design and the concept of Openness, on November 14th 2013, from 2pm to 6pm.

Here is the EventBrite page for the workshop and here is the Facebook page for I-Lab Luiss, where you can know more.

In the workshop we will explore, from the point of view of our experience across arts, design, architecture and business, the idea of Openness, Collaboration and Participation, as a driver for many of the things we do in our contemporary world.

We will approach the subject from the point of view of Near Future Design.

To understand the mutation is essential to direct it, and to be able to confront with the emergency and with the effective risk of catastrophe (environmental, economical, political) which «the normal flow of things» certainly does not allow us to avoid. It is essential to study and to forecast the future in order to confront with all of these issues. At the condition by which all of this work (as in all the other areas of the sciences) does not produce a caste of super-technicians who claim the right to decide – alone of together with the bureaucracies which govern us – everyone’s destiny. There must be no doubt about this: the people have the right to decide their own destiny.

Antonio Caronia

From this quote by Antonio Caronia, it is clear how the possibility and opportunity to collaborate to design our own future is an essential part of our freedom. To do this – to enable this opportunity – we adopt a series of methodologies which enable to transform the future into a performance: a dynamic condition whose aim is to help us become active (performers) in trying to give answers to the question “What future do we really want?”.

This is a previous article about Near Future Design which we wrote a few days ago. David Gray and Jon Husband helped us a lot to rewrite it, to convey both the message and the methodology in more direct and accessible ways. You can find this new version article below, and we thank them for being so helpful, and for bringing a whole new level of accessibility to the things we talk about.

See you at the workshop! (or if you can’t make it: see you here on Art is Open Source for the updates!)

Near Future Design: the role of design in creating the future

There are many possible futures. Perhaps the most important question we can ask ourselves is:

What future do we want?

The future does not exist. We live our lives in the present, and the future exists only in our imaginations, in our hopes, dreams, wishes, plans, forecasts and blueprints.

“The future,” in other words, is something we experience today. It is a performance, a global conversation about what we want, what we fear, what we expect, and what kinds of possibilities we can imagine.

We establish the future by the conversations we have about it.


Innovation is the art and science of bringing valuable new possibilities into being. That is, futures that are both desirable and possible. Thus, innovation is both design and implementation: designing a possible future and then making it happen.

But which future do we want?

Near future design.

The near future designer serves to activate the imagination; to help communities “conceive possibilities which do not yet exist” — possible futures — using dialogue, visualization, modeling and performance.

One of the central assumptions of near future design is that the future is not singular. There are an infinite number of possible futures, and we bring futures into being first by imagining them, next by exploring and examining them, and finally by selecting them.

The near future designer helps society and communities imagine, explore and examine possible futures, in order to increase the “possibility space” and improve the quality of decisions we make about what we value and how we want to proceed.

The near future designer helps us decide: Which future do we want?

The conversations we have, and the explorations we make in the present are important because they change the ideas that we have, and the decisions we make. Thus in a very real way, they change the future, because altering the present in such a way that we can make better choices and bring better futures into being.

The near future designer situates possible futures into the present, so we can explore them, think about them, talk about them and make value judgments about them.

To do this, we must understand the state of the arts and existing technologies. But that in itself is not enough. We must also understand the limits of our imaginations, the rituals and tensions of our times, including our deepest conflicts as well as those things which inspire us and provoke a sense of wonder.

We must create a tangible “sense of the possible” that feels real.

The near future designer presents us with tangible possible futures in the form of objects, visualizations and performances, to give us a more visceral understanding of what those futures mean, how we might experience them, how they might feel. By creating a space where we can suspend disbelief and simply experience the possible, the near future designer helps us develop a sense of the possible by giving us things to play with and ways to act it out.

This is Near Future Design.

A performance exploring possible futures, in which the observed current state of the arts and technologies mingles with culture to create a collective “sense of the possible”.

In which we improve our ability to explore, examine and experience possible futures, in order to make better decisions about which futures we want.

In which we connect and synthesize multiple sources of knowledge, in all disciplines and modalities, across cities, cultures, and virtual domains.

In which we can better understand tensions, conflicts, harmonies, dissonances; rituals, and tendencies when they are in their early stages, when they are still only suggestions.

The near future designer plays a fundamental role for society, creating spaces where people can perceive possible futures and take an active role in a conversation to build, create and perform their “collective possible,” helping more people make better decisions about the future we want.


We have developed a formal process for Near-Future Design.

  • Define the areas of interest  for a topic

    • during each cycle/project we define the topics and areas of interest in each topic.  Those topics and areas  form our research domain;

    • these can be contiguous, complementary or contextual, providing continuity but also the possibility to expand to observations about indirect influences on the transformation of human societies identified by the research;

    • the output of this stage is a visual representation of the research domain, along with rigorous documentation;

  • The Future World Map

    • the map aims to collect information about what is perceived as “possible”, “impossible”, “desired”, “feasible”, “preferred” and “envisioned”;

    • it has two main areas, regarding the state of the arts and technologies, and the anthropological, ethnographic, psychological and emotional analysis of relevant cultures, communities, groups, organisations and individuals;

    • the part of the map that takes into account the state of the arts and technologies mainly deals with technical issues concerning the evolution of technologies, the data and information about the relevant contexts, and a description of trends;

    • the part of the map that takes into account the anthropological, ethnographic, psychological and emotional analysis deals with collecting and curating evidence about the ways human societies shape themselves (in the given contexts), and describes approaches, strategies, tactics, rituals, relationships, networks, emotional expressions, gestures, economies, dynamics, ecosystems and their relative equilibria, both current state and in transformation;

    • in all sections, information is provided about background, the socio-technical settings, the possible actors and stakeholders, and an expanded context for the stories that are about to be told;

    • the output of this stage is a visual map, a report and an extensive knowledge base.  This output can assume different forms, depending on the context and circumstances;

  • The Story Setup

    • it is the instantiation or launching of the story;

    • it describes in general terms the future scenarios which we aim to describe, at the same time limiting the scope by excluding certain areas which will not be examined, and by opening up the domains which will be the focus of the research;

    • its output is under the form of a narrative, expressed in visual and textual terms;

  • The Concept(s)

    • each possible future is examined by describing it conceptually (often abstract or diagrammatic sketches) as well as with a draft narrative which highlights the main modalities and sets up the development of the story;

  • The Story Functions

    • each story is designed according to a formalised schema (usually the three-acts of Setup, Conflict and Resolution), to provide consistent, solid narratives;

    • for each story, the basic story functions are created, highlighting the core theme of each narrative, which describe in growing detail the “stories of the chosen future”;

    • multiple stories can be created for each concept, even following different paths among the identified possibilities;

    • the output of this stage consists of the list of central events for each story, as well as a diagrammatic representation of their relations and those carried by the different (and alternative) storylines being developed;

  • The Event Maps

    • each story is expanded into an Event Map;

    • each Event Map is a diagram in which the main parts of the stories are grouped into circles, starting from the core (the main phases of each story) as well as some additional events which might be added to balance the story logic;

    • satellite events, alternative paths and time-based items are added to the Map to create context, and to enhance the world-building characteristics of this stage;

    • each story described in this way constitutes a world, giving a full sense of context and of credibility;

    • the output of this stage is constituted by the Event Maps diagrams and by the pertinent documentation;

  • The Story Maps

    • the Event Maps are transformed into sketches;

    • the representation in sketch form increases granularity and makes each Event more concrete;

    • this phase allows for some iteration with the previous ones, as its concreteness gives immediate evidence about the balance of the stories and about the necessity to re-factor them at one of the previous stages;

    • the output of this stage consists of the sketches and the pertinent documentation;

  • The Design Fictions

    • Simulacra

      • the objective of this phase is to create a simulacrum, a credible, possibly functional, “prototype from the near future” (a pre-totype), through product design and communication design, working across different media;

      • the objective is “world building”, creating not only “the object” (or service, or idea, or …) but also to create the world around it, for its credibility;

      • we answer the questions “What would be the world like, if there was object X? What would be in it? How would people behave?”, and we try to implement as much as we can about the answer using different media;

      • the final result should create a state of “suspended (dis)belief” in which it is impossible (or at least somewhat difficult) to decide if the “object” is real or fake, as there are multiple clues and evidences that point to its existence;

      • the simulacrum (and its state of suspended dis-belief) is the tool which we use to “shift the perception of the possible”, and to start the global dialogue around the possibilities for transforming human societies, thus triggering the performative dimension of Near Future Design;

    • Transmedia Narratives

      • the output of the Design Fiction phase, thus, is a set of Transmedia Narratives implementing the simulacrum for the story;

      • the Transmedia Narrative is a multi-modal storytelling technique which is able to move and combine the effects of multiple media, from physical objects, to websites, urban interventions and more.


UPDATE: These below are the slides from the workshop: