Establishing Futurist Design Methodology: Understanding the real goals of future conceptual design
Work in progress, feel free to help out. I’ll focus a bit more on areas of discussion that are unique to future design.
1. Understanding the future context
1A: What will happen between now and 2030? 2050? 2100?
For this step, I’d recommend making a chart of some sort, where you have a timeline of years as columns and rows of subcategories for technological, environmental, social (and possibly political) change.
1B: How do advancements and drawbacks in other fields relate to the subfield in question?
For my 4th year project, which is an industrial design product concept, I also created a separate chart that outlined key aspects of life that are touched by product design. I believe the ones I chose were something along the lines of Transportation, Health, Food, Leisure, Work, Energy and Communication. In the end, the chart helped me choose a subject (food) and understand the milieu in which it functions. I plotted years from 2013 to 2050. What is interesting to note is that although my project is meant to exist in 2030, the people living in 2030 will still have somewhat of a grasp of the issues at hand and technology at their disposal, and clearly this has a noticeable effect on how people will live their lives.
2A: What will we want in the future?
This is a description of your future persona. What does a future person do in their day to day? What social issues matter to them? What things make them happy and what things frustrate them? What new products that don’t exist today might add value or create stress in this person’s life? How do we predict these things?
2B: What do we want right now that attracts us to future concepts?
Thinkers on future design believe that breakthrough products and innovations that excite people must convey speed, intelligence and intimacy. Speed comes from better technology, intelligence comes from a smart, synced harnessing of this technology, and intimacy comes from fostering a natural relationship between person and object. To give an example, my honours thesis is an algae garden in the kitchen.
3. Establishing project goals
3A: The Non-Product (haha, this is such a copy of ‘Nonobject’)
It is important to note that future concepts are not products at all. They are representations of products that will not be manufactured or created, remaining illustrations of an ideal future for society. This is not necessarily a bad thing. These non-products, art objects or thought exercises should be understood as such, while still conveying the “magic” of product design and its potential applications in the future.
This means making a project easy to understand as a whole entity. Users (and by users I mean viewers of an exhibit, a blog post or a press release) should be able to quickly form a mental model of your object. Real product design is about making things efficient and magical. If the first smartphone looked like an iPhone 5, I wouldn’t even know what to do with it upon receiving it in my hand. Future design is about making something impossible (now) seem almost possible, and at the very least understandable.
3B: What do we want our objects to say?
5. Product design and conceptualization
In cases where a new product category is being developed, it is best to illustrate the concept as simply as possible. My algae garden concept is presented in a frame of a counter instead of a more traditional counter with cupboards. The purpose of this is to make the whole system visible to the user (the viewer of the project). User metaphors or allegories that people in the present day can relate to. If you are creating a new product categories, make subtle references to existing products, so that a user will know how to approach your new design.
My future kitchen appliance has lids and sliding covers, quite a ways away from gel membranes and automatic hermetic seals that we might actually see in the future. Don’t complicate things in a way that might distract people from the main idea of the design!
6. Designing the experience of the object
Experience design extends beyond the digital realm - products involving sound, movement, texture, colour and intimacy. When you ideate future product designs, do you include ideations for the sounds a user might experience? The textures they might feel? What about clicking noises, noises from friction, snap-fit noises and other auditory cues? All these things will still exist in the future. The world won’t just be full of panes of glass with interfaces on them providing you with billions of apps. (I mean it could, but that would be quite a monotonous, lifeless experience devoid of the magic that the physicality of objects provide… but I digress.)
7. User testing and test results-based iterations
7A: Choosing users
It is advised to find user test participants that understand future thinking or at least have an open mind. The beauty of the concept may not translate well in early prototypes, making it hard for the average test participant to grasp. Having a relatively unsuccessful user test for this reason might derail an entire project, so don’t let it happen. Non-future thinkers might get more out of it and give better insights once a project is complete and on exhibit.
7B: Going through a scenario with a user
While going through scenarios, it might be a good idea to get their input on what they think of the future. Who knows what sorts of insights they might have.
7C: Making use of insights
Future scenarios often work best when they are the result of a collective effort of many individuals. Your test subjects may provide concerns outside of the general usability and usefulness of your project that you may have missed, adding value to coming iterations.
9. Modelmaking and mockups
Considerations for modelmaking future designs include a greater dependence on video and motion graphics, as well as the belief that just because you can’t model it, doesn’t mean it makes it a bad project or endeavour. Physical mockups are the easiest way to put viewers in the “headspace” of someone in the future, but a lot of the really exciting uses of future technology can’t exactly be replicated in the present day. Do what you can and do it well, but whatever you can’t show properly through a model, be sure to illustrate through a video. It’s sort of a step up from a simple illustration or render.
10. Presentation material
11. Creation of shareable content