UNIT 2.1


This unit aims to:

  • ideas that language flexible, changing and dynamic
  • futures design is about becoming and needs similar vocabularies
  • draw attention to parts of speech and futures design language


1 hour


There is relatively little work on language and design. It has tended to focus on ‘the language of… ‘ view on a specific domain of design. This is important in itself. By doing this we draw together our expertise, practice and creativity in shared notions and sense of what words mean in professional and specialised contexts. Specialised and technical language has an important place in all disciplines. This is especially so in design where by virtue of design being a trans-disciplinary activity  – working and drawing on ideas and terms within and between and across knowledge disciplines and domains.

Yet, language and futures design works to reach beyond the here-and-now. It may mix words, times, perspectives and be cast in a speculative mode of inquiry that may return us to a present that is different to when we began or propel us into an alternate future. 

FUTURES DESIGN studies relations between designing and future making. IN the LEXICON we go into a range of ways that we can work with and make use of language in designing those futures. We look, for example, at lists of futures words, we provide a set of semantic or meaning categories and we offer a variety of learning activities to try to draw design students, teachers and researchers together in developing FUTURES DESIGN knowledge on and through language. 

This Is a focus that connects words to their contexts of use in and through designing. The many modes of expression and diversity of media used in design are connected to the LEXICON. So too are the additional modules that relate words to philosophies, ways we venture into the future, design futures methods and tools and the mediated, distributed and networked ways we engage in learning together as a mode of knowing through becoming.


As design continues to transform itself as a knowledge domain – made of various disciplines, practice based inquiry and critical analysis – the words and wider modes of communication and design making and expertise are themselves changing and are in flux. Design increasingly finds itself in complex partnerships with other future motivated partners, whether in Service Design and public health (also evident in the COVID-19 pandemic) or in ways it is entailed in design fictional future framing, that is narratively and locatively such as in the Arctic.

Words are typically located in dictionary definitions within the field of Lexicography in Linguistics. However, they are also studied and understood as comprising and enacting power relations in studies of discourse in and as action in larger ‘texts’, whether in design workshops or elaborated design writing. Words are on the move yet they are at times hard to move because of the weight, force and certainty with which they are employed or enshrined. 

For FUTURES DESIGN and especially for DESIGN FUTURES LITERACIES, words need to be worked! They need to be taken up and worked just like other design material. They are connected to motivation and purposes as well as cultural expressions and the needs and interests of stakeholders and groups. Yet, they can be moulded, applied, reoriented and put to work to carry concepts and to inform analysis. 

These changes, flips and formulations are enacted by designers and in the processes of design education and research. We need to remember this, even as we do need to be careful and concise in our use of specialist terms or when we engage and tangle with ones we import, borrow or reconfigure from other fields.


The ‘ language’ and ‘languages’ that design utters, verbally and non verbally, are hugely important in the manner it can express its own professionalism in education and research. As this continues to grow, design may also shift from its legacy as a making profession to a rich mesh of makers of professional knowledge, within and beyond its disciplines and domains. 

FUTURES DESIGN is an overarching term, an emergent domains of design, and a potential design disciplines, within which the terms, concepts and vocabularies of designing and design may be made more apparent, applied critically and evaluatively as well as enter into wider communication and public engagement.

Futures Design discourses are in the making and your uptake of these units will hopefully connect you to ways to use words as design material and to also make them work for you as you push and peel and pull and propel your own designs toward them, reappointing and reconfiguring their meaning as and when needed. 

This LEXICON sees design, words and meaning as activity based, where knowing is about acts of design becoming, and one of becoming designers and designer-researchers.


The LEXICON is not strictly arranged around traditional grammatical parts of speech (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc). We encourage you to use print and digital dictionaries to access the many meanings futures related words can convey and in different parts of speech. Where we focus on definitions, this is only part of the picture. Definitions help us to be more specific about meanings in context, and they provide us with given and shared understanding about the senses and references words can have in making meaning. 


1. Study 50 FUTURES DESIGN WORDS (Words only)

2. Select 10 words that you see as interesting or important for your view on design /work you are busy with now.

3. What part of speech is each of these words: Names (nouns), Qualities (adjectives), Manner (adverbs), Activities (verbs)

4. See if you can also shift them to a different part of speech.

5, How do you understand them in a different part of speech in relation to your view on design /work you are busy with now.

Download this UNIT in printable format: 

Print Version



Buchanan, Richard. 2001. “Design and the new rhetoric: Productive arts in the philosophy of culture.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 34(3): 183-206.


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Future Education and Literacy for Designers (FUEL4Design) is an open project.
You are invited to contribute by presenting your own use of this UNIT as well as share feedback on this resource.


An addition or comment to a UNIT or the use of an ESSENTIAL you see as appropriate.


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