This ESSENTIAL offers a specific language focus on DESIGN FUTURES LITERACIES.


Design education has also morphed from the original industrial design infused Bauhaus studio models to digitally tooled and mediated design education. Design education has moved into real world settings, though innovation in participative design methods and modes of research.

Such changes can be understood as transitive and intransitive, where in learning terms the focus is on growing or coming into being. For design education, this is largely possible due to its own more fluid disciplinary meaning making processes as well as pedagogies that place the learner at the core of activities and articulation.

Many of these matters are also future matters and matter for the future to return to the earlier notion. The term ‘futures literacies’ has been championed by Miller (2007, 2018). Futures literacy ‘is the capacity to explore the potential of the present to give rise to the future’ (Miller 2007: 347). Most recently Miller has assembled a collection of writings on futures literacies from across the globe. They point to the growing awareness of learning with and for futures. However, and despite it featuring in the field of Anticipation Studies, such work seldom connects directly with or is co-authored with the field of design.

DESIGN FUTURES LITERACIES can be understood as an ecology of capacities, skills, fluencies and performances by design students that engage them in acts of critical and productive learning in which their focus is on generating novel, future located design work. These are literacies that are located in design based pedagogies but also stretch these into alternate, radical and prospective inquiries into shaping futures  by design.


We see an urgent need for design to develop 21st-century design pedagogies reframed in what we call ‘Design Futures Literacies’. We coin the term to highlight that design is central to these literacies in domain area knowledge and experience but in that design is also a verb and a means and series of rich methods for realising futures literacies. 21st century literacies that are widely located online. However, these too do not include design as a making mode of expertise and understanding.

Missing for us is that design is a relational way of making meaning and is a fluid knowledge domain that uses a variety of senses, modes of representation, mediation and communication. It makes material in material experiments; it seeks to find ways rather than merely map found routes. This is a matter of making connections and relations between design, participation and learning. It is also a matter of considering how to together create an ethics of designing. As Margolin (2007: 15) said this is  ‘a collective task for the design community whose grasp of the future will continue to determine how we live in the present’.

Grasping the future in terms of connecting anticipation and futures literacies via designing may be further be understood as creating ‘new perspectives of how individuals, groups, institutions, systems and cultures use ideas of the future to act in the present.’ (anticipationconference.org). 

The agency of educators and students in realising their ideas and collaborations is central to this pursuit. Soo too, it has recently been argued is the making, manifestation, creativity and critique that are needed in imagining, developing and assessing via design.


Just as language-based and book-centric literacies in higher education have been augmented by a mix of media, modes of making and producing, so too have design educators and students been shifting design pedagogy and research beyond the studio and gallery and into the workplace and popular and public cultural arenas.

Design today is multimodal; it has shifted into intangible services as well as tangible activities in the world; it encompasses individual and shared expressions and is materialised through co-created experiences, in making, consumption, mixing and reorientation. At the same time design is seen to be pluralistic  and in need of more fully acknowledging and accessing diverse cultures and knowledge forms, as in learning about sustainability from ecological systems and indigenous wisdom. Design is also increasingly concerned with shaping futures.

Vocabularies for the future are a key part of how we imagine and communicate ideas, scenarios, agency and activities and their potential and actual application to shaping futures by design. Language itself is dynamic and Futures are realised through how words gain meaning in use. Words are dynamic in that they shift their meaning over time and through being applied. This also means the ways they are taken up in a process of design learning during a master and PhD study programme and its related outcomes and report and thesis documents as part of DESIGN FUTURES LITERACIES.

Language also emerges from critical and productive design practice. Here DESIGN FUTURES LITERACIES is informed by ways designers and designer research engage in shaping futures through design work, critical writing and reflections and different modes of communicating these. The words we use create and Influence and allow us to critique what we imagine make, share and revise and replace. Words are linked with how design works with and co-constructs power with partners and for future action and decisions and the meta-literacies we develop to be able to know what they are, do and might become.

Words too in a futures design view are embedded in and help realise our making and uses of tools and methods. They help us to describe and to review trends and developments: they are central to how we understand and articulate connected and underlying world views and philosophies and the ways design and research relate to one another.

This LEXICON is one module amongst others in the FUEL4DESIGN project. The focus on language will be taken up in the other modules as the project grows. The LEXICON is also intended as a resource to support content and activities in the modules.

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