UNIT 6.2.


This activity aims to:

  • introduce relations between words, images and futures
  • provide connection between futures design words and related imaging
  • open out for image annotation, future mapping and multimodality
  • suggest strategies and techniques for shaping futures verbal-visual design


2 hour


A range of visual design tools and expressions  contribute to FUTURES DESIGN mediations. This is the case for 2D and 3D visualisations.

Ways of designing and communicating design visually may include: sketching, doodling, drawing, diagramming, photographing, mapping, plotting, making collages, visual prototyping, filming, video-editing, compositing, visual manipulation, animation, computer modelling etc.

In this Unit we will focus on 2D still images and ways to look into how and for what reasons different futures designs are realised visually and how these mediations are connected to and linked with ways design futures are voiced, verbally. Visual communication needs to be seen as a key part of materialising futures design, such as in plotting and charting and backcasting activities and consequences and visual elements, and prominent choices in mediating futures scenarios, and characterising personas visually and narratively. Visual ‘rendering’ is also key when working with versions and visions of alternate futures, such as in visual rendering of design fiction environments, settings and environments.


1. Think of the futures related topic you’ve been interested in or worked with as a designer. For example, climate change, water conservation or the housing crisis.

2. Pick one topic. When you think of ‘futures’, what are your first visual associations?

3. Find 5 images from the internet and make a collage, using elements from these images. We call this the ‘composite image’.

4. Look at your collage. What are the kinds of images it contains? Are they photorealistic, illustrative, parts of a whole, line drawing etc? Why did you choose these types of visualisation? What do they each suggest? How do these elements influence each other? Do they add up to a whole or not?

5. In summary, what does your ‘composite’ image say about the future that you have visualised?

6. Make and record a 5 minute oral presentation of your collage, paying attention to how you label, describe, contextualise and explain what your image mediates about a view in and on the future from a designer’s view. Replay your presentation and note how you would enhance or improve it verbally. Are you using discourse moves to sequence what you present? How are you describing and annotating verbally what you have pictured?



1. Look at images of futures in historical exhibitions. Search for a major historical international exhibition concerning the future. We will call this Exhibition A.

2. Look at futures design related exhibitions from the list of five years. We will call this Exhibition B.

3. Choose two works with images from the exhibitions A and B. Compare the images from point 1 and point 2. Reflect on the following for exhibitions. What do their titles and image captions tell us?

4. Select key words relating to design and futures that are used in the related catalogue text. This may be in reference to a specific image or to the role of the image in the wider verbal text.

5. Look at the texts and highlight futures design related words.Which of these words can you spot in the 50 FUTURES DESIGN WORDS (Words only)? If you want to better understand the meaning of any word, consult 50 FUTURES DESIGN WORDS (With definitions).

6. What does the way these words are used say about how they are being configured to develop a point of view? You may find it helpful to consult the PHILOSOPHICAL PILLS.

7. How are they put to work as DISCOURSE MOVES FOR DESIGN COMMUNICATION to support, describe, explain and interpret the images.

8. From your current standpoint as a designer, facing today’s needs and challenges, write 300 words for each of the images and texts you selected. Describe the context, historical perspective, futures view and your own sense of relation of the images to the present and to your view on futures design.


FUTURES DESIGN needs designers to work in ways that shift from conventional ways of working and established disciplinary design practices to shape alternate, emergent and surprising futures by design. A number of questions arise as to how we might conceptualize the worlds we’re working within. 

The images we produce do not need to correspond to or represent a photo-realist reality. We need to be mindful that they may be motivating a specific techno-futures view as a given. They may work to highlight differences and divergences from given imagery and known mediations, photographically, diagrammatically and in film, and expectations. What then do these images have to do with time? When are they set? How does the communication of time work through visual means? The visual communication of futures design scenarios and environments or settings may draw together of dismember process or events, or outcome relating to the future or placed in a future time.


1. Think of how visualised futures are supported by words. These may be in dialogues in films, through corresponding texts and captions in exhibitions, via a related essay text in a magazine or journal or website.

2. Three key words matter here: TRANSFORM, TRANSPOSE, TRANSMEDIATION. What do you understand them to mean? Look them up in a dictionary and then state how they might refer to futures design.
In shaping futures design settings, activities, environments, scenarios and agency of actors, we need to apply these and related terms to refer to and make substantial what changes are possible, probable and potential, but also imagined, extrapolated and speculated. What do the three terms mean to you?


A diagram may work as a type of framework that allows you to visualise a futures design as a process, a service, a product, or a result.


1. How would you define an anticipatory diagram?

2. Select an example of diagramming a future process from a Design agency working with futures, or a Futures Studies non.profit, or foundation or consultancy.

3. What kind of modes does it include?

4. Annotate the image with lines and words, pointing to what is being said visually. What is being shown and label it. What are the features of the image?

5. What are the futures words you’re using? Consult 50 FUTURES DESIGN WORDS (Words only)

6. How much are ‘general’ words for the future used? Do you meet or use specifically futures oriented words connected to design?

7. Use your annotation to write a paragraph of 200 words to articulate what is communicated visually in the image.

8. Using your diagram as a script, now draw what you have described, remembering it has to be different from the image you studied. What is it that you’d visualised differently (to the image you’ve selected)

9. Now annotate your own diagram, paying careful attention to what it is that visually speaking needs to be labelled verbally.

10. What does your annotation tell us about what kind of future you’ve visualised? What does it point to about the visual choices and expressions that are mediated?



Bateman, John, and Janina Wildfeuer. 2014. “A multimodal discourse theory of visual narrative.” Journal of Pragmatics 74: 180-208.

McCulloch, Gretchen. 2019. Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. New York: Riverhead Books. Kindle.

Peters, Benjamin, ed. 2016. Digital Keywords. A Vocabulary of Information Society and Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


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