UNIT 8.1.


This unit aims to:

  • help you become you aware of the  importance of words in shaping futures
  • highlight that words are carriers and shapers of of meaning
  • familiarise you with the idea of creating new words or ‘neologisms’


Paper and pen for taking notes.


Half hour


Designers are always working with words in the ways they talk about what they are doing and what they encounter in the works of other designers. Increasingly, as design has come to be about co-creativity, participation, user’s experience and relations between products, systems and interactions. In these ventures, words may be  formal and have some fixity. Yet they change and twist and turn as we use them and play with them, for serious and joyful reasons.

In this project, when we say play in this project we don’t usually mean triviality for its own sake. You’re learning, sure but that learning can be playful and connected. It can reach towards ways and means to reveal futures potential in designing and in how your work as design students engages others in shaping futures beyond the assumptions and lock-ins of today’s perceptions and behaviours.

Here we are interested in turning creativity in and as design into new word generation for design.


We have all made up words at some time in our lives. We’ve also met those new words of the year that are often built out of other words (as we will go into below). A new, made up word is called NEOLOGISM. 

Making up new words means we can also play around with the vocabularies and specialist terms we already know and encounter. 


This activity looks at trying to better pin down what it is you are trying to express. At one time or another, in life and in design work, we’ve all said that we need another word but can’t quite find it.

1. Make a list of 5 one word items.

2. Write out a sentence or two explaining what you mean the word does not fulfil. What is it you are trying to express?

3. What’s the practice or need or activity or process of engagement that you are trying to arrive at?

4. Read, revise and rewrite your sentences/s.


So, it’s not only okay but also encouraged that you play with language as part of shaping futures. It’s important that you always position this in what you are trying to do and the time frame within which your project sits and how far into the future you are pitching it. Then you can focus on how words are dynamic and elastic. 

By dynamic we mean that meanings arrive, develop and change in use and over time. Elastic points to that meaning can be stretched. Plastic (not a climate change sense for the moment!) means that words can be shaped and altered, moulded and given different identities and connections. New terms come into being through the combination of parts of others, or a change from one part of speech to another. 

We’ll go into these acts of word making in more detail below.


1. For now just think of any words you have come across that have shifted their meaning?

2. Perhaps you recall a word or term that’s a combination of others.

3. You might land on a word or words that have begun to circulate in our daily lives because they represent something that has occurred or happens as part of how we live and communicate, such as via social media.

4. Write down these words on our own or with a fellow student. See if you can come up with at least 5.

5. Are any of these terms about design?

6. See if you can list 2 that are. Note them and write down what they mean in design and to you.

Download this UNIT in printable format: 

Print Version



Howe, C & Pandian, A. (2020). (Eds). Anthropocene Unseen: A Lexicon. Punctum Books.

Marenko, Betti. 2018b. “FutureCrafting. A Speculative Method for an Imaginative AI.” AAAI Spring Symposium Series, 419-422. Palo Alto: Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

Markussen, Thomas, and Eva Knutz. 2013. “The poetics of design fiction.” In DPPI ’13: Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces, 231-240. New York: ACM.

Martinussen, Einear Sneve, and Ted Matthews. 2019. “Future Faceting: Exploring multifaceted urban futures through interaction and service-design.” Paper presented at the 3rd International Conference on Anticipation, Oslo School of Architecture and Design, 9-12 October 2019.


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