FUEL4Design – Design Futures Scouting2021-06-11T16:51:45+01:00


A First Person Perspective (1PP) approach to futures scouting through making

In the current predicament of climate emergency and systemic crisis, future studies, forecasting and trend analysis are offering interesting frameworks and strategies that can be used in design education programmes that are committed to sustainable and regenerative development. 

Almost everyday now in this first quarter of the century, incoming data about ecosystemic collapse and inequality has been offering a wide range of apocalyptic scenarios which urge us to implement changes in how we do almost everything, but, how can we engage as designers in such wicked, multi-dimensional crises? How can we as design education professionals prepare the new generations to position themselves against these challenges, gain agency and develop design interventions that bring about the changes that are urgently required? And ultimately, how can design be a vehicle to build hopeful future scenarios that offer alternatives to the over-abundant apocalyptic narratives we are immersed in?

These are the questions that have guided the tools and strategies presented below. They propose novel design education methodologies that can give actual agency to professionals and students seeking to engage in these current crises, turning the envisioning of possible futures into an actual exercise of actively modifying the present through the power of making with others.

Design Futures Scouting icon

Principles like responsibility, accountability, transparency, empathy and positionality, among others, have become hugely relevant in re-orienting design processes towards regeneration and sustainability. So how can we, as design educators, rethink our methodologies and curricula so that these too are embedded from early on in the learning stage of becoming a design practitioner? First Person Perspective (1PP) has become key in our research to frame a way of not only teaching how to kick-start a design process for emergent futures, but as a way to infuse it thoroughly with these fundamental values. 

What it proposes is involving yourself completely in the design process through a series of interventions, meaning, design actions in context with others. Not from a third-person perspective, analyzing situations, case studies and users from the comfort of a desktop research, not engaging solely from a second-person perspective with focus groups, interviews, observing with the distance of antiseptic research, but truly becoming engaged, from the very start, in a situated manner with your own body, your time, your resources, your life. This means designing not for the socio-technical systems we are observing, but truly designing within these systems we are part of, in a situated manner, using the tools and resources available, growing or becoming part of communities of practice that constitute these systems, and truly sharing the responsibility for the outcomes of the implementations we engage with. Below we offer a series of tools and methods such as self-reflexive activations and 1PP design interventions that can introduce students and practitioners to this way of becoming engaged. We offer as well several best practices that present the results we have obtained with such methods in the context of a masters programme.

There is very rich potential in the cross-pollination of design prototyping research with the tools that have become available from the field of futures research. This, because more often than not, the latter has the risk of remaining as an intellectual exercise of building speculative scenarios that can only offer insight into vectors of possible market shifts. 

However, strategically combining the two can suddenly give design researchers the key to opening escape routes to the present continuities, offering space to radically imagine discontinuities that would offer different outcomes in favor of more optimistic future scenarios than the ones we are being presented as the most plausible results of our current business-as-usual practices. The concept of Alternative Presents suggested by James Auger and applied by Angella Mackey et al. has been adopted in the methodologies presented below as a way of understanding the building of futures not just as mere intellectual gymnastics, but as an actual engagement of the designer in transforming the materialities, habits and relationships in their current lives as living prototypes in the present, as starting drafts of the futures they would like to bring to life. It is, in this way, a methodology of embodying future speculations in the present, offering actual proof-of-concepts that already live with us, that already push us to understand the social relationships, the material flows and the infrastructure that would be needed, or that is actually available to bring these futures to reality. 

Speculating about futures then suddenly shifts into an action of actually modifying the present, giving the student or practitioner new hope and agency that can later scale up in myriads of ways, turning a personal intervention into possibly a global effort.

As design theorist Ron Wakkary suggests with his post-humanist epistemological approach to design, designers create biographies. They are composed of the bios of the human or non-human designer, the designed objects and their graphies, that is, the irreversible marks they leave in the world. Designers are part of the socio-technical systems they are designing for,  even if they are aware of this fact or not. This intertwines every decision the designer takes into their very fabric. Documenting these design interventions in a Design Space, allows us to visualize, communicate and reflect on the biographies created, and the impact they will have for future developments. A Design Space represents in this way, a systematic strategy to document all the dimensions of this system the researcher is working or interested in. It will change and grow organically with the evolution of the research.


When engaging in design projects that use futures research as a way to envision and prototype better alternatives to current presents, it is oftentimes necessary to count on concepts and strategies that can aid the designer in situating themselves better in the uncertainty that working with unknown futures can present. Here, we present a toolkit and a methodology that can offer a starting point to navigate uncertainty, leveraging weak signals as vectors of possible areas of change, offering keywords, concepts and relevant areas of research to start from, and ultimately, serving as a map of possibilities where the designer can find where they can start to enquire.

Atlas of Weak Signals
Alternative Presents


We have stated how important it has been in our research to investigate how we can take future scouting beyond speculation, hybridising it with the power of making and the responsibility acquired by a First Person Perspective (1PP). This, in order to offer a novel route for design research practice and education. Here we compile exercises and assignments that can lead to design actions, interventions, initiatives and projects that aim at turning future speculations into actual responsible alternative presents that can grow to become scalable emergent futures.

Self-Reflexive Activations
1PP Design Interventions
Design Spaces