UNIT 1.4.


This unit aims to:

  • introduce key aspects of time in futures design
  • to elaborate on conceptions of time and futures futures
  • connect time, design and design futures literacies


1 hour


As humans and as designers and designer researchers we perceive time, we live and design in and with time. Yet time may not be explicitly addressed as a design material. All design and design work, though, is based in working in time, in the form of project and processes as well as the perceived, potential and actual uses of design artifacts and the context, events and implications and effects they may have.

Time in the abstract simply exists independent of us and our design, designing and ways people take up and alter, enact and connect what is designed. Yet we need to work within plans and outcomes, engage in processes that may be indefinite and contingent upon sets of factors or inputs or uses. FUTURES DESIGN needs to formulate and fabricate with time as it were. It needs to understand, design for, provide means to and review work developed across and within and above past, present and futures.

As humans we work within our psychological conceptualisations and perceptions of time.

Our psychological understanding of time can be broadly placed in two categories, according to Block and Zakay (1996):

  1. existing time that pulses, that is marked out by sensory processes, and
  2. cognitive models of time that are durational and experiential. Block and Zakay refer to time a) as exiting with a timer and b) as without a timer.

Time can also be understood as distributed and imagined. It exists across space, actions and forces.It is also part of what we are uniquely able to do, namely create imagined, speculative events and spaces in the past, present and future, through art and design.


What does this expression refer to? Can you hear it in the world and what are your associations with it? What does the expression tell us about our ideas and practices concerning time?

2. Go online, find and read an article on how time has been constructed, with units and its applications in modern industrial economies.

3. What words are used to explain the nature and structure of time as it applies to factories, business and the organisation of daily life?

4. Write a short paragraph summarising what you have read, underlining all words and phrases referring to time.

5. Look up the social media app TIKTOK.  What aspect of time is embedded in this application? How long are the videos? How are they combined and within what units of time? What is the communicative effect of these combinations concerning how a narrative, or a process or a set of elements is gathered?

This is a made up term, or a neologism. It joins together two words and suggests more than them apart. What does it suggest to you ?
The point here is to think about how time moves. And how it works in space and helps construct space.

7. Think about how, when and where and by whom and through what structures, processes, actions and agency it shifts and changes, and may have power to transform an entity or an activity or person, group or organisation. How does this relate to a part of your current project or design activity, in learning and as research?

8. Time can be moved, it is sensitive, it connects and is realised in space and motion. We will go into these matters in detail below.


At first glance, working with futures seems to refer to time ahead of now and the past. This is the case at a simple level but in effect working with time as a material in FUTURES DESIGN needs us to be aware of both the character, context, force and effects of events, artifact creation and use in both the past and the present.

In short, designing with ‘futures time’ needs us to reflect on what has been designed previously but ahead of its time, as well as how we work with time in the present to understand the past and perceive possible, potential and post-present contexts and events and activities.

Here designer’s own agency and their perceptions of potential, prospective and speculative uses of designed artifacts and processes impacts hugely on how people can engage creatively and critically with futures.


We don’t mean that the future can be designed in some mode of directed, given planning, in a mode of linear prediction. Strong work in futures is done in the domain of Foresight Studies. Typically this work is based on a view of foresight as strategic planning and decision-making. Foresight has important roles to play in involving participation and change. It’s focus, however, is generally not on how futures involves design and and practices of designing nor does it include design centred constructionist inquiry to any great degree. Design is also not hugely present in Futures Studies where Foresight has predominated.

Contemporary views of design are seldom included in Futures Studies and foresight work. Today and elsewhere, Design is seen as more than finding solutions and resolutions and of a confirmatory mode of knowing as opposed to problem finding. Design is understood in an exploratory mode of knowing. It teases out potentialities and possibilities and engages with contingencies, complex systems and participatory, interactive and service perspectives. That design also works in societal and cultural aspects of need, engagement and communication is also central. 

There is room for closer connections between Futures Studies and Design. This Is embodied in the recent online book by Stuart Candy and Cher Potter (2019) called Design and Futures.


1. What does after foresight mean in general terms?

2. Look up how the term foresight is used in Futures Studies and studies of foresight. Write down a key definition used by specialists in these areas.
As a designer and designer researcher how well does this fit in with how you work and how you use the shaping of futures by design?

3. What other terms are used in design that contrast with the view that the future can be ‘seen ahead of time’? Make a list of your own or with a fellow student.

4. Consult the 50 FUTURES DESIGN WORDS (Words only) and 250 FUTURES DESIGN WORDS (Words only) and see which of your terms are listed, and which others you might add to your list.

5. Go to the PDF of the Futures and Design book by Candy and Potter and select one chapter and read it through, paying close attention to the futures words used.


Today we talk of futures in the plural, not the future as a singular entity or stretch, just as came to talk of histories not history as a singular construct. Think for a moment about time and futures. Do we actually mean one notion of time as well? What do you think the following mean: a) Time of the future, b) Time in the future, c) Time about the future, and d) Time for the future.

Download this UNIT in printable format: 

Print Version



Adam, Barbara, and Chris Groves. 2007. Future Matters: Action, Knowledge, Ethics. Lieden: Brill.

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.

McFarlane, Colin. 2011. Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage. Chichester: 1110 Wiley-Blackwell.

Miller, Riel. 2007. “Futures literacy.” Futures 39(4): 341–362.

Voros, John. 2003. “A generic foresight process framework.” Foresight 5(3): 10-21.


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