The future is already here, it just isn’t very well distributed.
– William Gibson, 1993.

design is not concerned with objects,
but with the impact that those objects have on people
Jorge Frascara (2001)

Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks.
The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.

– Herbert Simon (2001)


introduction to deXign the future

As corporations, governmental organizations, and non-government organizations face rapid change and uncertain times they are looking for new ways of thinking and acting. For designers trained to shape futures defined by change and uncertainty there are unprecedented opportunities. In this course, students explore the forces that drive change in the future (i.e., social, economic, political, environmental, technological), and learn to align innovation strategically with the trajectories of those forces on long-time horizons.

In this course, we focus on developing design agility with design methods for long time horizons. Traditional design methods such as Human-Centered Design and Design Thinking do not prepare designers to think systematically about long-time horizons. The goal of this course is to teach designers design methods for long time horizons. Design for long time horizons is of particular interest for challenges like transition design towards sustainable futures or more generally, to design in turbulent times characterized by rapid change.

Required Texts and Exemplar References

There are no required texts for this course. Digital and photocopied readings or media viewing material will be provided by the instructors and available online on the course blog:

Course structure

The course is organized around readings, in class discussion, activities, and four assignments. [SEE CALENDAR]

Readings, websites, and videos are assigned throughout the semester. Everyone is expected to read, watch, and discuss assigned materials. If it becomes obvious during class discussion that students are unprepared for class discussion and activities, or participating in class discussion, written summaries of each assigned material will be assigned and students will be required to present the readings in class.

When reading or watching a video, consider the following questions:

  • What are some strengths of the ideas presented?
  • What are some limitations to the ideas in this paper or video? Does it apply in general cases or in particular ones? What are some exceptions?
  • How does the material relate to forces of change shaping futures?
  • Where does the reading or video seem most relevant (or least relevant)?
  • Who might be most affected (or least affected)?
  • What are the author’s three most important points?
  • How are these points relevant to you as a designer of the future?
  • Was there anything in the assigned reading that confused you? What was it?
  • Would you recommend this reading or video to a colleague? Why or why not?
  • How does the assigned material relate to your current design projects?
  • What did you learn from the reading / video?
  • What do you question about the reading / video?
  • What are you challenged by in video / reading?

Four assignments are assigned throughout the semester. Each part of assignments has a team based part and an individual part. Be sure to document the parts you did as a team and your individual work as well. In the first two assignments, we focus on two methods futures scholars use called Alternative Futures and Normative Futures. We study the origins of both methods but use them from a design perspective by focusing on the experiential aspects to communicate future scenarios. The second two assignments focus on multi-generation family personas, and design scenarios situated in preferable futures. The four projects in this course are situated in Pittsburgh 2054: (a) alternative worlds and economies, (b) signs of the times, (c) three generation personas, and (d) sustainable lifestyle scenarios.

  1. Alternative Futures are scenarios used to illustrate alternative possible futures depending on fluctuations on a few key forces of change. Typically, alternative futures are usually used for organizations such as corporations, governments (e.g., military, intelligence), and non-profits to prepare for alternative futures.
  • The Alternative Worlds and Economies assignment focuses on: recognizing forces of change that are likely to shape aspects everyday life in the future including: live, work, play, and mobility. For example, (a) urban farming may deeply change local food supplies, create local jobs, change use of free time, and spark alternative economies (e.g., time exchanges, bartering). (b) Decreases in marginal costs, advances in 3D printing, the collaborative commons, and the sharing economy may significantly change manufacturing distribution networks.
  1. Multi-generational family personas are helpful to explore intergenerational needs and dynamics within the context of multiple forces of change. For example, how might forces of change influence intergenerational dynamics? With decreased population growth in certain countries and increasing aging population who will take care of the elderly? How might population dynamics interact with income inequality affect the: upper 1%, the lower 25%, and the median and the average income? How might such forces of change affect the silent generation, the baby boomers, Gen X, and the Millenials?
  • The Three Generation Personas assignment focuses on: exploring intergenerational needs and dynamics between children, parents, and grandparents. For example, how might US extended families in the future organize themselves given the rise in healthcare costs, decreases in public expenditures on social welfare programs, and decreases in social security expenditures? How might such forces play out in low-income families, middle-income families, and high-income families? How might such forces play out differently in European economies, African economies, South American, and Asian economies?

3. Normative Futures entail a) defining long-horizon “vision goals” for a desired future, b) Backcasting to describe milestones required decade by decade to realize that future, c) Identifying inhibitors likely to impede progress that will have to be overcome and d) Identifying present day “Early Signals” of forces likely to drive future change. Normative futures help people and organizations to align their actions, processes, and activities with desirable futures.

  • The Sign of the Times assignment focuses on: recognizing traces of the future visible in the present to forces of change that will likely shape the future. Students learn to read forces that shape the present and notice products and research projects that defy or further accentuate such forces. For example, available Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) today may indicate future times with increased in access to change life-long learning, increased global competition, and even faster career shifts.
  1. Design scenarios in preferable futures are to be distinguished from (a) the present, today (e.g., what we know, where we are now) or a linear extension of the present; (b) the probable is where most designers operate and it is how the world will be without disasters and upheaval. In other words the likely world without financial crash, eco-disasters, or war. (c) the plausible is the realm of scenario planning and foresight. Examples include the Royal Dutch Shell alternative scenarios. Which were useful to see if Shell would be able to survive a number of large scale global, economic, or political shifts. (d) the possible is within the realm of possibilities. It follows laws of nature and current science supports it. All other changes- political, social, economic, and cultural are possible. There is a credible path from today to the possible world. All else is fantasy and of little interest even though it might make a good science fiction story. The preferable is the world we would like. It intersects the probable and the plausible. There are likely many stakeholders. Preferable for whom? Government? 1%, 99%, bottom 25%, first world countries? 3rd world countries?
  • The Sustainable Lifestyle Scenarios assignment focuses on: exploring scenarios for sustainable lifestyles in Pittsburgh 2054. There is a raging debate in urban planning circles on the redesign of urban centers and suburbs. According to global projections for 2054, population is set to increase by forty percent. Students will explore sustainable lifestyle design opportunities in redesigned urban centers and the suburbs.

Learning outcomes

In this course you will:

  • Recognize drivers / forces of change that are likely to shape aspects of everyday life in the future.
  • Explore drivers/forces of change through the creation of alternative futures
  • Extract possible drivers of change from current events and the intellectual discourse
  • Explore drivers / forces of change from multiple perspectives such as: (a) who benefits, who loses, who is indifferent to the forces of change, (b) where is it likely such forces will be visible? Where is it most unlikely such forces will have much impact, (c) why are such forces relevant? (d) when are such forces important / unimportant? (e) how are such forces of change likely to gain momentum / lose momentum?
  • What to alternative futures generated from a sub-set of forces of change look like, feel like, etc.
  • What are some early signs of the future present today?
  • How can you abstract early signs into future signals?
  • Develop future scenarios and communicate them experientially.
  • Explore intergenerational needs through multi-generation personas.
  • Describe how forces of change may affect intergenerational dynamics.
  • Articulate what a sustainable lifestyle scenario might feel like in the future across metro-regions (e.g., urban, sub-urban, or rural) considering population growth of up to 40% in 2050.
  • Articulate how observable human needs in current times may manifest themselves differently in the future due to forces of change.

Instructional Methods

Classes will involve lectures, discussions, creative practice, project presentations, critique sessions, and occasional guest presentations. Students will participate in and lead in-class discussion and contribute regularly and extensively to the documentation of their projects online. You are expected to document you own design reflections and team process in this course.Each student is expected to keep a personal reflection space. If you prefer to use tumblr or another online platform, please post a link to your reflection space to the course blog under your personal page under the people page.

  • Personal reflections some questions that inform your personal reflections on course readings and your experience as a designer include the design agility metacognition framework. Design agility requires two components: mastery and meta-cognitive processes. Design mastery is present when one demonstrates a high level of competence in a particular area, while heightened awareness and deeper thinking about design in a broad sense indicates affinity for metacognitive knowledge, regulation, and experience (Flavel 1979).
  • Meta-cognitive knowledge entails three kinds of knowledge:
    • declarative knowledge (know-what; e.g., can articulate knowledge within a domain)
    • procedural knowledge (know-how; e.g., can articulate processes within a domain)
    • conditional knowledge (know when; e.g., when to apply knowledge and procedures).
  • Meta-cognitive regulation involves three skills:
    • planning and strategy (what is your plan, what are the milestones, how are you implementing it?).
    • monitoring performance (how are you doing?)
    • evaluating the products and efficiency of a task (how effective was your design, how efficient was your process?).
  • Meta-cognitive experiences regard three aspects:
    • maintaining motivation (how motivated were you throughout the project? how did you keep yourself motivated through difficult moments).
    • monitoring both internal and external distractions (what internal distractions did you battle? What external distractions did you face?)
    • sustaining effort over time (how did you sustain effort over time? what strategies and tactics were most effective for you?).

Design mastery without metacognition limits the potential of designers in dynamically changing environments where design agility is necessary. In short – agile designers reflect on their practice and can apply what they know to disparate domains through their metacognitive abilities, i.e. knowing about knowing. Craft is linked to design mastery. Metacognition allows design masters to interact with and collaborate with people outside of their domain of expertise on complex problems that require multiple expertises.

  • Team reflection and process Each team will be expected to document their work in progress on the class blog page or a team blog. This site will keep your team up to date, and serve as ongoing fodder for your project documentation. Please post a link to your project blog here:

Team process documentation should explain to people outside of your team what it is your team is working on. What decisions have your made and why? What is your plan forward? What research are you doing? What is the synthesis of the research? Post pictures of whiteboarding sessions, pictures of team outings, pictures of research sessions, prototypes, etc.

Worksessions and time management

During in class work sessions you are expected to work on your assignment and be engaged with your team members on the assigned task. There is limited time to meet with the instructor during class time. On critique days, it is your responsibility to sign up for a review. Each review session has a start time and end time; the instructor uses a timer to stay on schedule. If the meeting before yours runs over, gently remind the instructor to stay on schedule. Prepare an agenda for the meeting. Prioritize your items so we can discuss what is most important to your team first. Questions to prepare for a meeting include:

  • What is the agenda for the meeting?
  • Prioritize the agenda items, what aspect of the project do you need feedback on most?
  • Which is the most important issue that you have encountered in your project?
  • Do you feel stuck in certain parts of the project? Why do you feel stuck, what are some alternatives you considered?
  • What does the team agree on?
  • What does the team disagree about?
  • How is the team doing?

Communication and Office hours

The instructor will communicate important information to you via email. You are expected to check email regularly. Students should also use email to contact the instructor (e.g. missing a class, assignment questions). The instructor will hold office hours as detailed below and/or by appointment.
Scupelli: Tuesday 11am-12pm, MM207d or by appointment.

Disability Resources and Academic Accommodations

No student may record or tape any classroom activity without the instructor’s express written consent. To request academic accommodations due to a disability, please review the information available at This is an important step as accommodations may be difficult to make retroactively.

Academic Integrity Policy

This is expected at all times. All necessary and appropriate sanctions will be issued to all parties involved with plagiarizing any and all course work. Plagiarism and any other form of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated. If you use or integrate other people’s ideas, words, images, sounds, videos, code, and so forth please credit the sources. Please refer to the following link for additional information:

Grading criteria

Work and performance in the course will be evaluated on a weekly basis.

Students will receive a grade at mid-term and again at the end of the semester. Assignments, timely attendance, and in-class participation are a critical part of the grade. Bringing examples from outside of the class is considered to be an assignment and is also important. In addition, the process of exploration is as important as the final product, so it is important that students manage time well and devote time to reading, writing, and thinking about the content presented each week. Students will be given a detailed grading criteria sheet for each assignment.

Arriving tardy to class, leaving early, and falling asleep during class will affect your grade. Three tardies (or early departures) equate to missing class. Missing more than three class sessions may significantly affect your grade. Excused absences include documented medical emergencies, family emergencies, and natural disasters.

Students are expected to attend all classes on time. In the case of absence, please inform the instructor before the class if possible, and/or after the missed class. Students are expected also to be fully present and attentive during class sessions (i.e. no Facebook, Linkedin, texting, tweeting, email, etc.).

Work is due at the beginning of class. Work that is late will be decremented 10% for every 24 hours that pass.

project 1: 20% (Project 1)

project 2: 20% (project 2)

project 3: 20% (project 3)

project 4: 20% (project 4)

10% Reflections & comments on readings, and presentations – activities on extra readings.[1]

10% in-class and online participation.


Criteria for grading include the following:

  • Participation in discussions and assignments
  • Ability to summarize readings
  • Good use of class time: attendance, discussions, and insights
  • Productive and polite participation in class discussions and activities
  • Iteration on constructing and articulating an argument
  • Quality of reflection and communication about an issue
  • Online participation in discussions
  • Punctuality and attendance
  • Constructive participation in peer review sessions

[1] Students taking the course for 12 credits are expected to do extra readings and lead class discussion on those topics throughout the semester.

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