Future is not just imagination but more than imagination


Fig. 1: Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror, 2012, season 1

When talking about the future, it always reminds me of Black Mirror, a series that constantly inspires me to think about the future of society. In a different story, how the future social operating, how social relations changes, how people treat human life and death always made me into deep meditation… In Design for Future, as a “scriptwriter” of designing for the future, my scripts refer to the outline of “speculative design” to get more inspiration from the research to develop the methods to adjust my future “scripts”.

Fig. 2: Speculative Design,(Dunne and Raby, 2013).

The preferable future is what our efforts to explore. When comparing the four types of futures, I realized that the previous design was primarily baded on probable future, which we considered how our design workd in probable future, and our design was discussed according to the existing technology and development trend. Or you can use design methods like “double dimond” to frame possible service or product concept. It is challenging to set the future senario because it has not arrived. As a highly plastic future, any design or method may cause the butterfly effect. But I found that I should shift my previous desing method and design process to explore the real intention of future design.

Fig. 3:In star treck, for better remote communication the captain is using video call.

Trevor described that “future are visions that generally begin by identifying and trying to create a future that is preferable to future. Vision moves reality beyond the present toward the best that can be” (Trevor H. & Clement B.,1994). As a designer, I need to create a vision of what we want within the scope of possible futures. We need to discuss what kind of target user is designed for in this preferable future, how to transcend the obstacles of the current definition through design, and how to think dialectically about the changes in causality and social relations brought about by design changes. The preferable Future can be a window to start a conversation for people to discuss, for example, how people work and how communication will change in the future? The Star Trek in the 1960s, proposal that the future of teleconferencing could be a video satellite call, and the real-time visual remote meeting has brought great convenience in the general trend of international companies and even during the pandemic period.

Course Brief : The constraction and energy in Southwark in 2030

Introduction of the session

In this course, service design students from the University of the Arts London collaborated with the London Borough of Southwark (LBS). Based on the carbon emission target of Southwark 2030, discuss how Southwark’s preferable future can be; we have some focus: construction and energy, consumption, transportation and biodiversity. All of these four remind the goal of carbon-neutral in 2030, and we want to explore how social relations will change in the future.

Secondary research & horizon scaning & 3 Horizons model

I like the way of discussing energy and architecture together, but my misunderstanding of the subject at the beginning made me keen to explore emerging technologies and conceptual design. When I was inspired by “Don’t use technology as magic, don’t rely on magic”. As I found the speculative design is our critical methodology, I agree with the understanding of Speculative design from Nesta, “They stem from our current understanding of physical laws, processes, causation, systems of human interaction, etc. “ (Bland J & Westlake S, 2013). I began to analyze how construction and energy affect UK’s society and the environment through research data. I start to understand relevant policies, markets current position, population characteristics, community development, etc., and look for demonstrations of possible future development trends. So how to build a perception of the present and capture future trends?

After discussion, we decided to use two models: horizon scanning and 3 Horizons model. We then analyzed our materials and contact information on current patterns, innovation and future trends and organize and build in 6 dimensions. In this way, we have a clearer understanding of the current social relationship structure, development and innovation, etc. Based on how research works, we can look forward to how it will develop in the future. We can also quickly extract our concerns from it.

Fig. 4: Extract the intersection of building and energy

Based on horizon scanning, we can currently speculate w.hat preferable future looks like in the view of tenants and council:

  1. Potential of applying a block-chain model to energy: future trends seem to be pointing in the direction of a decentralisation approach, with homes and communities taking ownership of their energy production and consumption. The home becomes a single unit of generation.
  2. Lack of transparency on the part of the Council leads to uncertainty and distrust of council-wide initiatives. By focusing on more specific segment (council homes), it’ll be easier to come up with a more tailored solution that focuses on the needs of a specific group.
  3. Improving the awarness to imporve residents’ energy using behavior is another essential factor.

Future senario- how to build the senario and how we brainstorm based on that?

We have gained a lot of inspiration and exciting insights in designing future scene newspapers. It’s an interesting activity like in some black mirror epsoide, through the newspaper prodcasr to structure the speical fiction setting. But it is also worthy consider twice about: what policy or new trend do we want to frame our future? and how to demonstrate? How to show people’s new common sense? How to reflect the future society priority?
We want to map the policy and social environment of Southwark in 2030 under our value judgment:

  1. If the Paris Peace Treaty becomes a legal treaty
  2. Related energy construction employment is booming (academic and technical education development)
  3. Energy houses become housing purchases An essential reference (sustainable energy occupies a higher position)
Fig. 5: Our future senario “The Guardian in 2030”

Since we worked out our future looks, we started our brainstorming through ‘Ban, Amplify, Create’. We were put all our focus on the three topics in a short time. In our future scenario, we came up with ideas like “ “Decentralized Energy Community Model”, “Energy Academic School”, “Smart Energy Monitoring”.

I like this brainstorming process, even in a short period, the logic connection is close and build a more detailed logical design thinking fastly. A more supportive idea is selected through forward and reverse brainstorm process. I found that through this brainstorm, our group has a more unified consensus on the construction of future scenarios through the two processes of the ban and amplify and the previous research foundation. Then through more rigorous scenario construction, we propose more targeted ideas and concepts.

Fig. 6: Vote for our ideas in “Create”

Basic idea

Fig. 7: Buildings are currently responsible for over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, with over 80% of public buildings expected to still stand in the year 2050

Since we worked out our future looks, we started our brainstorming through an, Amplify, Create’. We were put all our focus on the three topics in a short time. In our scenario, we came up with ideas like “ “Decentralized Energy Community Model”, “Energy Academic School”, “Smart Energy Monitoring”.
I like this brainstorming process very much. Even in a short period, the logic before and after the connection is closely connected to build a more detailed design thinking. A more supportive idea is selected through forward and reverse pushing. I found that through this brainstorm, our group has a more unified consensus on the construction of future scenarios. We have built a complete future scenario through the two processes of the ban and amplify and the previous research foundation. Then through more rigorous scenario construction, we propose More targeted ideas.

In our research, we choose the social estate as our main target. We found that UK tenants struggle with the concept of energy consumption as it remains an elusive, intangible idea that is hard to quantify. While smart meters are starting to pave the way for greater consumption transparency, people still understand how their behaviours impact their energy bills from rising energy consumption.

Our vision for 2030 Southwark is that the national advocate using greener energy, with the community to decentralise energy and establish on-site green generation. At the same time, residents arouse awareness about sustainable energy consumption through energy education and estate contract.

The behaviour change of sustainable energy consumption we want to trigger is made by allocating tenants an energy quota. Our concept challenges the residents of our Estates to plan, budget and act following their energy allowance. This notion of treating energy as a finite resource forces a shift in thinking, getting users to educate themselves on matters related to household energy use.

Research through design- Doing design as a part of doing research

Fig. 8: iFloor is good example of applying research through design

The example in Design research through practice to help me quickly understand the meaning of “show, instead tell”. “Planning and doing, reason and action are not separate.” (Koskinen et al, 2013: pg. 2). We cannot just show it through description as we construct a future scenario based on personal value judgments and abstract few current social development trends. Our “Utopia” is to make the idea iteration more convincing through more practical testing. I also noticed that through this RtD method, we extend the journey of ideation and testing, we are trying to iterate our concept to make sense by eastablishing profound understanding through RtD.

Fig. 9: “Research through Design”, by Pieter.J and Elisa.G

Prototype, Persona and Role play

“The designing act of creating prototypes is in itself a potential generator of knowledge (if only its insights do not disappear into the prototype, but are fed back into the disciplinary and cross-disciplinary platforms that can fit these insights into the growth of theory).” — (Stappers, 2007)

Before prototyping, we also have many doubts about our concept. We hope to use prototype and role-play to discuss how people in the community would interact, conduct energy-related conversations, and how they change their energy consumption behaviour. For example, if someone (called hacker) cannot adapt to our energy usage rules and wants to move away, what can his community support him? The team plays different roles (Busy Bee, Hacker, Energy Pioneer and the newbie). In the process of role-playing, we constantly improve our concept, community operation and corporate, energy using concept, and how the rules response to some particular situations. How the different roles interact in this community? When we demonstrated our prototype to our mentor, we gained a lot of helpful dialogue and thinking.

For example, how do design a not akward experience when people are exchanging energy? Different families have diverse situations and how to ensure social justice? How to guide dynamic energy consumption behaviour?Role play and prototype gave us a chance to find these emerging problems, and during role play we keep starting conversation like “what if”/”yes, but”.

Fig. 10: Initial Prototype and feedback in class

Stakeholders collaboration & Iteration

We quickly iterated our concept through the first prototype, which remains the energy contract and distributed energy station settings, retaining the energy consumption visual intelligent tracker and guidelines and tags for new residents. We hope that we can get more practical suggestions through communication with stakeholders and get more professional theoretical suggestions.

Fig. 11: Contact with the Resident and professionals

Unfortunately, we encountered obstacles in contacting. All invitations posted have received apologies. We have to use the surrounding resources to contact the residents of Southwark and the energy professionals that can be reached.

Fig. 12: The prototype of concept details(the noticeboard in the estate frontdoor/the intelligent energy tracker)
Fig. 13 :The prototype in the living room to show the concept details(the central grid and

“Just as in any sandbox, iteration goes on until something survives critique. In this work, analysis and reasoning are important, but equally important is design experience, whether it is based on emotions, feelings, orintuition.” -Making Imagination Tangible (Koskinen et al, 2013: pg.43)

Through prototype testing and stakeholder testing, we got more practical feedback. Through their feedback, we have carried out more reflections on our policies. Initially, our concept relied too heavily on government involvement, restrictions, and a mentality that deprived users of choice. Through research-through-design and prototyping, we moved away from a model of individual energy generation responsibility towards a quota system. This is quite a breakthrough decision, and it is more acceptable for residents and set more free space for tenants to make most of the use of their energy. The ideas like the metaphor mentioned above are in the sandbox; when you make it real and test these ideas, you are shaking the sandbox.

Our Final concept : Energy Independent Living

Fig. 14: Our final concept

“What if Southwark Council were to pilot a radical approach to sustainable energy by prototyping on-site energy generation across its Council Estates?”

Our future services goal is to provide the people in Southwark with the opportunity to live in buildings that make energy visible, clear, green and operable.

In self-sufficient buildings, tenants will receive an energy quota derived from the building’s own on-site energy generation capacity, which can be supplemented with a connection to the local grid at the tenant’s expense.

Tenants will be given basic energy training before moving in and equipped with tools and skills that will allow them to live more energy-efficient lives, helping them to become energy-conscious Southwark residents.


Collision of service design and design future

During my four years in college, I have been trying to think about how to find appropriate problems and how to solve them, find market pain points and opportunities, and design and discuss marketable schemes. When I initially took over the course brief, I have to say that I do not know where to start. In Southwark in 2030 and beyond, I cannot predict what new technologies will lead to behavioural changes and thinking patterns. I cannot think about people’s perceptions and social priorities since it is all based on the designers’ “assumptions”.

Fig. 15: my previous system map reminds me that it’s better start with a vision insteat a bussiness opportunity

When I started reading Speculative Everything, I gradually started shifting my way of thinking and designing. Some thoughts changed my mind when designers are facing the future, we discuss the parallel universe that coexists reality. When we change some variables, we should consider about how the society change, what we need and what we can foretell to avoid? Just as our most tremendous success has been to provide references to workable solutions while raising thoughtful questions, What if our society…

When we think about the future, we are mostly talking about what we expected to see in the future. As a designer, when we discuss the future society we want, we should think more broadly. We should make the best use of our imagination to make a breakthrough of the barriers to a better community based on the opportunities available in the present society. As service designers, we should stand in a comprehensive and dialectical perspective to analyse human beings, society and the earth, and try to construct a new consciousness behaviour in the future, unknown connecting social relations, and preferable to the world outlook.

Future design is not only our expectation of the present and the future, and we can still get inspiration from the questions we raise. As a service designer, I should maintain a few fundamental principles in any scenario:

  1. Focusing on users (keep use-center), we still select a group in the preferred future, focus on their needs and experience as the centre of discussion, guide behaviour changes, interact with the community, etc.
  2. Interaction with stakeholders and prototype testing is equally important to me. There are some deficiencies in this course that make me worry about the credibility of the concept. However, the materialisation and testing of the concept still help us to iterate concept and make significant structural adjustments. “designers should place their imaginations into a standard social setting. They should also follow it in this setting using naturalistic research design and methods over a sufficient period to allow social processes to develop.” (Koskinen et al, 2013: pg. 80) As mentioned in the book, prototyping is a process from thinking about creativity to natural and social tests. As a service designer, prototyping is not only for iteartion by collecting data and feedback, but also establishing a better understanding of society and the users, a good design is driven by understanding.
Fig. 16: The univited guests shows how the technology really influence older people’s life
  1. Design is not just output but a heuristic dialogue. I gradually withdrew from the result-oriented thinking and began to think about what the design itself should bring, especially the future design. We should take our output as a direction of thinking, just like the “what if” question used extensively; although it is also a practical problem, there is often more than one answer to the problem. The video named Uninvited Guests gave me many relfection, it proved many opinions from speculative everything.
  2. The construction of “field” is multi-dimensional. As a service designer, thinking about the field requires constant research and exploration, just like The Quintuple Helix innovation model shows.
Fig. 17: “The Quintuple Helix innovation model: global warming as a challenge and driver for innovation” Quintuple Helix Model

Use imagination is way more difficult to focus the solution to the current problem.& why we keep thinking about the future

I have always used imagination carefully in designing the future because I have constantly reminded myself to be critical. When I dive deep into Speculative Everything, I realised that speculation comes from imagination. It is based on imagination to think about more possibilities and choices in the future world. When research method and human mechanics regard design as a formula, we need to use imagination to break our imprisoned creativity. Of course, we also need to conduct planning evaluations and moral considerations on imagination. Because the people mentioned in the book often no longer have dreams but ideals, I feel a trace of sorrow, so I have always remained open to opportunities and feedback in this process. I think the future can be more sustainable and people have a sense of responsibility. There will be more friendly and close community interaction. I am also committed to our design to achieve this goal.

Ethicial thinking in our design

Fig. 18: Visualize our ethic framework

In one of our workshops, our group had a lively dialogue. Maybe ignored some course design requirements, but we shared many views on several criteria. As a designer, when constructing our concept, we should not only focus on the target users, but also the users who cannot be covered, the users who are ignored are like “extreme users”. When we first produced the concept, I thought a lot about setting the household energy quota. Ethics and social justice are like two mountains that cannot be cross-domain, allowing me to make a comprehensive design. When I described that design is difficult to be 100% fair, although everyone understands it, they still believed we need to use the best effort to acheive that because this is a design for people. As a service designer, this is a necessary ability and responsibility.


Bland, J. and Westlake, S. (2013) ‘Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow: a modest defence of futurology’, Nesta, London, May, .

Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2013) Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT press.

Giaccardi, E. and Stappers, P.J. (2017) ‘Research through Design’, Interaction Design Foundation, Jan, , pp. 120.

Hancock, T. and Bezold, C. (1994) Possible futures, preferable futures. pp. 23.

Koskinen, I., Zimmerman, J., Binder, T., Redstrom, J. and Wensveen, S. (2011) Design research through practice: From the lab, field, and showroom. Elsevier.

Isa K.,(2016) Speculative design: A design niche or a new tool for government innovation? [online] available at: https://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/speculative-design-a-design-niche-or-a-new-tool-for-government-innovation/ [Accessed 19 May 2021].

Superflux (2015) Uninvited Guests [online] video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XgUTjAFo2A [Accessed 19 May 2021].

Design adds value to experience, and it bring surprise to me