In this course we will focus on examination and assessment of visions of the future through utopian and dystopian fiction, and use backcasting as a tool to guide our designs towards an attainable eutopia. This process blog will document in-class work and host weekly reflections on the course material.

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Weekly Reflections

Reflection 1: 9/4/2016:

There are many reasons to consider the future. We imagine “ideal worlds”, yet one that could never realistically exist (utopia). We devise drastically imperfect worlds, to shine light on potentially catastrophic problems in our current one (dystopia). We contemplate “improved futures”, those that produce realistic roadmaps towards technological, environmental, and societal development (eutopia).

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Moodboard

We have encountered visions of the future many times: famously 1984, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Brave New World, Animal Farm, Candide, the Twilight Zone, among numerous others. While we may be able to separate these stories, these, along with any encounter we have with “visions” (as I’m calling them) subtly change our personal schema of what a future world will look like. When introducing a new future concept, we must be mindful of our audience’s previous experience with future concepts, in order to communicate our vision as accurately and independently as possible. In this unit, we learned the foundations of communicating visions of futures.

It is easy to converge visions of utopia and dystopia because what we individually view as “good”and “bad” (to simplify) seem to line up. In the class activity, our short-term and long-term hopes and fears converged on themes such as comfort and stability (hopes), and stress and loneliness (fears). Visions of the future that we consume from books, radio, film, and other media, support these hopes and fears, allowing us to accept them as either utopia or dystopia. However, some of these media are more subject to our own perception than others.

It was interesting to shed light on my own vision of the future through analysis of my differing reactions to the different Bladerunner media. When reading the excerpt from the novel, I viewed the setting as highly technological, dark with purely artificial light, and and inhabitable natural environment, with hostile interpersonal relationships. The graphic novel replaced this setting with a more industrialized, less advanced context. The film provided the setting that is farthest from my personal vision of the future, being grander and more formal, that may have aligned with how those living in the 80’s envisioned the future given the technological competition with japan, a rising economical powerhouse at the time.

If I was to present a vision of an actionable and executable future, providing text, visuals, and interactivity is key to communicate an accurate portrait of what is to be created.

Speaking of actionable and executable futures, I found Masdar to be an interesting concept, but may not contribute to the improvement of other cities or communities. The location and climate of Masdar is far from temperate, disabling much of the technology from being expanded to other cities. While the shaded buildings and underground transportation reduce energy costs and increase the comfort of citizens within hot, dry, climates they are not always scalable. Though I expect Masdar to be successful in achieving the technological visions of the future (lower energy costs, clean solar energy, sustainable building materials), even its “overhaul”, from-scratch method of creation is unrealistic for the vast majority of the world.

In my studio lab “Wonder”, we are considering our personal roles as designers: what we want to focus on, what we find important, what we seek to improve, etc. I find what I find important aligns with much of the hopes of what our class envisions for the future such as health, comfort, stability, and justice. When ideating any future project, ensuring that the project revolves around those tenants may be good practice both for keeping my interest and increasing the relatability of the project.

Reflection 2: 9/11/2016:

This week, Futures focused upon how we present future scenarios, and how to critique those that are presented to us, going beyond “utopia” and “dystopia” to determine scope, foresight into potential issues, and public reception.

According to Jamais Cascio, there are crucial errors relating scope, foresight, and reception that we must be aware of when designing future scenarios. When futurists make these errors, Cascio calls it “Bad Futurism”.

Focusing Solely on Technology: In order to design a “good” future scenario, we must consider the way that people live, not just the “nuts and bolts” of technology. We should not just develop technology for technology’s sake, as it will only be successful if it fits within, or benefits in some way, the way people have chosen to live, have been taught to live, and feel makes sense to live.

Thinking that Nothing Will Go Wrong: Future scenarios are often presented as high-tech, automated worlds where people conform perfectly to their environments and use every designed feature as intended. However, people are not robots, and even robots can malfunction. People will exert their own power over technology, and use it in their own way. Though this may sound problematic for designers, it is incredibly useful for research. It allows designers to see other uses for their designs and what their users really want and need.

Designing for One Demographic: Especially when designing future scenarios that heavily involve technology, futurists may tend towards designing for the upper class, urban demographic. Though they are the group that often can afford new technology, so it reaches them first (as do fashion and other trends) other socioeconomic groups will invariably be affected as well, so we must consider all levels of status when designing future scenarios.

Respect Your Audience: As mentioned above, people are not robots, and will not just accept any future because it is “designed for them”. When designing future scenarios, you must acknowledge and design for your audience’s wants and needs, understand their core values, hopes, and fears. Part of respecting your audience includes the above three errors, in that focusing only on technology, promising a “perfect” future, and designing only for a portion of real users is an inaccurate and unfair way to present what the future may be like.

We used the principles laid out by Cascio to critique futurist videos that had been produced by various companies I chose to watch Microsoft Office 1 and Corning Glass 2. These videos, above all else, made me uneasy about the future. So much of what I value, tactile interaction, periodic separation from technology, human-human interaction, had been stripped away in these scenarios. For example, in the Corning Glass video, a national park used a glass display to show prehistoric animals roaming the grounds. Children used their own glass devices to capture these animals and bring them home to display on the glass display installed in their home. Is this scenario respecting the nature of children? If we remove tactile interaction with objects and have items only be accessible via glass, are we still fostering creativity, exploration, and curiosity? I don’t know.

I can apply this human-centered approach to futures in an upcoming independent study project about redesigning the end-of-life process, and the way people choose to dispose of their remains. While it may be tempting to work backwards from technology, I know I must begin by analyzing the needs, wants, hopes, and fears of my audience. I will have to research the current customs of many socioeconomic and cultural groups to understand values and motives. For example, while alkaline hydrolysis may be one of the most sustainable solutions to disposal, it does not incorporate the respect of the body that many death rituals hold central.

In relation to design practice in general, this week’s studies further ingrains the principle that you do not design for yourself. Especially on this campus, much of what we perceive as cool, glamorous, and desirable may be fostered by our technological surroundings. Those that live even an hour away from Pittsburgh have vastly different wants and needs. When designing any product, we must consider the principles that Cascio laid out in “Bad Futurism”, and ensure that we are not focusing on ourselves, our socioeconomic group, or any other sector of the actual audience that will use our products.

Reflection 3: 9/18/2016:

This week in Futures, we explored mental models as ways to examine future scenarios we created, and started to explore tangible future scenarios, including topics from Peter Schwartz and an exploration of blockchain.

While as designers we are consistently told to not design for ourselves, we will continue to do so unless we examine the mental models by which we view the world. Mental models are similar to schemas, in that they are ways that individuals perceive the world and interpret information. Analyzing and understanding the mental models we hold is essential to being a good designer, because it helps block-bust problems- allowing us to see issues from new perspectives that will inform our design process. We have already seen the ways that mental maps and schemas can affect our ability to predict future scenarios, in our Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep mood boards. Because of our past experiences with *the future* we all created similar boards depicting dark, technology-filled worlds with little to no organic elements, even though the text minimally described the environment.

Peter Schwartz’s talk and blockchain represent existing issues and technology that will shape the future- positively, if considered and designed correctly. Schwartz mentions a number of forces that have shaped the present and will continue to shape the future, though maybe not in the same way. He mentions retirement age, faith-based conflict, and airline deregulation as three factors that will inevitably affect future events. According to Schwartz, to comprehensively predict future scenarios we must not pretend that the future is a continuation of the present and accept that we must change in order to create a favorable future. This concept leads directly into our discussion of blockchain, and existing technology that allows parties to directly exchange value. If it becomes widespread, it will revolutionize the way we move and store money, titles, art, intellectual property, and even votes. However, this arguably preferable future scenario will not come to be unless we take active steps towards it- carefully designed, methodical steps.

I can apply the concepts from this week’s classes to the upcoming independent study project I described in my previous reflection. In redesigning the end-of-life experience, I must look at people’s mental models of funeral practices and the way that we prepare the deceased. In order to shift those mental models towards ones that incorporate more sustainable, holistic practices, I must analyze them to understand why people hold onto certain traditions and beliefs.

In application to design practice, this week’s classes focus in on what we should be communicating to the users of our products. In designing a product, we should inspire our users to challenge their own mental models- from something as small in scope as the layout of a page or placement of a button, to as large as what the future of (whatever the topic) may look like. In conforming to current models for the sake of simplicity, acceptability, etc, we are being untruthful to consumers about what may be possible. While you could argue that not every product is a “teachable moment” to show users the limits of their mental models, it would be cheating ourselves as designers to not take every opportunity to think outside the box.

Reflection 4: 9/25/2016:

This week in Futures, we looked at how past and current economic, environmental, and familial factors can determine the future. We watched PBS Frontline’s Two American Families, which followed the progress of two Milwaukee families for a period of about two decades. The Neumanns (a white middle class family) and the Stanleys (a black middle class family), both mentioned that they participated in the film in order to show what life was really like for families like theirs, and wanted to help others like them. The Stanley Family still has an active Facebook page that keeps fans updated on events and issues that continue past the end of the film.

The Stanleys and the Neumanns, though both considered middle class, lead very different lives. This is largely to do with their difference in race, and the racism and prejudice that accompanies it. While the Stanley children are pressured to join gangs, the Neumann children are participating in scout groups. Jackie Stanley described how she was struggling with her real-estate job, because she was discriminated against at work and only given inner-city neighborhoods to sell within. Though the Neumanns are still struggling with money and family dynamic issues, the Stanleys are struggling with all that and more.

While we have come a long way in terms of race relations, it is clear that we have so much farther to go until race is no longer a determinate of success. In Paul Taylor’s lecture, we learned that the percent of interracial marriages increased from 2% in 1960 to 15.5% in 2011. We can only expect this percentage to rise, leading to a more interracial population, hopefully coming along with less discrimination. In addition to interracial marriages and children, Paul Taylor also mentions an increase in the percentage of single parents, and women being the primary source of income for nearly half of all US families — both a clear shift in the dynamics of work and family life.

I can apply this week’s lessons to my “What is Design”/ “My Role as a Designer” video that I am working on for Senior Studio. In my video, I emphasize the value of tactile interactions and rituals that facilitate empathy for both others and yourself — especially in a time when we are stripping objects down to function and digitizing them, which I argue is not sustainable. Because I am constructing a quasi-futurist video, I must be very careful when choosing stock footage. It should accurately represent what a future couple, family, etc. will look like, rather than only what those relationships look like now. Otherwise, my video will not be scalable.

I can apply this week’s lessons to my design practice by expanding my ideas of consumer personas. For example, if I am designing a “family” product, I must be aware that the family I often picture (imagine the one on the box for any major board game) is actually the family society is shifting away from. The family product I design cannot depend on there being a female mother, a male father, and multiple children. In creating customer personas, I have to keep that in mind and determine whether the product I am designing will support any and all personas that it should be.

Reflection 5: 10/2/2016:

This week in Futures, we learned about the components of foresight, as explained by Sohail Inayatullah. The first component of foresight is the ability to anticipate change that may be a result of a variety of factors. Through anticipating these changes, people can create alternative future scenarios based around them. The second component of foresight is the understanding of assumptions we have about the future, and changes that may come along with it. The third component of foresight is for people to evaluate their assumptions, how they change, and how they affect our futures. Inayatullah also mentioned 6 components of mapping futures. the first component of mapping futures is used futures, those that people buy into either because society has, or they feel they should buy into for a variety of other reasons. The second component is disowned futures, one in which parts are ignored or abandoned for the sake of another. The third component is alternative futures, those in which there are multiple scenarios can take place, and we must consider all of them in order to think comprehensively about the future. The fourth is alignment, when the concept of a future scenario coordinates with one’s priorities, goals, values, etc. The fifth is theory of social change, the concept that there are a variety of ways to enact social change. The final concept is the use of futures, the capacity to apply these 6 components to thinking about your own future or one that affects you.

I can use what I have learned this week in an upcoming project in Speak Lab. We will be tackling “wicked problems” around Pittsburgh including gun violence, sewage overflow, and fracking. Part of creating a product that counteracts these issues is evaluating future scenarios in which there is no intervention, and the effect of different kinds of intervention. Having these six components of future scenarios will give me a good framework to create, evaluate, and use future scenarios to my advantage in this project.

I can apply what I have learned this week my design process/practice by altering or adding a step in the research phase of concept ideation. Instead of just evaluating the history and current state of an issue, I should also research and sometimes create the future scenario, so that I can design with a more holistic view of the problem space. Looking in to the future of an issue may allow you to recognize problems that are inconsequential now, but will cause disaster many years into the future, that your design can accommodate.

Week 5 Peer Review: 10/4/16

Review 1:

Student learned different definitions and components of foresight, including practices like future scanning, iteration, anticipating STEEP changes. They think that they can relate this week’s information by “testing” an idea or project they are working on to check if it is plausible and preferable in an imagined scenario. In design practice, they believe that it is helpful to have exposure to many approaches to navigating futures, to challenge assumptions and work towards more knowledgeable conclusions and comprehensive understandings of complex situations

Review 2:

Student learned about foresight and how professional futurists utilize foresight within a business and social context. They mention foresight is technology-drive, desire-drive, problem solving, and controlled by strategic or careless actions. They also mention Inayatullah’s perspectives on future and foresight. These perspectives will be helpful in evaluating their own methodologies of thinking about futures. Student mentions that they will use this week’s lessons in BME design to better understand how their project will affect the community they are designing for. As far as design practice, Inayatullah’s frameworks will come into play as well, to break up a complex idea into manageable pieces that can be communicated to both team members and clients.

Reflection 6: 10/9/16

This week Futures, we used Shell’s scenario team as an example of how we create and evaluate alternative scenarios. We use alternative scenarios to predict what will happen in the future, and how it will view us (specific people, organizations, corporations, etc.). We also discussed Dator’s four generic alternative futures: Continued Growth, Discipline, Collapse, and Transformation. A continued growth future is one where current conditions and trends (economic, technological societal) are used to extrapolate what the future may be like. A discipline future is one based on extreme regulation, limitation, organization, and control. A collapse future is a failed society that needs to rebuild from scratch, presumably with different values, government, etc. as it had previously. A transformation futures is one based on large societal shifts in technology, government, etc. in a short period of time.

I can use what I have learned this week to Speak Lab, in a project I have just started to tackle the affordable housing crisis in Pittsburgh. The four generic futures are a valuable structure though which to view any wicked problem. Knowing what I know from research and interviews about the problem space, unless we take steps towards a transformative future, we could literally be dealing with collapse (for a period of years in the 80’s, many public housing projects went up in flames as the community rioted against their conditions). Taking steps towards a transformative future would mean either changing policy to allow Section 8 voucher holders to more readily find adequate housing, refining the Tax Reform Act of 1986 to specifically prevent the gentrification of neighborhoods, or creating new or refurbished affordable housing.

I can apply what I have learned this week to not just design, but in other areas of study as well, especially anthropology, history, and psychology. By looking at past periods of growth, collapse, transformation, and discipline and linking those periods to movements — in not only areas of research but also research practices, breakthroughs, inaccurate findings, etc. would be a very valuable way to learn more about specific things that contribute to changes in society, so we can better plan our desirable future.

Reflection 7: 10/23/16

What I Learned:

This week in futures we learned about futures mapping methods and the six pillars associated with them. The pillars are mapping, anticipating, timing, deepening, creating alternatives, and transforming. Mapping includes the futures triangle of pull, push, and weight, shared history, and the futures landscape. Anticipating includes different ways to analyze futures, including the emerging issue analysis and the futures wheel. Timing includes looking at different forms of time including linear, cyclical, pendulum, and spiral time. Deepening includes methods of understanding scenarios as “deep” as possible, using the casual layered analysis tool, metaphors, and using narratives to speak and explain futures. Creating alternatives includes taking prospective futures and viewing them in different ways using CLA incasting. Transforming includes taking future scenarios and adding more detail through envisioning in more detail, backcasting, and considering the future that follows your scenario.

Applying to a Project:

Something I found particularly interesting about this week was using details of future scenarios as the basis for other future scenarios and considering what should and will happen after the future you envision. I can apply this directly to a project I will be starting in two weeks in Senior Play Lab. We will be analyzing one current concept and conceptualizing how it may be in the future, creating an artifact to support that future. I imagine that it would behoove me (portfolio-wise and learning-wise) to consider what will happen after the future I imagine.

Applying to Design:

Even in analyzing a current scenario or one not in the far future, it will be important in every design process to use tools like future mapping and anticipating to consider how your project, product, or experience will impact society, the environment, economics, etc. Running even a quick design jam using these tools can impact the design of the product in a positive way.

Reflection 8: 10/30/16

This week in Futures, we tackled issues of consumerism and sustainability. We began by watching videos in class about consumerism, what drives us to consume more than those that came before us, the ethical and environmental issues surrounding consumerism, and how we might move towards a more sustainable future. We then explored alternative futures that are currently being led by individuals such as Bea Johnson, Lauren Singer, Jennifer Scott, Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus, and others. Using the lifestyles laid out by these individuals, we revisited Chris Luebkeman’s Four Plausible Futures to look at how potential products would work within them. We also examined the STEEP forces that drive and accompany a consumerist lifestyle, and how they would be affected by a mass cultural shift towards sustainability.

We consume for a number of reasons. We are attracted to technology, marketing tells us that we need the newest gadget, outfit, product, and that we will fall behind without it. In addition to owning new items, we also enjoy shopping for them: hunting to find a good deal, getting the item before our friends, rushing out on Thanksgiving night to be ready for Black Friday. As far as moving towards a more sustainable future, we can consider a variety of options to help curb our consumerism. We can simply buy less by asking ourselves if we need every item we are considering, if we could rent or borrow it if we really do need it, buying based on sustainability rather than price, or considering used or refurbished items. In the home, we can consider switching to bulk/package free grocery shopping, switching to multi-use cleaning products (vinegar, castile soap, baking soda for natural options, rubbing alcohol, borax, bleach for just multi-use), considering the amount of water we use, choosing a sweater over turning up the heat, etc.

I could apply this week’s lesson to my upcoming project in Speak Lab, where we identify a current behavior or trend and design a product or experience and imagine how it may be in the future. When I choose my topic, I must thing critically about the sustainability/consumerist aspect of the problem space, and make sustainability central to my future solution. I will most likely be imagining a new death-disposal system, akin to the Mushroom Suit or biodegradable urn. Though sustainability is an increasingly important part of this area of study, I would like to contribute to the solution.

As far as design practice goes, I continue to make sustainability an important part of my designs. However, this week’s area of study affected me quite profoundly in a personal way. I realized how much stuff (not even items, as I could not remember what I was storing) in my basement that I could possibly go the entire year without so much as thinking about. I thought there may be plenty of items that could be of use to others that I would never use. When I thought about the fate of the items, I imagined that I would not sort through them until the end of the school year when I was getting ready to move out of Pittsburgh. In my hurry to pack up and leave, I would not properly dispose of or re-home the objects, because even the perfectly good household items would end up on the curb instead of on the Giving Wall, at Goodwill, or with a new Craigslist owner. This would make myself both a ravenous consumer and immensely irresponsible. After class on Friday I went to the basement and sorted through my in-storage belongings, and once I was done repacking the items I needed, I ended up with more than half my belongings in the “I don’t need” pile. Now that I know the fate of all of these items, I can think more comprehensively about any new items that I buy, and which pile I think they would end up in. If don’t need it, don’t love it, and won’t use it, I won’t buy it.

Reflection 9: 11/6/17

What I Learned

This week in futures, we analyzed the gender gap, and how changes in how society values individual genders can lead us to more desirable futures. We watched two talks about gender equality and women’s education by Sheryl Wudunn and Michael Kimmel.

Sheryl’s talk, “Our Century’s Greatest Injustice”, centered upon the power of education. She spoke of Dai Manju, a young woman in a remote village, who was able to raise herself and her family out of poverty into a prospering life. Wudunn used Dai Manju as an example of the opportunities education affords and how those opportunities can impact individuals, households, and communities. Conversely, she explained that oppressing women and keeping them from education can stunt entire communities. countries, and the world.

Michael’s talk, “Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone, Men Included” centered on how gender equality can “lift all boats”, citing several metrics to support his point. Countries with higher gender equality lead to happier citizens, higher job satisfaction, lower job turnover, and higher retention.

We then learned about Arnold Wasserman’s LEARN! 2050 future scenario, which focuses on education transformation. Changes he proposes include a more comprehensive education where STEM and the arts, mindfulness, exercise, and the humanities are valued equally. Free education for all was at the forefront of his proposal.

Apply to a Project or My Life

Being a woman, it is extremely important for me to have a comprehensive understanding of the gender gap and gender equality- what is at stake, what we have to gain, and steps we can take to get us to a desirable future where gender has no bearing on the ability to get a quality education, a good job, fair pay, and a variety of societal/personal benefits to being viewed as equal to men. Although I have not been personally impacted immensely by my gender (I have not been kept from an education or job), I definitely have been a victim of “mansplaining” in STEM classes, looked down upon for being a female design student, been catcalled from a passing car, received obscene comments on the street, altered my schedule or path to avoid men who made me uncomfortable, and felt unsafe walking home to the point of carrying a knife with me as I walked behind WQED. Although I have come to view these issues as normal inconveniences, they are so much more than that. When we start to view genders equally, over time, the mindset of our country can change. Vote Hillary.

Apply to Design Practice

Because I am a female entering into the male-dominated tech world, “Leaning In” is going to be ever more important. I must speak up, show what I am worth, look out for my fellow woman, and work to change the conversation surrounding gender equality. Being a designer comes with immense power, to change the way that people think, often without them realizing it. It is going to be important to be hyper-aware of gender equality in my career, working to create positive, measurable change towards equality- not just in gender, but also in race, creed, and ability.

Peer Review Week 9:

  1. MB

How similar are the reflections with regard to what you have learned?

Very similar, both talked about Sheryl and Michael’s talks, MB focused more on how specifically to create change according to Sheryl. We both enjoyed/found the same points to resonate with us.

How similar are the reflections with regard to how you will apply to a design project?

Different, I really enjoyed how she brought up gender roles in lawn care and how we can subtly gender products and actually change gender roles based on the design and marketing of products.

How similar are the reflections with regard to how you will apply to design practice?

Different, I focused generally on bringing gender equality to the design process and empowering women through design, MB focused on redesigning the education system to empower women.

2. MS

How similar are the reflections with regard to what you have learned?

Similar, MS focused more on education than on gender equality in general, and viewed gender equality through the lens of education, and how education can be an avenue to empower women.

How similar are the reflections with regard to how you will apply to a design project?

MS did not really answer this question.

How similar are the reflections with regard to how you will apply to design practice?

Very different, MS brought up an interesting point about education- if education is free, are there still “good” schools, or elite schools? Will the prestige of some jobs fall, or the exclusivity of some jobs fall, lessening their importance? Though none of these questions are answered, its interesting and terrifying to think about.

Reflection 10: 11/13/17

Reflection 10


This week in Futures, we were all forced to face an impending undesirable future of our own. As individuals, we responded to the outcome of the U.S. Presidential Election in a variety of ways. Some were speechless, some were terrified, some were angry, some were devastated. I was, and still am, in grief. I grieve for a country that turned out to be much different than I thought it was, or could be. I grieve for all the seemingly unnecessary time I spent researching candidates, getting into debates and arguments with friends and now ex-boyfriend (these political debates, even though we were of the same ideology, were a breaking point in our relationship), that have been taking place for nearly two years. I grieve for my friends who are now living in constant fear. And I am just so tired. I am tired with fighting with my friends, I’m tired of being yelled at on the internet, I am tired of overhearing enraging conversations and not being able to hold myself back. As a community, we need to learn to truly understand each other’s motivations, values, and fears to move forward.

That is no easy feat. In order to begin to guide the process of understanding, we spoke as a class about our grief and fear. Though we used a loose framework to speak about these issues (Integrity v. Oppression, Honesty v. Injustice, Decency v. Insult, Courage v. Fear), what I kept hearing over and over was division between the “them” and the “us”. What creates these divisions are artificial labels binding together groups of people and issues that have been placed upon them. Women. Men. Immigrants. LGBTQ. Hispanic. Muslim. Whites. Blacks. An assumption here is that we are all different. The “us” is those within our group, or those with the same sentiments we have. The “them” is not only those who directly oppress us, but anyone who may be different. These groups and labels make it difficult to understand that we are, at our cores, all human. We all struggle with the same issues: stability, success, love, respect, freedom, to name a few. Though we have different definitions of what each of those issues mean to us, and what our goals relative to them are, we are all grappling to achieve them.

The first thing we can do is try not to think of people as “us” and “them” (much easier said than done in a 2-party system). But rather, if we can, try to understand why people feel the way that they do. I believe that discussions, real conversations, are the best way to do this. One-on-one, possibly. See beliefs as people and stories.

Something else I was grappling with this week was about what I can do. As I said above, I am just exhausted, physically and emotionally. After fighting about this election for two years, I now have to fight even more? Peter sent us a video by Kwame Anthony Appiah entitled “Ethics in a World of Strangers”, that gave me some insight into this struggle. In the video, Kwame talks about, philosophically, what the “right” thing to do is. He mentions the Singer theory, in which a person would to save a drowning child, even while wearing an expensive suit that would be ruined, and should therefore be willing to donate the same amount of money that the suit is worth to save a starving child on the opposite side of the planet. Kwame breaks this theory down, and basically comes out the other side saying yes, we should do all we can to help our neighbor. However, we have to remember that we are a person too, and we can only do as much as we can in the circumstances we are in, with the information we have. Although I am still trying to apply this thinking to my own actions. I think that I need to just stop fighting for now and take time to grieve and collect myself. Exhausting myself further will not help me or the country in any way, and I must take time to help myself before I can begin to defend my neighbor.

Week 11 Reflection: 11/28/16

This week in Futures, we explored normative futures and education futures. To understand education futures,, we read the persona of James, a 28 year old Air Force Vet who used his GI benefits to pay for his undergrad but is now working towards his masters. He is nearly 70k in debt due to student loans, and works 3 jobs to pay for his education. We used James’ persona to ask questions about how people pay for education, who are the actors involved in education, and how Arnold Wasserman’s Learn! 2050 normative scenario may be able to be realized (who will pay for free education, what other free services we use and how those business models may be expanded to apply to free education, and what STEEP forces may need to converge for free lifelong education to provided in the United States in 2050. In class, we created a mind map of education with the goal of free education in mind. We then mapped how a business could provide a free service through mapping out categories like customer relationships, revenue systems, partners, etc.

This week’s lessons can apply to my Play Lab project where I am analyzing the effects of health trackers, and the possibilities of a health system where health tracking is no longer an opt-in service, but rather opt-out. Using the mind map activity to assess how a business could provide a free or nearly free service like health tracking, particularly which STEEP forces would have to conserve for that to even be a priority, would be an interesting area to explore.

This week’s lessons can apply to my design practice by aiming to expand design thinking to my extra-disciplinary coworkers, to work towards a culture where design is a normal and considered part of business practice. Perhaps by making design a large part of how companies operate, we will create openings for different kinds of designers that will be trained by a STEAM education provided by the government. As I move onto working at a financial company next year, I imagine that I will have to be an advocate for design in a completely different way than someone working at a tech company.

Week 12 Reflection: 4 December 2016

This week in Futures, we discussed benchmark goals and began to apply the new Futures concepts such as Causal Layered Analysis that we have been covering in class to Arnold Wasserman’s 2050 Scenario.

What I found particularly interesting was a talk by Sir Ken Robinson about how we arrived at our current model of education, and how redesigning the systems we have in place could drastically improve our educational process, the subjects we are teaching, who we are teaching them to, who is teaching, and how students thrive once they have completed their education (In Ken’s talk, public education is featured but many private institutions follow the same education methodology).

For the final project, we are working in small groups to realize an aspect of the 2050 scenario as it aligns to our personal goals and interests. My group found the division and individualization of classrooms by metrics other than age to be a very important goal, and has chosen this as our area of interest. We are beginning to investigate how programs like Montessori individualize their classrooms, and how evaluation and division of students can be realized in a way that does not socially divide students in a way that will lead to problems down the road.

The idea of benchmark goals applies directly to my Play Lab project about the future of health tracking. Although I am looking at the exhaustive tracking and publication of personal health metrics as a negative advancement, there is a definite future goal here, in which personal health data can be used by medical professionals to improve the individualized care of their patients. In order to determine how to reach this goal, we must work backwards to find benchmark goals that much be reached in succession. For example, each member of a health plan must be equipped with the devices they need to track their health data, so how do we provide these devices to them? Personal data generated by these devices that will be transmitted to health care providers must be legally protected, so what steps must be taken to accomplish this?

Benchmark goals can we applied to design practice in a very practical way to establish a timeline of tasks for a project of a large scope, in order to find out which avenues of research and development are worthwhile to pursue to help reach a particular goal. As the design process progresses, benchmark goals are a way to keep on track with a particular mission, and provide a way to shift focus, emphasis, or goals in the event that they need to change.


Masdar Exercise

Masdar is designed to be the world’s first zero-carbon city. Imagine living in a place unlike any other. What are some needs you may have?

9/2/2016: My Scenario

Masdar is designed to create most, if not all, of its energy on-site via wind and solar power. Given the remote location of Masdar, the fuel required to import food and other necessities, and the export of waste, would tip the scales towards being carbon-positive. I imagine that part of a future city would be to produce and dispose of food on-site. Traditional composting methods are not conducive to the urban setting of Masdar. I integrated the compost into the limited green space in the city, and allowed citizens to track their contributions.

9/7/16: Critique of My Scenario (Jamais Cascio)

In many ways, I think the future scenario I am operating within is somewhat of a reversion, aided by technology: reduction in import/export of energy and goods, composting, reusable goods instead of disposable, etc. However, the role of technology in serving these needs or efforts is increasing. In my compost/produce bed above, pads absorb heat from the sun and use it to accelerate the process, which is monitored digitally. The compost bin to compost bed process could be automated as well, so that little to no human interaction is needed. I imagine that the water used in the compost process could be recycled or reused water from watering the produce, excess from drinking fountains, etc.

I think this future may be acceptable by Cascio’s standards because it is positive enough to be desirable, but not overly positive to where it does not sound believable. It also keeps in mind human nature and requires little behavior change on the part of the individual, morally.

However, my scenario is very narrowly focused, and does not speculate about the evolvement of human needs and desires in 2050. I would like to explore the advancement of transportation, navigation, and social interaction in addition to the somewhat hands-off (to the majority of citizens) scenario laid out above. What would we have to give up in any of those areas to live sustainably? Is that future depressing? If so, is it more believable?

9/9/16: Masdar Scenario 2

In a brand new city such as Masdar, especially one where every feature is specifically designed for a common purpose, orientation and navigation within the city may be difficult for residents and visitors alike. I propose both a public display and the opportunity to use personal devices to maneuver through the city. A glass display in the city center will allow users to tap on a building or feature to learn more about it, get directions, tips, alternative views, etc. Users could zoom in and rotate their view of the buildings to gather more information. These glass “wayfinders” can be placed throughout the city as it becomes larger. Users can also use personal devices such as phones and wearables to navigate the city as well. Instead of typing in an address, they could take a photo of a destination in the distance to identify it, get directions, or learn more about it. With a city such as Masdar where sustainability is a primary focus, residents may have to change their ways of life quite considerable. Being able to recognize features and use them properly is key to maintaining Masdar. Having access to information on how to use new products is essential, which these glass displays and use of personal devices could aid.

9/14/16: Third Critique

In looking at my work, I think that I am guided by a fundamental assumption that people that live in Masdar will want to be engaged with the environment they live in. Surrounded by college students that are passionate about whatever they have chosen to do, at a critical time in their life where they need to be passionate, I sometimes forget that people may just end up living somewhere, doing something, that they aren’t particularly passionate about.

Yes, Masdar is a new kind of city that people may choose to move to, but 10, 20, 50 years down the line, it may not be. Will my scenario hold up in a few decades, where maybe older, not so technologically savvy people are moving to Masdar, and thus less likely to interact with my wayfinding/discovery system? Probably not.

Throughout my design education, I have constantly been trained to not design for myself. No one is exactly like me, most people not even remotely. However, I still think a mental map of how I was raised constantly creeps into my work. I was raised by two well-educated parents in a suburban area, with equal access to a metropolitan area (St. Louis), and a rural one (my grandparent’s 100 acre farm in Bloomsdale). My parent equally fostered education and exploration in technology and the arts, and could afford to send me to classes, workshops, and programs to enrich my education. In my Masdar scenario, along with arguably every one I ever design for, the mental map I just described does not hold up.

In this Masdar scenario, although personal technology is not required, those in higher socioeconomic positions definitely benefit, because they have personal technology (phones, wearables, etc.) that enhance their interaction with the surroundings I have laid out. Those in lower socioeconomic positions lose by comparison.

I think a force that may shift my work would be instead of designing for a scenario where people do care, I can take one step back and think, how can I design for people to care? How can I create engaging experiences that get people to interact with and take interest in, have a stake in, what is happening in their surroundings?

9/16/16: Blockchain Exercise

Develop a product/service/interaction/experience concept for two of the scenarios. Including design scenario, storyboard, product concepts.

Scenario 3: Blockchain technology fails. (What caused blockchain to fail, and why did the other players survive? What features/products/experiences/interactions did the established players undertake)

In this scenario, it may be interesting to explore who adopted blockchain before it failed, and what drew them to it. People may choose to use blockchain to protect intellectual property distribution, or ensure that that they are given credit (monetarily and otherwise) for their independent creations. They may be drawn to a system without an intermediary that is benefitting in some way. This may lead existing players to personalize experiences, creating one-on-one interactions. They may also create some “instant payment” or “instant sharing” where transferred files and money is transferred and held online.

Scenario 4: Blockchain is very successful and legacy systems co-exist. (What markets do the blockchain enabled services/products/interactions/experiences cover and where do the traditional players focus? How are the products different?)

In this scenario, it may be interesting to explore why existing players with legacy systems can differentiate themselves from blockchain in a positive way, and what they can offer that players using blockchain cannot. Looking at how this would impact the creative (music, film, etc.) industry may be a good example to look at. Independent artists can distribute and be paid for their work with blockchain, but there may be a role for record labels and streaming services still. Instead of making the music sale distribution central to the business, the service that a record label provides must be unique and valuable. For example Spotify may have to shift to an entirely recommendation/discovery tool rather than having streaming be central. Record labels may be like portfolios of endorsed work rather than a distribution service for artists.

9/23–28/16: Stanley Family

9/30/16: Desired Future

Hypothesize a desired future for one of your personas.

  1. Used Futures: I think that Keith’s future is desirable for a variety of reasons. In the documentary, Keith says that he will start a family when he has raised enough money and has a stable job, which I have outlined in the timeline. In my Timeline, Keith has two children around 2010, which he will be around 30 years old. In an article I read about Keith dated 2015, he was heavily involved in his community and seemed to have dedicated his live to public service, so I had him run for public office and eventually become the mayor.
  2. Disowned Futures: I think that I may be ignoring a large part of Keith’s life by leaving out his partner, where they met, how they raise their children, their work/life balance, etc. I also have not explored Keith’s relationship with his parents and siblings, which could have a great impact on his adult life. I have also not explored any hobbies or outside interests Keith has, other than working with his community, such as music, working with a church, etc.
  3. Alternative Futures: The worst possible future for Keith would be where he fails to revitalize his community, personally or though public office, and his children become part of the gangs that plagued him growing up. Other futures that emerge may be a crisis that causes him to change careers, move to another city, split from his partner, etc.
  4. Alignment: For Keith, metrics that may indicate success for him would include how his efforts have positively impacted his community, his level of achievement in his job, the level of achievement of his partner and children.
  5. Theory of Social Change: There is definitely a theory of change implicit in my scenario, where a combination of circumstances/opportunity and personal efficacy and agency lead to a specific level of achievement. In Keith’s case, he had hard-working parents dedicated to make the best life they could for their children, despite gangs, work, and other forces acting on them. Keith had the opportunity to go to school, yet struggled to make payments and felt that a change in his community would help raise others up to the level of achievement he had reached.
  6. Use of Futures: Foresight is the capacity to apply foresight thinking continuously, taking in variables, factors, and consequences and playing out different scenarios to calculate a desired futures. Keith exhibits foresight different than his siblings (who have children young, do not go to school, etc.) when he puts his education and career before having a family. I do not know if thinking through his life and foreseeing his community work would impact his decision to go away to college, to not help his siblings immensely to go to college, etc.

10/5/16: 2x2 Grid

10/7/16: Generic Futures

Prompt: Take one of your life scenarios and explore it through Dator’s four generic futures.

The future I have chosen to explore is the one I am currently in? on the path to? Anyway, I have chosen my career in design for this exercise.

In a continued growth scenario, I would graduate with my Industrial Design degree and go to work at a large company , most likely. I would enjoy the environment and the work, but would feel unfulfilled working on projects I am not entirely passionate about. I would foster hobbies and side projects to supplement my portfolio. Eventually, I would quit my job and found a start-up on join an emerging company in the area of redesigning for end-of life as baby boomers continue to flood the industry. I would be in a long term relationship but not married, with no children but dogs. I would be living in a non-metropolitan city.

In a collapse scenario, I would graduate with my Industrial Design degree and go to work at a tech company, and hate the work so much that I get fed up with design and take some time off from the industry, which may become a permanent hiatus. I would take on work in another industry and possibly move to a metropolitan area. Because of my departure I lost contact with friends and family, and would not make an effort to reconnect.

In a disciplined future, I would graduate and move on to a design career in the tech industry, because that is what CMU designers do. I may jump around from company to company, but never move into environments, service, or transformative design because even though I may enjoy that more, the leap may be unpredictable and would be avoided. I would most likely be very unhappy, but would stay along the conveyer belt that seems to start here at CMU. I would meet someone and get married and have children because that is “what you do at that age”, and would aspire to live in a smart house, because that is what the Kool-Aid tells me to want.

In a transformative scenario, I would graduate and work for two years at a startup in my industry of choice, which would be the transition design of the death industry. I would then go back to graduate school to earn a more specific degree that I can apply to my work. I would make an active choice to move to a location that aligned with my values, or the values that I aspire to have such as mindfulness, non-obsessive emphasis on health, and a sense of community. I would live with a partner and pets, but presumably no children.

10/12/16: Futures Wheel

10/25/16: CLA Futures Wheel


I left a job doing digital design at a large tech company to found my own startup in 2020.


There are numerous problems that I would face in this scenario. I would most likely need to move from the larger city with a higher cost of living to a smaller city. I would be making less (or even no) money and have to adjust my diet, housing accommodation, car, and other aspects of life to accommodate this salary change. Although I would be presumably be happier or more fulfilled with the work I was doing at my new company, I may miss the stability and time to work on side projects with my old job. I may be required to go back to school for a graduate degree if I plan to return to my old job or a similar position.

Social System and Structure:

As an introvert and someone who needs to have a firm hold on their own schedule and values, I tend to not be very receptive to company-mediated work-life-balance. The social system implemented at large tech companies where there is forced acquaintance with managers and other superior positions makes me feel uncomfortable. After working in that atmosphere for a number of years and then leaving to be more independent, I would have to reorganize my social system to not primarily include coworkers. This will depend on the city in which I was located, the life services that my company provides, and where my friends from high school and college are living.


The shift in worldview that would accompany my shift from large to small business would presumably be quite drastic. While liberal, the worldview at a large tech company is very privileged, due to the amount of education it requires to get a job in the field as well as the perks that accompany it. However, the amount of exposure to other cultures increases because of research trips and understanding who you are designing for. After leaving, I may end up with a narrower worldview because it will not be part of my job to research other cultures and be surrounded by those that are researching as well.

Myths and Metaphors:

I think that this scenario supports the future I want for myself. Personal agency and correlating my actions closely with my values is very important to me, much more than working on projects that I am not particularly passionate about, but have the money and means to live a more than comfortable lifestyle. Personal changes that would I would have to make in order to make this future a lasting reality would be increasing my entrepreneurial expertise, making networking and strengthening relationships a priority, and devoting all of my time to work.

In Class 11/16:

In Class 11/18:

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