The Design of Future Visions for Large Organizations

Clarify the present with Design Fiction: A tool to discuss the priorities for today which can make a preferable future attainable

Fabien Girardin
Mar 28, 2018 · 13 min read
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1. The future is a moving target

The time horizons of innovation have shortened. New technologies and business models are emerging and expiring faster than ever before. The pace by which ideas circulate through networks, and the availability of exceptional scales of funding and resources for even the craziest of ideas magnify the importance of framing problems in time scales which are much shorter than the old standard of ten years. Shaping a clear vision is pivotal for organizations, because there is less clarity for their members about where things are heading, and why. Leaders are requested to have clear and compelling visions, and be better at communicating these visions in an effective way.

Organizations need new approaches to explore futures based on the pace of modern human creativity — to find possibilities in unexpected places that can’t be known in advance.

Leaders of today’s digital giants, such as Amazon, Tesla, and Google, clearly articulate visions, even in the face of huge short-term uncertainties. However, many other large organizations and governments struggle with newer methods for anticipating and adapting to change, as they don’t work well with old-fashioned methodologies, where visions of the future are often projected through powerpoints, written reports, white papers, or, at best, a promotional video visualizing a seamless future. Organizations need new approaches to explore futures based on the pace of modern human creativity — to find possibilities in unexpected places that can’t be known in advance.

2. Tools and building blocks

Our work has developed across multiple methodologies, some of which are in quite common use, others less so. For clarity, here’s a short explainer for some of the terms and ideas used in this article:

  • Scenarios are the frameworks or stories within which an organization considers why and how a future technology might make sense, or be useful.
  • Diegetic prototypes or “props” exist as a functional piece of technology within a fictional world. They are tangible concept depictions which act as a stand-in for a “thing” that an organization would like to showcase, question, consider, and learn from. They are often representative of uses for new technologies, and provide an accessible way for others to interrogate practicality, propriety or value.
  • Design fiction is the use of “props” to help scaffold narratives about a slightly changed world.

The future is something an organization must constantly shape and adapt to.

3. The exploration of futures is a learning process, not an output

Executives — most of them with deep knowledge of their domain, their markets, their customers, and even their organizations — sometimes lack the means to experiment with and shape their vision beyond the next quarterly plan. Frenetic and misaligned incentives within organizations too often dictate they must manage the existing business in a reactive mode, and consequently, they are routinely following a blinkered path, rather than anticipating a need for change. As managing the present takes oxygen from experimenting with futures, their time to enhance corporate imagination and strategy shrinks.

The video of the Amazon Go shows what shopping looks like when a supermarket has no checkout. Extrapolating the capacities of technologies and anticipating behaviors, Amazon shared this fiction before the concept went into a trial period.

4. The exploration of futures to set today’s priorities

Furthering the vision through a Design Fiction approach helps executives and teams increase knowledge on a new technology, display an ambition on its applications, build credibility, enlist support for its execution, counter skepticism, create momentum and incorporate common ideals. Feedback from people with different perspectives anticipates expanded junctures for opportunities and challenges.

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It is not a specification, nor is it a prediction. The micro-fictions embedded in the Ikea Catalog from the near future are where Design Fiction makes subtle suggestions about how the near future may be a bit different from today. They are meant to provoke the imagination and spark a conversation regarding the futures of connected things.

5. Putting Design Fiction into practice

The banking industry is facing major changes with the digitalization of its core business that impacts the management of risk, trust, identity and decision-making, among other things. At BBVA Data & Analytics, we spearhead BBVA’s transformation into a data-driven financial group. We operate like an ambidextrous organization with two lines of inquiry: the Inside, which is about delivering data engines to optimize and sustain the established banking industry, and the Edge, which is about exploring new growth engines (e.g. cost reduction, revenue generating, new experiences) through algorithmic research and experiments linked to business models.

At BBVA Data & Analytics, we believe the knowledge derived from financial data can transform the banking industry, its relation with customers and its role in the world. We design fictions to question our analytical capabilities through ‘What if’ scenarios.

5.1. Create a momentum with the team

Our data scientists are embedded within multidisciplinary teams from other divisions and business units. They are proactive partners who think ahead of the curve beyond incremental changes and consider the implications of their work. They participate in the framing of the problems and in the conception of ideas. Together, we examine information with an objective of regularly updating an actionable vision for our Edge agenda. They are tasked with delivering compelling insights, and experimenting with new technologies — without constraints — to contemplate these impacts and how they might best be progressed or mitigated. From this line of applied algorithmic research, we build “What if” scenarios.

By using Design Fiction, we can build speculative evidences and focus on tangible things for an organization to consider, in addition to static slides, demos and presentation documents.

While we like to “think outside the box” relative to a large financial group, we also strive to work within the vision of the organization and create understanding about it. By using Design Fiction, we can build speculative evidences and focus on tangible things for an organization to consider, in addition to static slides, demos and presentation documents. These materials directly feed the visions as part of BBVA transforming into a digital and data-driven organization.

Visions are dynamic and re-calibrated, from mapping ongoing lines of investigation to seeking feedback from their dissemination in public.

5.2. Engage the stakeholders

An organization is only as strong as its teams’ ability to collaborate with each other. We like to think that Design Fictions act as a totem or boundary objects for shared understanding, discussion and evaluation of changes that could bend visions and trajectories.

The mission of the Payments team at BBVA Data & Analytics is to create a world where services around money transactions become even more personalized and fair. A tangible vision stretching the imagination in context can open the door to new idioms and vocabulary.

5.3. Convince the decision makers

Design Fiction helps convince others of the benefits of a potential technological capacity. Feedback from people with different perspectives provides space for anticipating new opportunities and challenges. In effect, narrow frames of inquiry constrict vision, which can prevent people from exploring all aspects of an idea, thus limiting results, and often missing out on a great opportunity in favor of a workable one.

Carlos Torres, CEO of BBVA, articulating his vision of “Peace of Mind”

5.4. Transform the vision to a mandate

If response to a new concept is “What would we do next?”, we take it as a sign we’re on the right track. The near future will soon be the present, so there is a “need to constantly adapt and ask: what are we doing?, where should we go? and, what are others doing? Additional investigation through complementary tools such as the Business Model Canvas, Systems Thinking, Three Horizons, or Agile Vision, can also provide enriching answers to these questions and move from fiction to facts and reality.

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What if the design of automation together with Machine Learning techniques can lead to a dynamic and fair definition of prices? We want to make sure our technological ambition and its consequences are fully articulated within potential value propositions.

We are living in an era when social rules and business models are between the “no more” and the “not yet”.

6. Design Fiction to shape and share tangible visions

Design Fiction offers a set of values which advocates learning through curiosity, interrogation, and provocation using broadly connected themes. Like Science Fiction or an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Series Black Mirror, it can be a concrete demonstration of what emerging technologies can lead to, as well as unanticipated consequences. Design Fiction creates artifacts that deliver strategic insights to important questions. It can tell us more about the types of societies, and lives, an organization might help shape. It can tell us about the evolution of technologies, the world they might live in, the language used to describe them, people’s appropriations, the rituals, and the frustrations. It tells us about the ethics of the professionals who create these technologies, and the larger vision behind discovery. It tells us those who benefits from techno-science advances, and those who might be left behind.


Design Fictions

Stories from the Near Future Laboratory about potential…

Fabien Girardin

Written by

Researcher, engineer and executive active in digital technologies for the benefits of people and care of the planet. Co-founder of Near Future Laboratory.

Design Fictions

Stories from the Near Future Laboratory about potential tomorrows

Fabien Girardin

Written by

Researcher, engineer and executive active in digital technologies for the benefits of people and care of the planet. Co-founder of Near Future Laboratory.

Design Fictions

Stories from the Near Future Laboratory about potential tomorrows

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