Design for the Future

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context — a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” — Eliel Saarinen

From the perspective of design, future is the next larger context for us in the scope of time. We are the designers of our own lives; the way how we live is exactly the way how we design for our future. Since the next larger context is where our designs are really making sense, if we want a better life, we should think about what we want for our future first.

However, people are always anxious about the unknown — like future. We want to be told what would happen in the future, so we can get prepared from now on. But in the world of design, designers are the ones who define the problem. They are the ones who would think of various potentials and choose the one direction to tackle on.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” — Peter Drucker

No one else can tell how our futures look like except ourselves. Our life experience is totally designed with our own hands.

But how?

“In practice, though, our ideas of what has already happened are scarcely more solid than our predictions of tomorrow. If futurism is visionary, history is revisionary.” — Bruce Sterling

Among thousands of different ways to create a future, historical thinking is usually not the preferred one. However, I would consider history as the significant foundation when shaping our future.

What happens in future is actually the extension of what happens in the past. The past gives us memories, experience and knowledge. It is a priceless treasure that shows us all the possible ways to move forward. Though we don’t know which one is the exact path to the future and what else could appear along the way, it already gives us tons of hints to avoid bad results in the future.

Meanwhile, the problem we discovered in history may lead us to a pool of right potential directions to go. At least, we know what we can design for our future to solve the problem, and the solution could serve as the milestone to reach a better world.

“In order to build a future, you must know the past.” — Otto Frank

Steampunk is a perfect example of the future built in history, which I get to know from the works of Miyazaki Hayao. In my memories, Miyazaki Hayao’s animations were the most creative ones that gave me so much space to imagine about the flying. The stories of the animations were also very touching and romantic. They showed me a world being both futuristic and retro.

Surprisingly, I found steampunk to be even more popular nowadays. Maybe it’s because steampunk has a “structured yet flexible framework that allows for endless reinvention”, which makes it continue to grow in this evolving society. The individualism is also the power of steampunk, which meets people’s need of high-level customization to live and design.

The growth of steampunk tells us that history would never fade away while there is still future. Believe or not, history and future are always repeating in rounds. What’s old is new again. Mobile phones went from being big to small, and now back to big. The appearance of products went from being simple to delicated, and now back to simple. We are all looking for the original lifestyle in suburb to escape from the over-engineered cities. I’ve even found that one of the most popular patterns in fashion last year was exactly the same one I saw on my grandma’s shirt in my childhood. Life is such a circle.

“Historical context isn’t the only thing that makes steampunk so satisfying; there’s also the inherent logic of the genre.” — Robert Wood

Thus, in my opinion, history shouldn’t be absent when we are creating the future. Some elements and features from the previous context would still be continuous along the process of design, especially for the future of user experience. When designing for our future, we are not only the designers but also the users of our own design product — our experience in daily life. Reflecting on our past life would give us a clearer ideas of where we are heading. Similarly, when it comes to designing better future experience for users, taking what they have been through in their life into accounts would always be helpful.

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