Smart Thoughts

About Designing the Future

You Can’t Have Better Futures Without Better Dreams

Written by: Ruth Wylie

The human future as a design space – what does that mean to you?

Conceiving the future as a design space creates agency and accountability. The future is something we are building collectively, through our actions and our daily choices. By shifting the conversation about the future towards something we are intentionally designing versus an inevitable and unknown tomorrow, we can begin to build the futures we want to see.

At the Center for Science and the Imagination, our goal is to ignite the collective imagination to create better futures. Viewing the creation of human future through a design lens enables a number of methodologies and processes that can be used to shape these conversations about the future.  For example, in our work, we typically bring together interdisciplinary groups of experts like writers, artists, scientists, and engineers to develop positive and technically grounded visions of the future. This has a resulted in publications like Hieroglyph and Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures. These works envision possible futures and encourage the reader to reflect on new possibilities and implications. An important feature of these publications is that they include both fiction and nonfiction pieces. The fiction serves to inspire and encourage thinking about possible futures, while the non-fiction serves as a starting point and identifies possible paths to turn the fiction into reality.

Another example is the work we did with Emerge 2018: Luna City. Emerge is an annual festival of futures where artists, designers, engineers, and scientists come together to think about and create the future. In 2018, the theme of Emerge was life on the moon.  Visitors to Emerge were invited to participate in an immersive experience that depicted life on the moon in 2175. During the experience, guests were encouraged to explore the neighborhood and interact with over 20 performers who played the citizens of Luna City. Each visit included a different neighborhood ritual. For example, one celebrated the recent death of a citizen where mourners shared stories from her life as her remains were returned to the carbon cycle of the system. Another ritual portrayed how the city’s conflicts were resolved. Through this experience, guests to Luna City were encouraged to reflect on their relationship with the future and, hopefully, to recognize their role in designing the future they want for themselves and future generations. More broadly, these projects highlight how viewing the future as a design space and developing playful and thoughtful methodologies combine to create inclusive and hopeful futures for all.


About Ruth Wylie 

Ruth is the assistant director of Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination and an assistant research professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Ruth earned her PhD in Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University in 2011 and her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley, in Cognitive Science with minors in Computer Science and Education. Ruth concentrates on interdisciplinary, translational research that leverages knowledge and insights from theory and laboratory studies to answer real-world problems. Her previous research projects have been on the design, development, and implementation of educational technology for students and teachers in middle schools, high schools, and universities.