Futurecasting for Product Innovation

Lesson 8/9 - Bringing Future Scenarios To Life


Futurecasting for Product Innovation


Lesson Info

Bringing Future Scenarios To Life

So now we're gonna talk about more techniques to bring futures to life. So, so far we've just been having conversations, coming up with stories, using words, but you can see how we can quickly transition from these words and stories to images. And I've already really implied some possible stories and ways to visualize the future. Whether it's about building futuristic artifacts, like some sort of reverse time capsule of the future, or it's, you know, we can tell a story with a short video or even with some sort of story board, right. So there's different ways to do this this, but the more immersive your story can be, the more real it will feel and the more immediate our decision points and our emotions will be, so it can really, truly engage with the future in a way that's compelling. So, I wanna show an example of my work and this is from the design for financial empowerment project that I worked on in New York City with the city government, with Citibank, Parsons School of Design, an...

d my firm Foossa. And so this a near-future scenario. There's nothing super high-tech or science fiction about that, but, it does show a lot of our design prototypes, as well as proposals in a system, in a story, in a scenario of the future, of this is how this public service can be. And so, when you bring a future scenario to life like this, you can, you know, it serves this inspirational marketing purpose, so we can go pitch this to funders now. We've shown this to politicians. And we can say, like, "This is what the future can be. "This is what this service can be." And so, designers and product people are doing this all the time. Every time you pitch some new idea that hasn't been built yet, you're proposing some alternate future, right? And you're trying to get people to buy into this future, but, also, to debate with that future, to engage with that future as we've done with this spiral of implications and with this back casting. So then we can look at this future scenario and say "Okay, what's necessary for us to get to that future?" and we can work backwards from there, both in terms of the resources, in terms of the tech development, in terms of all of these things. So that's why it's important to bring futures to life and if you also look at the bonus content, there's some other examples of people who've done this through live action role play, through building artifacts and through other ways of doing this but video, I think, is a really powerful way to do it that's fairly accessible to people. So, here's the video designed for financial empowerment and this near future scenario. (light piano music) (cash register pings) (customers talking) (door bells jingle) (phone beeps) (phone buzzes) This girl here is my financial advisor. We were able to establish a very good connection. Which is crucial in any kind of relationship. It's not easy for me to focus on specific matters and she's basically my mental and financial alter-ego. We talked about his personal budgeting and ... (mouse clicks) (car horn) (phone buzzes) (crowd talking and laughing) So you can see there that this was a way to bring all of these design proposals to life in this hybrid way. And we actually shot it as stop motion. So they're actually stills that were stitched together to make it a little bit easier to edit and cheaper to produce than a video. But rather than just showing maybe like slides and prototypes of the objects that we design, like that foldout membership card and map and those videos that we prototyped that we would send to the phones of clients. We could show everything in the context of the design of the client's journey, of the user journey. And so that goes back to this idea of designing in context and telling a story in context. It's not just about designing the thing or in the case of designing a service of multiple things, but showing how it works in the life cycle or in the journey of a client, of a consumer. You can also do it in even lower-fi ways, that are cheap and dirty. So I've shown this example in my design thinking classes as well, because it's just using, basically like a key note or power point to create some sort of storyboard that quickly and easily tells the story of a future service, a future product. And then from there we can spark conversation about implications. Which we've done already in our whiteboard exercise. So this sandwich squirrel story starts with me in my coworking space. And it's pretty late, I forgot to eat, because I've been working too hard, but I can fire up my app and choose the special of the day and from there, the sandwich squirrel drone comes. There's the flying squirrel and delivers my sandwich and it's delicious. And so that's just the user journey part. That's a form of prototype, but it's also a story. It's a storyboard that shows how this works. And so you can easily grok the service, but from there we can start zooming out into the larger story world. Because as a designer, you're not just designing a product or service, you're putting forward, you're proposing a world in which your product and service exists. And how does the world transform because of that? So we can think about things just from the built environment the physical environment of a city like New York, right. What does it look like with all of these drones flying around? What are the implications of legal liability and of noise and all sorts of things. And there's these social and economic implications as well. What happens to these guys when squirrel robots replace their jobs? And then there's also these sustainability ecological implications as well that we can think about. Think about what kind of energy and fuel is necessary to power all of these drones flying around everywhere, delivering sandwiches. So you've created this world, you've told it in the form of a story and then you can do the implications. You can do that spiral of implications, that ripple effect of implications to help us understand everything in this world and what we might need to consider. What choices we have to make. So at Foossa we've created this thing called the future casting canvas. Which is basically just a way to structure your thinking. So you've seen me demo this with you guys already and the canvas is basically just a way for you to organize your scenarios. And you can create multiple scenarios. And this basically just allows you to fill in the blanks as a way of organizing the information, but also prompting you to answer the questions that are relevant to building out a scenario. And then from there you can build out a storyboard, like Sandwich Squirrel, or create a more involved video like I showed with the design for financial empowerment video. So we've included this. This is available for free online. But also, we've linked to it in the downloads. If you go to Foossa.com/future we have some documentation about this and you can download the PDF. But basically, we've done all of the things on this canvas. So just to explain a little bit, it's important to have a title, right? You wanna give your scenarios and your prequels and these other stories a title to make it real, but also just make it easier for your team to talk about it and refer to it in a way that's catchy and memorable. The log line is basically just a really brief summary of what the scenario is about. So it's basically one to three sentences. If you ever go through, like looking at movies or shows when you're on your app or something like that, they'll have the really quick summary or log line as they call it in the industry. So that's just so you can easily grok what's going on. We talked about the implications already, which we've done with the ripple effect, where you just list different possible implications as bullet points. You also identify indicators, right? So we've talked about say with the LVVR scenario, the VR runway scenario. If there's some sort of runway show at a major Paris, or New York or Milan fashion week, involving VR, that's an indicator that maybe the story is starting to become real. Maybe this future is starting to become real. So figure out what some of these indicators or markers might be that are maybe indicating some sort of tipping point into reality. You can also list different actions to take. So it can be present actions that you, as an organization, you as an individual, we as an industry have to do to either make a positive future take place or to prevent a negative future from taking place. So these are choices and actions that should be considered. Especially if some of these indicators start popping up in real life. Or maybe before some of these indicators start popping up in real life. And then you can just have questions as well. It's maybe not quite an implication or you're not certain if it's an indicator, but it's helpful to just log any questions that people might have with the scenario and then log them here. And so, this is just one page of the canvas. And the idea is that you would use this canvas just replicated multiple times and generate different scenarios. Maybe there's the preferable scenario, the positive scenario. You have more negative scenarios. You might have some black swan events, some wild card events, in case of some massive, unexpected disruption. And this helps you build out your story world in a relatively short, compact way. And you can do it in a small group, you can do it with a large group, you can do it multiple times, and see what emerges through these different scenarios. And maybe even merge them together into larger story worlds that you cluster together. This is highly scalable from a small team to a large team. And then the second page of this is basically the sketch. And so you can use the future casting canvas itself to just draw a sketch here or you just use this as a placeholder to say like, okay, we'll have a storyboard to bring that scenario, that story world that we created on the previous page come to life. Or you make a video for each of these scenarios. Or you do something that's visual that really helps people engage with the scenario in some way, right? Does that make sense? Or you can even build a physical artifact. Maybe it's from that time capsule of the future that's returned to our present day. And it's just something that we can touch and play with, that really helps remind us of that future and makes it visceral and real for us.

Class Description

We live in a rapidly changing world, and that includes the world of business. To be successful, companies have to develop products and services that not only address the needs of today, but anticipate the needs of tomorrow. That’s why futurecasting is so important.

While no one can see the future, we can model and rehearse potential futures, which is what futurecasting is all about. This essential tool for design innovation and business strategy helps us imagine what the future might be so we can create a long-term vision and make it a reality.

Using techniques adapted from the military, global corporations and top design schools, this course will help you map out the best- and worst-case scenarios of the future and prepare for them.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Craft and model different future scenarios to “rehearse” for the future.
  • Engage your team in the futurecasting process.
  • Stop thinking only in the short term (e.g., annual planning, quarterly earnings) and find the space and time to think about the longer term.
  • Develop your vision and imagination about best- and worst-case future scenarios.
  • Inspire your organization to better understand and utilize futurecasting.


Cindy Wong

I thought Lee-Sean was a great, eloquent speaker. He took what could be a high-minded, abstract concept "future forecasting", and made it relatable, down-to-earth, and easy to understand to his audience. If you're interested in learning how to plan, manage, and build future scenarios (5-10+ yrs out) to have influence in your organization, this class was invaluable. He walks you through practical brainstorming techniques to come up with scenarios and shows case-studies for how you can create a narrative to show how future scenarios can become realities from present day. I enjoyed all of it.