Six Design Elements of the Emerging Future
The goal of ‘futuring’ is not to predict the future, but to prepare for the possibilities. To rise to this challenge, our response must be human-centred, innovative and radically imaginative. To facilitate this discussion, following are six possible futures we believe will emerge. Each can be consumed individually, or combined with the others to form interesting clusters.
1. Leftover Spaces
Physical spaces will become much more dynamic. Our spaces will adapt and change multiple times a day, responding to new metrics for how we value usage and judge capacity.
IDEAL CAPACITY NO LONGER MEANS MAXIMUM CAPACITY. In response to increased public health and safety regulations, the max capacity of physical spaces dramatically reduces. Businesses, events and retailers that previously relied on maximizing turnover of guests will fundamentally rethink how to best use the space leftover as occupancy falls.
THE ABILITY TO MONETIZE SPACE TAKES ON MULTIPLE MODELS BASED ON SHIFTING CONSUMER PREFERENCES FOR SAFETY. Concerns like avoiding peak hours, understanding who used the space before you and the intention of a visit influence the design and selling of spaces. Creative utilization models such as charging more for private appointments emerge as alternatives to the standard block of open hours.
2. Rapid Evolution
Organizations that have the agility and creativity to repurpose their resources — people, infrastructure and offerings — will be more resilient and competitive.
DESIGNING SHIFTS TO AN EXTREME FOCUS ON THE SHORT TERM. The highly unpredictable future renders any multi-year plan irrelevant. Our plans change every few months, weeks or even days. This creates opportunities for more dynamic pricing and offerings that reflect supply and demand in real time. This requires redesigning how we think about weddings, sporting events, concerts — frankly any large-scale event planned farin advance.
DE-RISKING THE FUTURE MEANS EXPERIMENTING WITH MULTIPLE FUTURES. The post-pandemic world increases ambiguity for everyone. Past precedent and performance no longer apply as indicators of future success. Creating diversified offerings is necessary for de-risking businesses, and developing a non-linear prototyping mindset is more important than ever.
3. Permeating Identity
The online versions of ourselves will take on new importance as data collection, interpretation and management have heightened physical significance.
OUR PHYSICAL INTERACTIONS NOW LEAVE DIGITAL FOOTPRINTS. It’s easy to keep track of our own interactions in the world, but trusting the health and safety of others proves tricky. Shareable tracking of connections and relying on concrete data collection to provide both peace of mind and reassurance is done in the interest of public health and security. Think Internet cookies, but physical. Information such as where we’ve been, what we did, who we met with — all gets tracked and embedded into our digital selves for smarter decision-making and risk assessment.
OUR DIGITAL IDENTITIES POSSESS PHYSICAL SIGNIFICANCE. Looking to lead healthier lifestyles, we take steps to not put ourselves or the people we care about at risk. Our digital selves become much more important as they take a greater role in the choices and actions we make in person. The online data that represents us begins to push out, influencing physical interactions to a much greater extent.
4. Deliberate Adventure
People demand safety and rely on their trusted circles in times of uncertainty, yet they still crave moments of serendipitous discovery. Within safe boundaries, they take calculated risks to explore the unknown.
RELATIONSHIPS ARE MORE INTENTIONAL AND HIGHLY CURATED. In times of emergency, we prioritize safety and crave comfort in familiarity. Because the stakes are high and missteps are costly, we become more sensitive to taking risks and choose who to interact with more consciously.
ADVENTURE MEANS TRYING AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE IN A SAFE PLACE. Discovery happens through the circle of trust built around ourselves. This circle forms the safety rails that provide the peace of mind to explore the unknown. Within this safe space, individuals within an organization are more influential than the entity itself in nudging consumer behaviour.
5. Radical Resilience
In the face of uncertainty, the pursuit of optimization and efficiency becomes less relevant, while taking care of ourselves and our immediate surroundings take over as first priority. Technologies of the future will embody care and compassion to enable this value shift.
SUCCESS AND INTIMACY INTERTWINE. The value of leisure and fun grow and possess more advantage in how we tackle difficult challenges as we shift away from the incessant urge for optimization and efficiency. Solitude and observation develop not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights. We realize some things are more important — that the present time and place, and the people here with us, are simply enough.
LOCALITY GROWS AND THRIVES. Local businesses resurge as our attention shifts from the office to our homes and communities, which are now more important than ever. Investing in our immediate neighbourhood means building stronger and more capable communities that can weather any future storms.
6. Asynchronous Rythms
When work and life happen in the same place, balance means switching mindsets rather than changing locations. As work time and family time irreversibly weave together, relationships take on new dynamics, as do the products, services and spaces that serve them.
GENDER ROLES AND EXPECTATIONS RESET. The model where long work hours keep family life secondary, with a strong division of labour, breaks down as families discover the value of spending more time together. As domestic responsibilities gradually redistribute to be more equal, opportunities emerge for men to take care of the home and family, while unburdened women share their voice in career settings. Equality at home translates to greater equality overall.
PEOPLE CRAFT WORK-LIFE RHYTHMS ON THEIR OWN TERMS. The notion of standardized hours and working five days a week fades as we spend more time at home — both professionally and privately. The division between work and home is no longer based on where we are physically, but how we spend our time at a given moment. In this world, we are liberated from the collective, synchronous timetable, putting ourselves in charge of personalizing our own work-life rhythm.
INDIVIDUAL PATTERNS SHAPE OUR CITIES. As our lifestyles become more asynchronous, the ways we use our spaces, products and services dramatically shifts to accommodate families who live together, but work separately — in the same place. Peak hours are no longer a universal truth, but very much a decision that varies from person to person. Reshaping our cities means questioning the default and finding opportunities to cater to this diversity of rhythms.
Cory Seeger is the Environments Design Lead at IDEO Tokyo. The complete Emergent Futures report is available at IDEO.com. ■