Have you heard from time travelling designers? Neither did I. Designers are often thinking about the future and the impact they can have on it. However, it can be hard to think of the future for people who do not regularly engage with the future. Time travel always sounds like a science fiction story, but let’s try bringing it closer to the here and now. How can time travelling help designers to enable non-designers to imagine their future?
How to travel in time?
Let’s start with a small thought experiment. Ask yourself the following questions: How old will I be in 2038? Where would I live? What happened with the development of AI? What role is technology playing in our everyday life?
Diving deeper into the thought experiment, what if the answers to the last two questions were not ideal or slightly concerning? What concerns should we be aware of currently, and how can these insights help us to steer our path towards a different future? For designers speculating on the future development of trends and concerns is a common practice, as there are many methods, such as speculative design, design fiction, experiential futures and many more. Our ideation shapes the future and lives through our images, often shaping our actions in the present (Candy & Kornet, 2019). However, by doing the thought exercise of time travelling, you are challenged to think from the perspective of coming from the future to the present, reflect on how society has developed in the years in between, and reflect on how this makes you feel.
Time travelling with children
Time travelling as a design method can help to imagine the future we are now heading into, also called the projected future. Time travelling could help designers to design for a different direction for the future. However, one of the difficulties of time travelling is that the concept of time is often hard to grasp. The metaphor of children makes time more concrete when thinking of time travelling and the future because everyone can imagine the timespan of having a child or even a grandchild. If you think about 2038 from the age of 25-ish, you can see yourself having a child within 15 years. Or if your child is currently going to primary school, in 15 years, they may have moved out of your house. If you think of the age of 50-ish, you might already have a grandchild in 15 years. So everyone can relate to the timespan of childhood.
Another way of looking at time and our current influence on the future related to children is inspired by the song from the Manic Street Preachers released in 1998, ‘If you tolerate this, your children will be next’. The actions we perform now influence our and our children’s future.
How to communicate futures
Looking at the projected future, society will have different challenges than we currently have. Concerns of today about future technology, data, or AI, might become a reality in 15 years. What might the challenges be for future children, parents and grandparents, and how can we communicate these challenging futures? People might relate to or understand the proposed future better by showing the future in everyday objects from the now.
To continue with the child metaphor, children’s books are very good at addressing and explaining complicated topics to children (PDST, 2020). Therefore, communicating a future about possible societal challenges in a children’s book can help people understand and reflect on the projected future. At the same time, the format of the children’s book can help future (grand)parents imagine this is something they will read to their children.
So, to conclude, I hope your takeaway is that time-travelling does not need to be highly futuristic and scientific and I hope that you will think of which stories you might tell your (grand)children in 15 years and try to see how your everyday actions are tied to this.
Candy, S., & Kornet, K. (2019). Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures. Journal of Futures Studies, 23, 3–22. https://doi.org/10.6531/JFS.201903_23(3).0002
PDST. (2020). Children’s Books for Wellbeing. Professional Development Service for Teachers. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from https://www.pdst.ie/sites/default/files/Children%27s%20Books%20for%20Wellbeing%20.pdf
N. Jones. (1998). If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next [Recorded by Manic Street Preachers]. On This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours [Album]. Rockfield: Epic.
The header image was created with the assistance of DALL·E 2 with the description: “A hand drawn rocket in space where a parent is reading a bedtime story to his child”