Need to sell the future? Let people feel it today
People love the future, yet it is too abstract, distant and often strange.
To make things worse, selling assumptions is one of the most difficult tasks. Easily logics can be challenged, broken, and destroyed by others and especially power structures.
Yet there is a solution to ease this process. Make the future interactive, and allow people to experiment with what value the solutions add to people. Let your people talk with the people in the future by creating a dialog or deep dive into a sound reality where the solution makes sense and drives business.
The future and the present is about empathy. If we contextualize, let stakeholders feel, see or interact with the future, and by the way, with the solutions they connect with new emerging logic. The first step of making the strange more familiar.
Design Fiction offers an interesting contribution, as its goal has been to go beyond the already known and explore more extensively the possible — with fewer restrictions. It delivers prototypes from the future, called “Future Props.”
As objects that present logic and ideas of the present in a material form, Future Props go beyond telling a story toward active conversations with the future.[v] Props represent intermediate and powerful “objects” to enrich a story of the future in the same way as good science fiction does — immersive, imaginative, and imminent.[vi] They’re objects that enrich our setting, transcending complex and abstract future perspectives.
Digital or physical, “Future Props” offer interactivity, allowing the user to experience validating the future in new ways, logically and intuitively. As the future is unknown and functionality is difficult to reproduce, Future Props represent static but immersive mock-ups. They are not truly “functional,” per se, but their simulated functions and characteristics illustrate how they are objects that “function properly and which people use.”[vii]
This illusionary but still-perceived fidelity is highly valued for future work, making the abstract “reliable.”
Also, Future Props are not exact representations of a viable scientific theory or the technological possibility of the present, but instead, they offer a proof of possibility with which we can connect as a visitor to the future. When we add those future prototypes to our stories, we increase their richness and intuitive understanding of relationship and interaction and guide the executive to explore what new value the organization can generate in the future.
Working with a home appliance corporation, we identified several driving needs of People of the Future. The project team had a challenging task — to make the future tangible. Not for experts, but for the overall organization, so that employees could interact and comment, starting a collaborative conversation on future possibilities. The team went for a solution embracing three concepts.
First, we used visual storytelling, with its connected logic of how we got there. These charts — creating a tunnel from the present reality to the explored future — gave us the idea to develop a story, telling how we got to the future, using step-by-step storytelling of the changes.
The second solution was a simulation using physical and digital objects. The participants interacted with an immersive space, with projections of “objects from the future.” Where the projections created a part of the setting that adapted to the objects, the Future Props aimed to create engagement. Though not technologically functional, they generated insights into how people would use such objects. They showed the researched “urgent need.”
Finally, we hired actors to engage in simulation-based interactions. Each assumed a researched Persona of the Future, and while briefed on general characteristics, they had the liberty to react and improvise based on the alignment. Visitors were encouraged to interact freely with the actors, ask questions and give/receive feedback, creating a new, empathic understanding. They were able to live in both the present and the future. It was a beautiful, inspiring, immersive way of communicating and connecting with the future.
This interactive experience allayed many doubts and turned critics of insights and foresight into believers. But most importantly, it created a setting to live in the future and to identify and validate ideas for new Value Offerings.
Where storytelling is a narrative and simulation equals experimentation, both benefit from prototypes.
Objects enrich context, transforming words into something tangible. They allow us to experience the context in new ways, and make present solutions understandable through interaction, triggering emotions from sending a chill down your spine to making you feel warm and welcome.
We live in a world of objects, and it makes more than sense to use the same form of representation to transform a seemingly blank story setting into a rich possibility of interaction.
Many forms of prototypes exist in form and function relative to the resources available, the audience, the logic, and which emotions to be triggered. They help us to clarify the scope and requirements of a certain challenge or represent a solution for valid feasibility, interaction, and experiences. Prototypes can be created in many ways, from designing experiences, digital representations, clay, paper and office supplies, 3D printouts… there are also uses so sophisticated that I couldn’t explain them all here, nor is that the intent of this chapter. Instead, I aim to illustrate their importance in creating an affinity with concepts and ideas.
They enrich the setting and provoke experiences, allowing us to communicate the desired and the expected better. They ease experimentation, collaboration, and validation of present logic. Creating prototypes transforms ideas into experiences, making any context far more understandable — and alive.
We experiment with a new reality when we immerse ourselves in a simulation. The concept isn’t new. Intuitively, we used this logic for many years during our childhood.
We grew up interacting with a strange new world, the reality our parents lived in. Playing with our toys, we adapted objects to interact with an imaginary world we created that made sense for us. We learned about the world and beyond through touch, imagination, and interaction. This interaction defines simulations and makes the concept different from a predefined narrative. Storytelling explains something but doesn’t allow us to create our understanding of the content. In innovation, design, as in foresight, simulation is a powerful way to enable experimentation with future realities, explore experiences and possibilities, and understand what is plausible. It generates experiences by allowing us to manipulate objects as we would in the future. We can engage with a prototype to understand its function, explore the logic of a system, or gauge our way of reacting in alternative situations. Describing angst or love is completely different from experiencing it.
Simulation allows the behavior of the interactor to merge with the researched reality. The concept allows us to feel something new, experiment, and create using our interpretation. It must be noted that without such interaction, no simulation can exist. Absent manipulation and interaction, the content generates no value. The merger of the real-life challenge with the simulated reality defines sense-making output. Users learn to understand and make their judgments of the experience. The future is complex, and simulation allows us to understand new rules and the larger picture. It confronts our biases, increases our understanding, and changes mental models.
We can watch a soccer game, but to play soccer is a completely different experience.[iii] Simulation started to explain things. Still, through the creation of offline and digital settings, it embraces a new immersive way of experimentation, going beyond the typical binary ending of a story. Storytelling and simulation share common elements (characters, settings, and events). Their mechanics, however, are essentially different.[iv]
We all enjoy hearing a story, picturing it, and sometimes even wanting to be part of it. We listen to the narrative and relate to a character that allows us to experience reality through different eyes. Introduced to a new possibility by a structured representation of the possible, we create an emotional and logical response.
Robert McKee, an award-winning writer, and director, says that the emotional perspective is key to establishing a positive link. He argues a story has to “fulfill a profound need to grasp the pattern of living — not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a personal, emotional experience.”[i] If we cannot engage people in the present with our story, the ideas will likely be rejected.[ii]
Emotions are about sense-making. When we discussed the “heart” of the Focal Question, we explored what drives people in the present, and what inspires them.
Affective storytelling is key when we explore the “People of the Future” and how they interact with society. We must understand the “profound need” of their lives, why it changes, and how we can serve it as an organization. Transforming the foresight into a narrative, we describe options for the people, what they can do, and what their day might look like. Those stories allow us to understand what drives people in the future and what they value.
Yet we create an even deeper understanding when we connect the story with an immersive experience. Ways of achieving this more emphatic connection are through simulations and interactions with objects in the future.
The future starts when you can sell it today. Start now!
Question: What is the purpose of Design Fiction and Future Props in envisioning the future?
Answer: Design Fiction and Future Props serve as interactive and immersive prototypes from the future. They allow stakeholders to experiment, engage with, and validate future possibilities, which increases their understanding of the possible outcomes and helps to contextualize new ideas and innovations.
Question: How did the home appliance corporation make the future tangible for its employees?
Answer: The corporation made the future tangible through a combination of visual storytelling, simulation with physical and digital objects, and role-play with hired actors. This immersive and interactive approach allowed employees to engage in conversations about future possibilities, thereby making the abstract concepts of the future more relatable and tangible.
Question: What is the significance of prototyping in the context of this text?
Answer: Prototyping transforms abstract ideas into tangible experiences. By creating physical or digital objects that represent potential solutions, prototypes enable stakeholders to interact with and understand these solutions, enriching their understanding and making the concept more alive and relatable.
Question: How does simulation help in understanding the future?
Answer: Simulation allows individuals to immerse themselves in a new reality and experiment with it. Through interaction with prototypes and manipulatable objects, individuals gain a deeper understanding of potential future realities, which confronts biases, enhances comprehension, and modifies mental models.
Question: Why is storytelling crucial when exploring the future according to this text?
Answer: Storytelling is a powerful tool for conveying potential future scenarios. It enables listeners to emotionally and logically connect with future possibilities, thereby fostering a deeper understanding and acceptance of new ideas. By combining storytelling with immersive experiences, such as simulations, a more empathic connection to the future can be established.
[i] Alan, McKee. 2003
[ii] Adapted from Michel, Godet. 1996
[iii] Perron, Frasca. 2003. p.223
[iv] Perron, Frasca. 2003. p.221–226
[v] Adapted from Julian, Bleecker. 2010. pp.58
[vi] Julian, Bleecker. 2010. p.64
[vii] David A., Kirby. 2009