At denkwerk, we work with futures-thinking and future-proofing methods to develop strategies with clients that are based on a potential future.
Considering the future is an important aspect of product development. When we do this, we examine the future and the patterns and behaviors it will bring – to give us substantial guidance for the present. We achieve this using our two workshop formats based on a design-thinking context: With futures thinking, we develop new ideas and analyze them with the participants. We use them to build prototypes which – as artifacts from the future – help stimulate deep conversation and provide tangible guidance. With the second format, future proofing, we investigate the acceptance of a product. Both form part of our development and are elementary components of our design process.
Both form part of our development and are elementary components of our design process. We have used these methods for clients’ projects and, what’s more, presented them at multiple conferences with workshops offered on the side, like at EuroAI 2018 in Dublin and UXInsight 2019 in Utrecht.
It is an exciting thing to have a think about the future and let our clients and workshop participants immerse themselves in a future world. The substantial findings from them can include strategies, tendencies, and directions that a client can use to align a company based on these results.
What happens first is that a client comes to us seeking to develop innovations or test products. However, this approach presents a problem. It involves applying today’s perspective, since change does not come that easily for most people. If you fall in love with an idea or product, you want to see it through and test it with users. On the other hand, though, it is difficult to predict in the here and now how users will use the product in a changed context – or in the future. Product development only seldom looks at and questions how and to what extent technologies – and society – are developing. User behaviors also change, and users might not accept a product at all at first. In short, many product ideas and innovations fail because they cannot last.
Futures thinking offers a playful approach for picturing future scenarios positively. Using this method, we can open up perspectives for new and future trends. Our goal is to carve out an actionable future with substantial guidance for the things that need to be done now. During the workshop, we build new worlds with the participants and create prototypes and solutions. Some of the key questions can include: How might something work in ten years’ time? What does looking outside the box achieve? Reflecting on this is the deciding factor. We synthesize and structure the results to produce valuable approaches and improvements that flow into the regular product-development cycle.
Future proofing, for us, is fixing the mistakes of the future and detecting blind spots. We look for them in the workshop using the pre-mortem method. In this thought experiment, the participants imagine that they are at a funeral for a product – one that is as yet undeveloped – and have to write an obituary for it. Another variety involves dystopian scenarios from the future (worst-case scenarios), where participants think of the worst possible case in which a product could fail. We then analyze the scenarios to find out whether we can dig out the sore points. Do we have an answer to them or have they not yet been considered during development?
Our approach addresses these points because the overall conditions cannot be changed at this point. If you have to consider so many components in product development, like legal or logistical matters, you can tend to lose track of the human aspect. With this method, we establish a feeling for possible risks and can question and evaluate different aspects better.
Future proofing allows us to ask questions and frame problems in terms of the future. We do not predict a future that stimulates major debates among civil society. Rather, we work on the practical realization of a concept with our client. One client, for instance, came to us with a prototype and wanted to discuss potential marketing activities for it during the workshop. After a session of future proofing with the team, the client realized that a few crucial blind spots and snares had not been considered. The result? Instead of a marketing strategy, the client’s team went back to development to clean up those potential messes.