IDSR, Teaching

Barnard College, Design Futures


“A changing world might reveal itself not in the never-before-seen, but in the re-seen… It can seem like you are seeing the future. Really you’re just participating in history.”
— William Gibson in discussion with Emily Segal.

The workshop + seminar Design Futures asks students to grapple with unknowability of the future. If the future is a design problem then young designers must determine whether they will shape the future through grand visions or respond more pragmatically by mobilizing a growing knowledge of design history. Regardless of the approach, every action in the present contributes to subsequent realities. Design Futures provides a broad introduction to design culture with the argument that contemporary innovations have made the traditional boundaries of disciplines less relevant and that interaction and overlap between modes of practice constitute the new model for design processes.

Project 1

Create a Formstorming Template. The template should be an inspiring structure to capture, collect, and curate visual and verbal ideas about an evolving design issue.

Students can work alone, or with a partner, on their Formstorming Template to design a multi-column ‘grid’ organizing and distributing subject matter in a way that tracks and demonstrates your design thinking.

The Formstorming template should include at least 50 iterations of the Design Issue as a means of digging deeper into the subject matter you are studying. Exhaust the obvious; look for current representations of your topic and speculate on future shifts in meaning and depiction.


  • Template must be created in Adobe InDesign. Template organization designed by student.
  • Template must accommodate at least 50 iterations of your Design Issue.
  • 5 (of 50) iterations are analog sketches by you
  • 10 (of 50) iterations are photographs by you, processed using Abobe Photoshop.
  • 10 (of 50) iterations are digital drawings or diagrams created by you in Abobe Illustrator.
  • The rest of the iterations can be found material: printed matter, online research, scans from books, text, graphics, etc.
  • For the Midterm Review your Formstorming Template should be plotted as a full scale poster on 18” x 36” paper.

Project 2


Design a 'necessary accessory' for use by residents of planet earth in the year 2050. The accessory must be based on your formstroming design research.

The year 2050 is 28 years into our future. For reference, 28 years ago it was 1994.

In The Future as a Design Problem the authors describe two approaches to design for the future: pragmatic projection and grand visions. “Pragmatic Projection attempts to lock down the future by employing detail knowledge of the past.” Whereas by announcing a grand visions of the future, “we seek to direct present actions in such a way as to make it come to pass as something of a self-fulfilling prophecy — to predict the future by inventing it.”

Your design for a necessary accessory should both pragmatic and visionary. And it must be a concrete thing; not an app or intangible function. The accessory should propel the insights from your formstorming research into the future you are trying to create.