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Juliana Proserpio, Innovating for a Desirable Future

The following excerpt is transcribed from the Zoom event that took place on 13 August 2020.

Key points

  • In a constantly changing world, if we don’t stop to consider the signals around us, we are likely to base decisions on previous strategies/outcomes that lead to irrelevant and undesirable outcomes.
  • In order to create a desirable future, it is recommended to map a potential future through three lenses; Possible Futures; Plausible Futures and then finally Preferred Futures.



Juliana Proserpio is an entrepreneur and educator. She is the Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer of ECHOS, an innovation lab and its business units: Echos – School of Design Thinking – a school that puts innovation in practice, and Echos – innovation projects. Over the last 9 years, Juliana has worked to develop an innovation ecosystem in Australia, Brazil, and recently in Portugal to foster the power of design for desirable futures.


The power of design

“Every human being is a designer. What makes us humans is the ability to create change intentionally.”
– Juliana Proserpio

Humans have not only had the ability to create new tools but have also evolved skills that work to generate intentional and unintentional change. This is how we can all look at ourselves as designers. Through the many forms of design (i.e. product, industrial, strategic etc.) we are all designing a world in which our cultures and relationships are being shaped.

The power of design comes from being intentional to create change for the better, while also wielding the power to decide how and if we want to interfere in our own ecosystem. But there are times we just don’t get it right.


How do we know if we’re creating change for the better?

This can be answered by how we see design and how we apply it to create the best solutions. According to Richard Buchanan’s Four Orders of Design, design has undergone its own evolution over the years and manifests change in various ways. Starting out from a symbol level, graphic, information, and communication design mainly made up the notion of what design was. 

With the Industrial Revolution came industrial design, which focuses on product and space architecture, while the Digital Revolution brought on service and experience design where interaction and human behaviour are key focuses. Finally, systemic design looks at the intangibles of designing organisations and businesses, and aims to make changes in our cultures. In order to create change for the better, we need to consider all the orders of design.


An ever-changing world

We have always lived in an ever changing world, but the rate at which change is occurring has accelerated. The thought about the future is often undesirable with government control and possible dystopia, further perpetuated by a growing digital world. This imagination of the future is incredibly powerful as it can influence a self-fulfilling prophecy of how the future actually unfolds. As we collectively imagine a world of dystopia, government control, technological takeover etc. there becomes a higher likelihood of those images influencing the outcome of the future. Because of this, if we don’t stop to consider the signals around us, we are likely to base decisions on previous strategies/outcomes that lead to irrelevant and undesirable outcomes.

“Those who control the fantasy, control the future. Dystopias become product roadmaps. I don’t even have words to express just how dangerous all this has become.”
– Monika Bielskyte, 
Futures researcher/futurist designer, – A Protopian Future


The impacts of COVID-19

Many examples of accelerated changes have occurred with COVID-19. Organisations have undergone digital transformation and the nature of how people work has also drastically changed. But these changes were mostly forced. And now, we are confronted with a situation in which we need to start thinking about what the future of work is going to look like.

The future of health, education, democracy are also in question and require thought if we are to avoid changes that are beyond our control. If we invest focus on changing conditions we can identify the signals of what the future of these sectors could look like. This will inform the next steps in designing our preferred futures.


Predicting the future vs. creating it

Herbert Simon defines designing as “courses of action aimed [to] change existing situations into preferred ones.”

In order to create a desirable future, it is recommended to map out your future through three lenses; Possible Futures; Plausible Futures and then finally Preferred Futures (more). By combining trends, predictions and alternatives, futures can be created with intention and more desirable outcomes. 

Intention comes from looking at what is possible, what is plausible, what is probable, and then asking what outcomes are desired so that we’re not blindly following the possibilities. To avoid this, the creation of a desirable future looks something like the following: 

  1. Analyse social needs.
  2. Identify the emergencies of the future, using weak signals. 
  3. Exercise future alternatives.
  4. Set the intention.
  5. Create a vision of the future.
  6. Future calibration.
  7. Gap between past and future.
  8. Roadmapping steps for desirable futures.
  9. Creation of the first experiment for the future.
  10. Test, recalibration and experiment the second creation.

It is your role in driving your organisation forward to observe the emergence of behavioural and technological ‘signals’. This is so that you can understand where the gaps lie and how to intervene so that possible and intentional futures can be explored faster. As with any form of design, the cycle of experimentation and testing help to identify whether the outcome is desirable or not.


How do organisations balance the design of ‘new futures’ with business as usual operations?

JP – We call it ‘backcasting’ in future design, but we start to make decisions about what we should be working and focusing on by identifying the desirable future, which then directs us to what we should be doing now. It’s not only about speculation of the future, but it’s also about what you should be doing and what you should be working now to activate this desirable future. So, you need to define this and always prioritise what’s most relevant and going to create the most impact.

With a lot of changes happening now, we’re going to have to let go of old ways in order to build the future. I think it’s easy to think about the future based on our assumptions of the past, and these assumptions are just wrong. Because if we do that, we’re going to be constantly just replicating the past expecting drastically improved or  new outcomes. You need to create priorities to open space for this future emergence, otherwise you won’t evolve and face the potential of being left behind.

How do you involve stakeholders to be part of the conversation to invest and back new initiatives?

JP – I think the best strategy I’ve used is to involve executives from the beginning of the process. Executives have intention and an important point of view. They are there for a reason and we need to also empathise with them. In design, we talk about empathy, but sometimes we only think about peer-to-peer or peer-to-customer, but not about executives. The best strategy is to involve them from the beginning and invite them to take part in strategic moments and/or see the results of experiments.

In big organisations, stakeholders typically have their 10-year strategic visions set, which are often based on technology. You should use these technological trends and use resources to build on top of that to bring intention and desirability from all of the stakeholders that you need to address – your users, your clients, your peers, internal stakeholders, partners, executives – and then you’ll be able co-create a desirable future.

How do you help instil the discipline in an organisation to sustain a culture of innovation beyond the ‘quick win’?

JP – In our experience, in order to create innovation, innovation culture, and change, you need three things. First, you need a mindset change, second, people need to learn new ways of working and third, you need quick wins. Your projects, products and deliveries should demonstrate the results of your ongoing change process.


About the Future Of Now series

Our goal at More Space For Light with the Future of Now (FON) series is to build a community of like-minded passionate professionals. Initially, this series was created as a small in-person gathering to provide a knowledge share for our and our event sponsors community of clients and partners. However, by switching our operations to remote it has allowed us to raise the bar, and include our global network.

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More about the organisations connected to this event

  • morespaceforlight.com.au – A strategy and innovation consultancy specialising in both in-person and/or remote workshops, design programs and Design Sprints.
  • MURAL.COheaps of new templates and tools. Sign up it is brilliant.
  • spacesworks.com – globally located co-working spaces.
  • hacker.exchange – a global education company that is supercharging the next generation of startups & leaders.
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