Design for ‘the future’, as visualised from the standpoint of contemporary culture, business, and design, often presents a less-confronting—or whimsical reinterpretation—of artefacts depicted in sci-fi utopias. Functionally and aesthetically, mainstream or avant-garde/progressive, what is imagined for what we will be using, building, and living in 25 years or more from today is, however, mostly quite different from now. Most of these images are grounded in our current paradigms of living, consuming, construction and community, with insufficient attention to feasibility and practicality. There is little consideration of other possibilities such as new social structures, sentient cities, or non-technocentric models that rework futures in novel ways. These normative and expected—albeit imagined—images of ‘design in the future’ very much fit the ‘flat-pack futures’ and ‘used futures’ approaches—convenient and ready-to-go solutions to an unsure future. They are sufficiently corporate and recognisable images that are insufficiently confronting; they fail to foster any real shift in our sense of urgency and action.
Designers do not often confront the real and significant challenges of the twenty-first century when positing design scenarios for a sustainable earth. While it may be possible in principle to maintain economic growth without affecting the physical impact and forcing population growth down, alternative strategies clash against conservative economics and vested interests. Innovation, technology, and design remain the ‘silver bullet’ to fix our predicament—but how do we as designers navigate this complex terrain? To date, our inability to see beyond our current view of the world and our role in it has led to global overshoot and a demand for energy not matched by available resources. Our human fascination with innovation and growth remains, although the sustainable lifestyle options presented to us now may only be possible in the future constructed as a virtual reality.