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Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Futuring—complexity as normality

Designers are trained to formulate innovation in the messy mix of high opportunity, hard challenges and accelerating complexity. We can envision audacious impacts when dealing with both future uncertainty and complacency of the moment. In the modernist world, design has led the continuous production of consumer products and high-tech platforms and services, delivering “value” to people—to customers. In a postmodern world, where matters of concern are more at issue in innovation than matters of fact (Latour, 2008), designers have sought to lead the way out of the consumerist and high-tech innovation traps. However, when we consider that our future foresight will always be critically limited and impeded by social bias, politics, and culture, are designers—even systemic designers—able to guide the way toward futuring rather than defuturing by default?

Over the past two decades, the design world has been infused with technological innovation, shifting toward possible (ostensibly positive) futures, and we are pushed to explore the edges of enterprises, services, and society. The field has been spiked with entrepreneurship and buffeted by emerging technology, and a chalk circle has been drawn with not-for-profit on one side and business on the other. Doubtless, designers have placed themselves into innovation, but according to Dulmini Perera and Tony Fry, much of our innovation results in defuturing, leaving designers with a paradox. Do we act now on a design-led vision and make the best of innovation opportunities? Or do we counsel patience, observe the unfolding of technology and use incremental interventions to shape a better, pro-social future outcome? Are we foreclosing on flourishing human and ecological futures if we ignore the consequences of unwitting innovation?

Design defuturing foregrounds the complex dialectical relation between creation and destruction, emphasising that every form of design futuring also acts to erase other futures. What can we do to lead complex innovation toward futuring, even when, especially when we cannot see the long-term consequences of our decisions? (Perera & Fry, 2022)

Futuring is situated in cybernetics’ transdisciplinary space—in the company of others who share “a discipline for understanding systems that have a purpose” (Castelanos et al., 2022) and that designers have a duty of care.

I have to be responsible for the fact that I am doing the observing. I am not an objective creature. I am subject to my values, my perceptions, my biases. And that means we’re responsible for what I say I see. Because there isn’t objectivity for me to claim, “Oh, it’s not me saying that.” And second order cybernetics. Is the embrace of that. The acknowledgement and the embrace that I am responsible for my actions, for my language, for my arguments, for my positions, really for everything. (Pangaro, 2016)


Perera, D. & Fry, T. (2022). Contra-Innovation: Expanding the innovation imperative in the context of futuring, defuturing and fictioning. Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal, 1.

Latour, B. (2008). A cautious Prometheus? A few steps toward a philosophy of design. In Proceedings of the 2008 Annual International Conference of the Design History Society (pp. 2–10).

Castelanos, C., Xiao Fang, X., & Pangaro, P. (2022) Pandemic of ‘Today’s AI’ #NewMacy.

Pangaro, P. (2016). Designing Conversations for Socially-Conscious Design. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD11) Symposium.

Pangaro, P. ( 2016) Designing Conversations for Socially-Conscious Design [Resources]

OCAD University logo

OCADU Strategic Foresight and Innovation (MDes) programme hosted RSD12-Toronto, a positive, affirmative time to be part of an interdisciplinary gathering of people considering uncertainty and complexity in the context of possible, preferable, or avoidable futures.


Cheryl May

The CANSEE 2023 Planetary Panel, co-hosted with the International Society for Ecological Economics, highlighted a shared interest in facilitating systems change for prosperous futures and building connections between systemic design and ecological economic communities.

Talks: Innovation

Talks: Innovation

Gijs Rempt, Sine Celik and Stein Wetzer | Krasimira Bozhinkova, Kevin Richard, and Andreea-Daiana Zavate | Emile Mazerant and Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer | Elisabeth Tschavgova, Elise Talgorn, Charlotte Kobus, Jo van Engelen, Conny Bakker, and Sonja van Dam | Jelena Sucic, Susu Nousala, David Ing, and Gary Metcalf

Talks: Humans & Machines

Talks: Humans & Machines

Espen Strange, Kjetil Nordby, and Rigmor Baraas | Christine Wacta | Michaela Honauer | Anna-Louisa Peeters, Nynke Tromp and Paul Hekkert | Alma Culén, Ines Junge, Nicholas Stevens, and William Gaver

Talks: Futuring

Talks: Futuring

Scott Matter, Nadiya Safonova, Sonia Chwalek, and Anastasia Chebakova

Briefs: Synergies & Transdisciplinary

Briefs: Synergies & Transdisciplinary

Mey Goh and Salma Ghulma, Chris Moore, Cecilia Landa-Avila, Gyuchan Jun, Antuela Tako, Patrick Waterson, Ian Hodgkinson and Siyuan Ji, Simon Downs, Tincuta Heinzel, Hazel Ingham, Ana Andrade, Chris Elliott and Meaghan O’Neil

Briefs: Climate Action

Briefs: Climate Action

Ian Hodgkinson and Aminah Ghulam-Nabi, Marcia Tavares Smith, Bran Knowles, Kelly Widdicks, Gordon Blair, Gabrielle Samuel, Lucas Somavilla, Marina Jirotka, Carolyn Ten Holter and Federica Lucivero, Stefania Sansoni and George E. Torrens, Stefania Sansoni and George E. Torrens, Mohd Shoaib, Antuela Tako, Armando Vargas-Palacios, and Ramzi Fayad


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