Select Page


Reimagining the Futures Cone: Past, plurality, and perspective

Format: Workshops, RSD10, Topic: Culture & Society, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Hillary Carey, Rachel Arredondo, Mihika Bansal, and Christopher Costes

Reimaging the Futures Cone is a workshop to imagine new visual models for futuring, based on decolonizing futures literature and findings from a research project examining future visions from racial justice organizations.

Futuring approaches can help align people toward positive societal change. Yet we need tools that acknowledge history and clarify whose present is centred and cared for. The most prominent icon of design futuring, the Voros Cone, leaves out the past and begins with one, singular experience of the present. In collaborative activities, we will reflect on metaphors and orientations toward time to sketch out ideas for new models to support liberatory futuring activities.

Supporting complexity, collaboration, and context in systemic design futures

This workshop seeks to provide creative fodder for reimagining visualizations of how we intend to use futuring approaches in our work. Interactive modules will begin with learning from each other’s unique and creative perspectives, move into presentations by the facilitators, then breakout rooms to give participants a chance to talk with others about time scales and positionality, then into quiet individual time to sketch, and culminating in a gallery display of ideas.

Why the Futures Cone is inadequate

This session will provide creative space for participants to experiment with redefining how we orient ourselves toward ideas about the future. No previous knowledge about futures studies or social justice is required. There will be moments where we are asked to talk about our perspectives, listen attentively to others, and make visual representations of ideas (which can be done as simply or elaborately, digitally, or physically as you like). Participants must be willing to acknowledge that structural oppression is current and ongoing harm experienced by people around the world and be able to listen and talk about possibilities for more equity.

We draw from decoloniality scholars and our own primary research to imagine tools for futuring that break free from a settler-colonial perspective of only One World World (Escobar 2011) that prioritizes one privileged perspective of the present and future over the lived experiences of others. In our current world, situated in the contexts of modernity, capitalism, patriarchy, and whiteness, it is easy to assume existence within this world is a neutral, shared experience (de Oliveira & Martins 2019). However, there is no single everyday experience and to assume universality when designing visions will reduce the inherent intricacies that exist in the plurality of lived experiences. “The single-point origin of time also implies a shared present, which can obscure complexities of historical context as well as the diversity and situatedness of presents” (Kozubaev 2020). As we seek ways of futuring that hold an understanding of plural current worlds and the histories that have led to present inequities, the Futures Cone is inadequate.

To understand how people outside of academic spaces and design practice are making use of future visions, we conducted a research project to examine the communication material from fifteen racial justice organizations. The futures that these organizations describe as the outcomes of their justice work are not radical or unfamiliar. In fact, they are often very similar to today but envision equity for more people – making what is true for some true for everyone.

Looking to these organizations for inspiration revealed that much of the hope for racial justice in the future is based on fulfilling promises of the past and acknowledging the plurality of experiences of the present. These are two things that depictions of the popular Futures Cone do not accommodate. Designers have adopted the Voros Cone (Hancock & Bezold 1994; Voros 2003, Dunne & Raby 2013) to map the many ways a present might unfold into different types of futures. However, this model fails in helping designers see experiences and perspectives of the past that might dramatically shift the trajectory of the future. Nor does it ask designers to reflect on whose present is used as a starting point and how other present experiences might differ: “it insists that ‘we’ are all at one singular point in time, the apex of the cones from which all possible futures narrowly extend” (Tonkinwise, 2014). In this workshop, we seek to challenge design tools that erase the past and assume a universal perspective by imagining new futures models. We will create a space for designers to discuss and create models that take a broader perspective on how we intend to future.

Workshop format

120 minutes | online | maximum 40 participants

Futures Cone: Workshop Agenda

Welcome, goals, introductions, warmup

Small groups: identify and share metaphors about time

Short presentation: learnings from racial justice organizations and the futures cone

Sketching: adapt your metaphors into a tool for futuring

Short presentation: decolonizing futures perspectives

Interviewing in pairs, sharing in small groups: ways of perceiving time

Sketching: adapt your perspective into a tool for futuring

Sharing gallery


de Oliveira, P. J. V., & Martins, L. P. D. O. (2019). “Designer/Shapeshifter: A Decolonizing Redirection for Speculative and Critical Design.” Tricky Design: The Ethics of Things. Ed. Tom Fisher and Lorraine Gamman. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019. 103–114. Bloomsbury.

Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT press.

Escobar, A. (2011). Sustainability: Design for the pluriverse. Development, 54(2), pp.137-140.

Hancock, T. and Bezold, C. (1994). Possible futures, preferable futures. In The Healthcare Forum Journal (Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 23-29).

Kozubaev, S., Elsden, C., Howell, N., Søndergaard, M. L. J., Merrill, N., Schulte, B., & Wong, R. Y. (2020). Expanding Modes of Reflection in Design Futuring. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – Proceedings.

Tonkinwise, C. (2014). How We Intend to Future: Review of Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming . Design Philosophy Papers, 12(2), 169–187.

Voros, J. (2003). A generic foresight process framework. Foresight 5(3): 10–21.

Keywords: futures, decoloniality, systems change, visual models

Voros futures cone
Futures Cone

Voros, Joseph. (2003). A generic foresight process framework. Foresight. 5. 10-21. 10.1108/14636680310698379. Available from





Citation Data

Author(s): Hillary Carey, Mihika Bansal, Chris Costes and Rachel Arredondo
Title: Reimagining the Futures Cone: Past, plurality, and perspective
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 10 September 2021
Last update:
Publisher Identification:
Verified by MonsterInsights