The term 'Experiential Futures' was coined by Stuart Candy in his dissertation The Futures of Everyday Life to describe a range of formats complementary to the predominantly intellectually focused exploration of images of the future in futures studies (and beyond). From what we could find so far, experiential futures comes the closest to our ideas about prehearsing the future, a link we hope to deepen in Future Fabulators and elsewhere.
The general purpose of futures studies could be regarded as the provision of tools for the invention and pursuit of preferred futures; that is, the reconciliation of hopes and expectations. But it begins and ends, finally, with what any individual does in relation to those things. (…) [It is] the most potent political tool, to enable people to systematically redistribute the sensible at will and on their own behalf. (…) development and spread of futures tools rather than the outcomes of their application [is our concern]. (…)
(…) we pluralised ‘future’, mapping hyperdimensional possibility space in a notional cone containing countless dots, each one of which, on a close zoom, turned out to be another future world, corresponding to the innumerable and ever-shifting ‘images of the future’ that we all carry in our minds. We saw, however, that this reflected a far more complex conception of the future than a linear or binary one, and required some new tools to manage it. [We discussed] (…) the range of discursive technologies for manifesting future possibilities and located these on an ‘ontological spectrum’ from what if, to as if, to is. (…) As the experiential gulf narrows, we noted, the impacts become stronger, but so too do the ethical risks. We must be prepared to reckon with the complexities and hazards attending the development of this practice. (…)
Neuroscience and psychology pointed us to the promising, so far little explored country of ‘experiential scenarios’ which include the register of experience (affect, emotion, intuition) alongside analysis (logic, reason, judgment) in the human processing system. (…) as the experiential gulf becomes narrower, futures conversation can become more vibrant, by providing a shared vocabulary and reference point in memory for those involved. (…)
To design, futures brings a holistic and systematic view of the range of longer-term impacts of today’s decisions; and design brings a concrete, communicatively potent form of exploration and an ethos of pragmatic efficacy to futures. (…)
(…) my vision of what a futurist can and should be does not primarily entail telling people what the future can or should be, but consists in encouraging and enabling as many as possible to make such discoveries for themselves. (…)
The conundrum of the Unthinkable and the Unimaginable is everyone’s issue – certainly not just ‘futurists’, nor designers, nor those who happen to have dedicated themselves to political theory or activism; nor just the displaced former residents of New Orleans, nor yet the casualties of Detroit’s seemingly inexorable decline. It is everyone’s problem. Futures studies is a community of thinkers that has defined and directly addressed it as such. But the Great Conversation needs to belong to us all, as do all the discursive technologies, principles of experiential futures design, and other paraphernalia of wiser, ongoing conversation and political self-reinvention. (…)
Three principles for designing experiential scenarios
1. Don’t break the universe
This phrase, offered by our frequent design partner Matthew Jensen, became something of a master principle for developing experiential scenarios. It means that a scenario or artifact should ideally be presented on its own terms, as if transplanted from a fully realised, coherent, concretely existing alternate (or rather, future) universe.
2. The tip of the iceberg
It is both physically and metaphysically impossible to render a complete experience to-scale of a whole future. Such an ambition would be, to use a Borgesian figure, like trying to create a map the size of the territory
3. The art of the double take
The third principle for designing and staging experiential scenarios is what we have called ‘the art of the double take’. The basic idea springs from an playful, exploratory, ‘decolonising’ ethos best captured by Dator’s so-called ‘Second Law of the Future’, which holds that ‘Any useful statement about the future should at first appear to be ridiculous’.432 In this view, a key contribution of futures thinking is specifically to encourage the examination, as opposed to the automatic reinforcement, of expectations and assumptions.
The design of any experiential scenario in any setting requires one to take account of the same generic factors: Who are the audience members, and what kind of experience would you like them to have; what is the future narrative in question, and to what extent will it be a ‘static’ scenario (providing a snapshot of some future world) versus ‘dynamic’ (setting out the whole backstory from the actual-present to the future-present of the scenario); what are the spaces and media at one’s disposal; if it is a live experience, as opposed to a film or gallery artifact, whether it will be ‘immersive’ in the sense of incorporating the audience’s presence in the scene, or whether it will instead rely on the traditional ‘fourth wall’ of the theatre, and pretend that no one is watching.
From The Futures of Everyday Life by Stuart Candy
More quotes and reading notes from Candy's thesis can be found on this page.
Noah Raford. "From Design Fiction to Experiential Futures"
Experiential futures, design fiction, artifacts from the future or speculative fiction. Regardless of its name, there has been a surge in this kind of futures work in the last 24 months. Advocates such as Stuart Candy, Bruce Sterling, Anab Jain, Justin Pickard, Nicolas Nova and Julian Bleeker argue that design-based futures are not just a shiny form of communication, but are a distinct way of practicing futures research itself. Highly visual, often emotional, and ethnographically infused, their approach brings the future alive through videos, objects, and print media. The result, they argue, is a profoundly engaging experience that goes beyond technical reports and PowerPoint presentations towards a new level of engagement.“
[The] question of how to create possible futures is strongly connected to negotiations and politics in existing situations. Finding appropriate methods to face controversial contexts and challenges – climate change, financial crises and embodied technologies – is one of the core challenges of our world today, involving all of us, here and now”