Stuart Candy took his card game to South by Southwest this spring to help teach mayors from around the country to think like futurists.
“The Thing From The Future” is an award-winning imagination game and tool for envisioning alternative tomorrows. It is published by the Situation Lab, a collaboration between Candy, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, and Jeff Watson, a professor in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.
The object of the game is to come up with the most entertaining and thought-provoking descriptions of hypothetical objects from different near-, medium- and long-term futures. It is designed not only for fun, but also for supporting strategic conversation. Organizations around the world, from the United Nations Development Program to IDEO, use the game to explore future possibilities relevant to their missions.
“What players get out of the game has two layers,” Candy said. “The first is the delight of discovery, of coming up with your own provocative or interesting or funny ideas about how various futures might unfold. The other layer is learning to use your imagination more skillfully.”
“The Thing From the Future” played a key role at this year’s Civic I/O summit at SXSW. The focus of the summit was “Civic Imagination.” In collaboration with the Institute for the Future’s Governance Futures Lab and supported by trained volunteers from across the country, Candy and the Situation Lab led about 20 mayors in playing a special “Cities Edition” of the game, created especially for the occasion.
“The mayors were extraordinarily receptive,” Candy said. “There was great variety in the geographies, cultures and politics represented across the group, but they all immediately started using the foresight tools we shared. And some of the concepts the mayors generated are now being turned into posters from the future, to appear at the annual US Conference of Mayors later this year.”
When it comes to building a capacity for foresight, a game-based approach can be enormously helpful, Candy said.
“Thinking about medium- and long-term futures in a granular way is not easy. The future is not just where all hope lives, it's where our fears live, too,” he said. “So a game can offer a more psychologically accessible on-ramp for venturing into those places. But ‘The Thing From The Future’ is not designed to work in only one mood: it can support wild and absurd flights of fancy, or very deep and serious exploration.”
Candy brings his desire to bring futures and design together in his work at the School of Design.
“Currently a lot of design does not really take the longer-term into account, although the work on Transition Design being developed at CMU’s School of Design directly responds to that,” Candy said.
“Foresight or futures literacy is a key piece of the puzzle. What we're engaged in now is, to our knowledge, the first comprehensive integration of foresight throughout a design school curriculum. We've acknowledged this as a core competency for 21st-century designers, and are making sure all our students have a chance to develop it.
“CMU is fast establishing itself as the destination for rigorous, futures-informed design training. And as it turns out, adding these dimensions to the work also brings incredible opportunities to make design more exciting and fun,” Candy said.