The design team imagines a future situation about its challenge and pretends that this situation has already taken place to discover criteria for a successful design.


Who could have imagined long ago what the present-day experience of listening to music would have looked like, with wireless earphones, via a device that connects to the Internet where all music is available through a service? Imagining that situation may not have been likely. Nevertheless, someone in the past might have imagined a dreamlike situation in which listening to music was not limited by the physical presence of albums or CDs so that hearing their favourite music was possible everywhere and anytime.

Or who could have imagined in the past what the present-day air fryer, by which we can cook by circulating hot air around the food, would have looked like? Still, someone might have thought of a future situation in which they could prepare their fries without frying fat (without actually having a clear idea of how this should be achieved). This person could have written a text message to friends saying, ‘I now can prepare my favourite snacks without using fat!!’ Similarly, the person describing the future of music listening could have written an article for the local student magazine with the headline, ‘I can now listen to all of my favourite music while walking in the woods!!’

The examples show that it is very hard to imagine what a product or service will actually look like in the future. The range of future options or possibilities is so huge that it is nearly impossible to predict what will happen in product development. However, you can imagine a future product or service delivering something very valuable because, in that case, you do not have to imagine the future product itself, but what it will have done to make people very happy. When you focus on the needs or values that are important but have not yet been met, the specific development of the product need not be dealt with. Imagine really wanting to eat fat-free snacks but, like most people, you do not understand the technology; you can readily recognize the VALUE of a future fryer using hot air instead of oil.

Throughout the exercise Remembering the Future, you simulate that this future development has already taken place even though you do not actually know what it looks like), and that the resulting scenario has made the users very happy and pleased with the product or service. You then simulate the responses and reactions as users “look back” on their use of the product and express their satisfaction and appreciation in a tweet, in a discussion forum, or in the headline of a newspaper article. What would they have said?

By imagining that the future (development) has already taken place, you learn to avoid the strong tendency to presume that a future product or service will simply deliver more of what you already know. For example, a portable music device should be able to carry more tracks; a fryer should be able to make less greasy snacks by using less fat. When you think exclusively about the experience of success and the value it delivers, your thoughts open to exploring a wider range of possible solutions as you are stimulated toward more radical potential for innovation.

In this first stage in innovation and design thinking, two specific goals of Remembering the Future should be the focus:

  1. Abstract your thought processes from the current approach and context by freeing your imagination, thus opening up the exploration of possibilities.
  2. Get a fresh understanding of what is important to users by developing greater empathy.


Imagine what your product or service will have done to make users happy (or successful or safe or secure or smart – choose the set of adjectives that work best for your product). Make sure you express how it has increased their quality of life, so that the meaning/value of the product or service becomes clear.

Individually, each of the team members will write this down in the form of a tweet sent by these users.

Why not simulate a celebrity response on her own twitter feed? Imagine Billie Eilish writing “With this product (X) I don’t have to use my car that often anymore to get to my studio and can contribute to more sustainable commuting.” Think about how a user would interact in a discussion forum after having found a solution to a specific problem. Also imagine how journalists – online and on paper – would report on this product or service and the catchy headlines their editors would create.

On sticky notes, using two different colours, each team member should create 2 to 4 tweets and comments by users and another 2 to 4 headlines by journalists.

Move the sticky notes to a shared space where they are mixed with the creations by the other team members so that you can all  discuss what you have written as you move the tweets, comments and headlines around to reveal relevant clusters that determine any patterns or themes. An open and playful attitude will promote maximum exploration of the value and criteria for successful design especially since there is still no pressure to reach any conclusions.