Everyday Speculations for Social Change

Hillary Carey
3 min readSep 6, 2023

This post is based on an article I wrote for the European design journal, Temes de Disseny. The article can be found here, with free, open access.

Collaborative radical imagination can bring visions of social justice into vivid detail.

I. Realistic and far-future

Have you envisioned the very long-term outcomes of your fight for change? Imagining, creating, and sharing what success looks like in advocacy and activism can be a powerful and persuasive approach to social change. Whether stretching your imagination out 10 years, 30 years, or 100 years, can you imagine real change? Radical imagination is a way of exploring and experimenting with utopian thinking based in realism. Fantasy is not the only way to imagine better worlds.

In racial justice work, advocates typically describe the futures they are working toward through broad principles (“A better world is possible”) or science-fiction style fantasy (the powerful storytelling of Afrofuturism). But fantasy is not the only way to imagine what racial justice looks like, it is only the most familiar through literature. But Design Futures, the practice of creating immersive experiences, speculative objects, or vivid illustrations, makes a future pathway feel ordinary in many ways– familiar in the way it looks, but proposing something additional and new. This is a tool we can use to make racial justice strategies feel more probable, less unfamiliar, more necessary. But also a way to prototype and test and pilot and revise.

Realistic depictions of future possibilities can become shared, materialized stories of the futures we want to work toward.

II. Building believable futures

The design and experiential futures company, Superflux, are probably the most celebrated practitioners of design futures. An immersive example of the power of design futuring is an apartment set in the future. Full-scale, viewers can walk inside an urban home where food is being grown in every available space due to a global food shortage. This realistic, slightly dystopian possible future is brought to life with design materials that feel very true and very plausible. You can read more about this project on the Superflux website here.

Superflux created a full-scale, immersive experience of an apartment in the future where food and land is so scarce, we use all available space to grow our own food indoors. Source: Superflux.in

Taking advantage of the skills of designers to depict the ‘not-yet.’ What would it be like to bring future experiences of belonging and equity to life in realistic in believable detail?

III. Social Design Dreaming

If we combine the orientations of collaborative, participatory, socially-engaged design with the creative making of design speculation and experiential futures, then designers can help social justice advocates tell new stories about the work of fighting for equality. I call this Social Design Dreaming, a practice of dreaming and designing with community groups and organizations. Together we can illustrate and enact vivid visions of our future hopes and strategies.

I have been running workshops with racial justice advocates and antiracism groups to clarify and concretize the futures they are working toward. For designers, imagining something that isn’t yet true is a favorite task! “How might we…?” and “What if this could…” are well-practiced beginning for brainstorms. So in workshops, when advocates say, “Meetings feel like a place where power dynamics are oppressive.” Design facilitators respond, “OK, in our future, meetings are a space where power is shared carefully and thoughtfully.” What might that look like? And together, we begin to imagine the rituals and tools that would shape a more equitable meeting space.

Future stories help us reflect on the present– they offer a different perspective on the things we often take for granted. Utopian thinking helps disrupt what we take for granted. It helps us think of the world otherwise– beyond racism, beyond capitalism, beyond police violence, beyond devastating wealth gaps.

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Hillary Carey

Design + AntiRacism + Long-term Visions | PhD in #TransitionDesign @CarnegieMellonDesign | Coaching & Workshops @JustVisions.Co