Elliott P Montgomery’s POV
This interview is part of the collection called FuturED, that explores the relationship between education and futures study. We created a form to interview educators, academics, designers, and anyone who works in the field of design fiction, speculative design, critical design and so on.
The result is a mix of different visions, tools, methods, to teach how to think at the futures.
Elliott P. Montgomery is a design researcher and strategist and whose work focuses on speculative inquiries at the confluence of social, technological and environmental impact. He is an Assistant Professor of Strategic Design at Parsons School of Design, and co-founder of The Extrapolation Factory, a design-futures studio based in Brooklyn.
As Near Future Designers it’s not unusual for us to have difficulty to explain our job, because there isn’t yet a common perception of why and how the exploration of possible futures would be a profession.
For this we would like to issue a challenge to you today:
Can you explain to us what you do as you would explain it to your parents?
We live in societies which regularly prompt us to think about the future, but then never teach us how to do so effectively. I help communities and organizations design long-term future scenarios by introducing tactics that are used by professional and academic experts.
Today Future is a hot topic. Why, in your opinion? How do you relate to future? Why do people talk about future instead of futures, plural?
Some people may be experiencing a spike in discourse around “futures” over the last couple years. In actuality, evidence suggests that interest in the topic has remained flat. Google searches for the term “future” have been relatively consistent over more than a decade, predictably increasing around the new year each year. It’s likely that the term “future” was equally popular in prior decades, before the birth of Google. Historical events such as the World’s Fairs built fanfare around the notion of the future. The topic of “future” is spiking in small communities, particularly in design. This perceived spike may be traceable to a handful of individuals who have incorporated “futures” into their work, and have done an exceptional job of promoting themselves. This seems to be a natural progression of the evolution of design, expanding from a practice of production to include a discipline of social impact.
Future is a complex matter, involving culture, technology, psychology, anthropology, complex dynamics and a whole lot of other things.
What does it mean to study and research the future and, connecting with the
previous question, what does it mean to “teach” how to study and research the future? How do you do it?
Studying futures is a actually a study of the past, and then a thoughtful projection of possible future scenarios. Teaching futures-research is a wide-ranging undertaking but the principle element is to help a student build a sense of agency over futures. Once an individual feels that they can impact futures, they are able to approach the concept as a design space, with an active mindframe, as opposed to a sense of predetermined outcomes.
Which education models and practices do you think are more useful in your practice? Talks, lectures, workshops, experiences, e-learning, masters…Do you have an educational model or practice which you would consider to be the perfect one? Maybe something which is not currently possible or expected in current universities and schools?
Combined teaching approaches seem to be most effective. Collaborative, applied activities supported by lectures and workshops provide opportunities for students to gain exposure to concepts and precedent work, to briefly experiment with techniques, and then to practice applying these approaches within defined contexts.
Finally, what do you think if we say that “the Future doesn’t exist”?
Futures absolutely exist, as productive fictional narratives that we tell ourselves to achieve compromise, guide decisions and develop plans.