Design2050 Communiqué 1.1

TO: Design Studio Masters

Design2050 is the theme that I proposed to the ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) for their biennial World Congress to take place in Singapore in November 2009. The local organization responsible for designing and delivering the program is DesignSingapore. I am a member of their board of advisors and principal advisor to the ICSID organizing committee.

Nine Design Concept Teams around the world are being led by world reknowned Design Studio Masters. Each team has selected a “big problem”  of their choosing to redesign for broad adoption at scale by 2050. They have chosen themes ranging from mobility, cities and food production to healthcare, entertainment and joy. Participants in the studios include students and young designers paired with a professional design organization. We set up a CollectiveX group site to make the collaborative work visible to all as it progresses.

My job is as Principal Advisor to coach the 9 Design Concept Teams and to introduce the Design2050 theme at the Congress and sum it all up at the end.

Here is the introduction I wrote for the Congress announcement:

“ What distinguishes designers is an ability to take an imaginative leap into possible futures. So let us:

Imagine that we possess the knowledge, technology, economic means and leadership to design an intentional future of successful life for all on a thriving Earth.

Make 2050 the time horizon for full adoption at global scale of redesigned economic, social, environmental, political and technological systems.

Backcast to what has to happen starting Monday morning to achieve progressive decade-by-decade goals leading to 2050.

Deploy all the tools of design thinking, strategy, planning, innovation and systems design to create a sustainable world of economic, social and environmental equity, justice, health, opportunity and creative fulfillment.”

For more information about the ICSID Congress and DESIGN2050 go to:

As of July 2009, the Design Studios are all making headway on DESIGN2050 Scenarios in their chosen topic areas.

I thought it might be useful to create an additional scenario for the DESIGN2050 Initiative itself – a meta-scenario. if you will – describing what the best possible long range outcome of DESIGN2050 might look like.

Besides, I am getting envious that the Design Studios are having all the fun. I want to do a 2050 scenario too!

The following scenario is s a communiqué written from the future perspective of the year 2050. It looks back at the decade-by-decade pathway of the DESIGN2050 Initiative, leading from the Singapore ICSID Congress of 2009 up to fulfillment in the year 2050 of our goal of Redesigning Life on Earth.

For each successive decade, I have written a short narrative of likely enabling and inhibiting factors – assumptions drawn from a broad spectrum of current strategic scenario plans, forecasts and projections.

I do not suggest that the Design Studios should agree with or adopt any of my assumptions.


DESIGN2050 Communiqué 1.1

Note: This Communiqué assumes today’s date is July in the year 2050!

DATE: July 2050

FROM: Arnold Wasserman

TO: Design Studio Masters

Now that we have reached our original target date of 2050 for Redesigning Life on Earth, it seems an appropriate moment to look back and reflect on how we got here.

THE LAUNCH OF DESIGN2050: November 2009

Just over 40 years ago, in 2009, Design Singapore invited 9 Design Masters from around the world to form Design Studios to imagine life in 2050. They were asked to create “normative” scenarios, that is, design narratives of what intentional, desired life on the planet could and should be like in 2050 and what steps would be required to achieve it.

Each studio chose their own topic, which ranged across health care, food production, mobility and sustainable cities, production and consumption. They called the project DESIGN2050.

The occasion was the World Congress of ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) held in Singapore in November of 2009. There, the studio teams presented their future scenarios and discussed them with 1,000 attendees from around the world

It was Design Singapore’s intention to launch a worldwide initiative toward an audacious goal, framed in the DESIGN2050 MANIFESTO:


We, the world’s design community, dedicate ourselves to the biggest design problem of all: Redesigning  Life on Earth.

By 2050 – over the next generation and a half – we will redesign and help deploy at scale the complex systemic changes necessary for 10 billion people to live a life of equity, justice, health, opportunity and creative fulfillment. We will design a civilization that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable on a single planet’s resources.

DESIGN2050 is the most daunting and imperative design challenge of our time. Each one of us is going to start working on it Monday morning.”

Today, in 2050, of course, all of us are taught to think and work like designers. It is hard for us to imagine that back in 2009 most people thought of the future as simply “how things will turn out”, rather than as a product of deliberate design.

Most people thought about the future as a linear projection of the present. But designers thought differently. They inquired deeply into peoples’ lives in the present as the basis for taking an imaginative leap into desired futures. Then they integrated backwards into what has to happen starting Monday morning to bring those futures into being. They called that process “design thinking” and, believe it or not, it was a novel way of thinking back in 2009.

In addition, designers had an ability to take masses of undifferentiated information and make knowledge structures out of it, assembling it into visual models and frameworks that gave it clarity and meaning and made it usable for decision-making.

Scenarios written from-the-future-back, used in the right context, were able to break through to innovative possibilities that simply were not visible through a from-the-present-forward lens. Designers believed that compelling narratives of a desired future, based on insight into peoples’ needs and wants, could positively shape public policy, give direction to private investment, and motivate individual behavior.

It turned out they were right.

As we know today, DESIGN2050 exceeded the most optimistic expectations of its organizers. At the end of the Congress, Design Singapore announced the establishment by the Government of Singapore of the DESIGN2050 INITIATIVE to carry the project forward. All 1,000 attendees signed the DESIGN2050 MANIFESTO.


The Design Studio teams did four things that became the model for the hundreds of thousands of teams that subsequently sprang up around the world.

First, they formed multidisciplinary teams, including strategic scenario planners, scientists and domain experts. The teams surveyed the literature of their topic to understand the forces likely to drive future change. They did their own observations of peoples’ emergent needs, wants, values, behaviors, influencers and motivators. They postulated “wild cards” and scanned for “faint signals” of future events.

Second, they applied design skills to create clear systems models to make their complex problems intelligible and visible.

Third, they generated design visualizations and simulations to bring tangible and compelling visions of 2050 believably to life for people living in 2009.

Finally, each team “back-cast” their scenarios to describe the pathways that would have to lead decade-by-decade from 2009 to 2050, describing the solution milestones required along the way. This helped people living in the troubled and uncertain days of 2009 understand that there were achievable actions they could take toward their desired future. For however enticed people might be by visions of distant futures, they best understand change in their own lives progressively and incrementally.

Looking back today from 2050, we can see that the decades did not unfold exactly as the teams predicted. But forecasts never do. Unforseeable social, economic and political events always intervene. The crucial discipline the teams adopted was a “resilient-systems-thinking” mentality. This means one has to start generating concepts based on incomplete knowledge and best-information projections and then flexibly respond to new information, adjust to events, correct course, learn, feed back and iterate. These are, of course, the core meta-skills of ideation and progressive prototyping that all designers apply routinely to design projects.

With DESIGN2050, designers demonstrated how to apply these same skills to ideate and progressively prototype the Redesign of Life on Earth.

HOW WE GOT FROM 2009 TO 2050:




Immediately after the 2009 Singapore ICSID Congress , DESIGN2050 went into planetary orbit. Self-organizing, open social technologies of networking, world-sourcing, open innovation and virtual worlds took over. By the end of 2010, there were 100,000 Design Studios around the world – in schools, design firms, corporations, government agencies, policy-making institutions, NGOs and international organizations. DESIGN2050 Studios started up in garages (and virtual garages) in partnership with grassroots citizen organizations of all kinds. A worldwide project to Redesign Life on Earth was under way.


The credit and securities-trading crises drove the world’s economies into Depression. Unemployment in many nations passed 20%. Civil disorder was widespread. Global environmental accords turned adversarial as nations contended for resources and energy. Iran and Israel’s nuclear exchange threw the Middle East into chaos. Water wars broke out. A succession of pandemics killed millions and further impoverished billions of people. When the U.S. defaulted on its debts, China broke diplomatic relations and the two nations came to the brink of war. The U.S. Dollar was displaced as the world’s reserve currency by a basket of international currencies.



As the generation that had created the world crises began to pass from power, a new cadre of design-fluent social and technological entrepreneurs emerged above-ground. They began to gain traction, roll out and scale up the new models of economically, socially and environmentally sustainable enterprise, production and consumption that had bubbled up from the myriad experiments proliferating during the TEENS. Of all nations, only the EU hit its carbon targets, eschewing market mechanisms in favor of stiff regulation. China’s control economy emerged as the world leader in sustainable post-petroleum technologies; smart, green cities; and non-polluting, alternative fuel transportation.


In the U.S., Latin America and Africa, governance lagged behind the advent of new enterprise models and accelerating shifts in peoples’ values, behaviors and expectations. Corruption became endemic at all levels of government as politicians colluded with big incumbent corporations in last-ditch efforts to protect industry monopolies. Increase in global warming, greenhouse gas emission and sea-level rise continued at critical rates. Global accords remained unachievable.



New enterprise, social, economic and environmental models reached critical mass. Sustainable production and consumption practices rapidly became dominant.

True-cost pricing became universal. A worldwide portfolio of alternative energy sources began to achieve economic efficiency and scale. New, broadly democratized financial regimes and capital markets ensured widespread equity and opportunity. The rest of the world fell in step with the EU’s and China’s lead on sustainability. Wellness and health care became universally available and affordable. Education was completely reengineered based on the neuroscience and sociology of learning and creativity. Schoolchildren now took creative arts and fitness courses throughout their education. Schools now taught design thinking, human-centered innovation and systems thinking as core meta-subjects. After decades of disorder, nations finally got down to the hard of work of building new world accords for finance, trade, food and resources. Wherever governments lagged, people used social technologies to create their own trans-national, extra-governmental institutions and to expose and expunge corruption and mismanagement.


A diminishing “wedge” of all of the inhibitors of the TEENS and TWENTIES persisted into the THIRTIES, even as the wedge of new enterprise, social, economic and environmental models grew rapidly. The friction between these two life paradigms created social dissonance. Social groups already disproportionately hard hit by the Depression felt unprepared to participate in new world opportunities. Remediation of persisting class inequities became a rancorous public controversy.



Food production is now de-petrolized, fully solarized and increasingly localized. Diverse polyculture has replaced intensive industrial monoculture. All cities have gardens, forests and farms woven throughout the urban fabric. On the edges of cities, suburbs have been replaced with farmland, reversing a century of sprawl. Public transportation is ubiquitous. Communities are designed for walking and biking access to everything. There is no air pollution. People born in this decade will live healthy active lives to the age of 130. Healthy diet and lifestyle plus genetic technologies have reversed the rate of increase of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and alzheimers, resulting in a 2/3 reduction in health-care costs. Aids is nearly eradicated. As a consequence of wider-spread prosperity, birth rates have begun to decline. Greenhouse gas emissions are 90% of what they were in 2009. Global warming has begun to decline. Polar ice sheets are rebuilding. The hole in the ozone layer is healing. Material culture – the making and consuming of stuff ­– has decisively shifted from the “more is better–growth at all costs” model of industrial capitalism to a “better is better–sustainable growth” model of natural capitalism. A new smart, responsible, competent and cosmopolitan generation of leaders now control the levers of capital, business and government.


The oligopolies of Big Agriculture, Big Chemical, Big Pharma, Big Finance and Bad Governance that brought on the crises of THE TEENS have been deposed. But if ordinary citizens again become complacent and lose vigilance, as they did in the first decade of the 21ST Century, surely new hyper-concentrations of power will emerge, along with their attendant economic, social and environmental distortions. There can no longer be “ordinary citizens.” We all now see ourselves as designers of our future, collaborators in the perpetual Redesign of Life on Earth–a habit of mind that is inculcated throughout education.


With each passing decade, hundreds of thousands more Design Studios have formed, some around very large, complex systems problems, others around particular local issues. One Studio may operate for years or decades; another for a week or a month.

And with each passing decade, the design horizon gets pushed ahead – to 2060, 2070, 2080 and beyond.

What began as a hopeful intuition in 2009 now has become an embedded institution of civic life throughout the world – a perpetual open collaboratory for Redesigning Life on Earth.

Arnold Wasserman

July 2050

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