Design for the New

Last couple of weeks we have been working on a new course for the Master on Design for Emerging Futures, a joint program of Elisava and IAAC. One of our main goals for this course is to prototype some ideas from our reserarch concerning Performing Transitions. I will try to keep track of my main learnings from that process.

In this first post I will start by explaining the syllabus and main structure of the course.

Frame of the subject and fit in MDeF

The learning process in the MDeF has materialised over the last few months into a personal project on the part of each student. These projects constitute socio-technical interventions on reality which take as reference the coordinates offered in the contents of the master: urban environment, digital manufacturing, technology, new design postures … These interventions are beginning to outline possible, critical and/or desirable futures that are to be constituted as alternative normalities.

One of the pillars of the evolving body of knowledge that constitutes Transition Design is that of the theories of change, that is, the mental, theoretical and practical frameworks under which change happens and is meant. In this context, Transition Design bets on a reconquest of everydayness as a political positioning and an engine of change that builds bridges between the hitherto opposed theories that explain change from normative structures and the individual agency.

One of the most promising cultural theories for explaining social phenomena and analysing everyday life is that of Social Practices. The analysis of present practices as well as their historical evolution and future potentialities creates fertile ground for an aesthetic policy that questions the status-quo and overcomes the crisis of imagination in which we live submerged as a civilization. We believe the adoption of this tools, mindsets and theoretical scaffolds might expand design’s ability to construct preferred futures from a systems perspective.

Throughout the course the design interventions proposed by the students will be framed under the theory of social practices as a means for:

  • Understanding and reflecting on the implications of the performativity of everyday life in the creation of new normalities from a mind-body perspective and the role that design plays in that context.
  • Designing paths of transition from the present (and its practices) to the desired scenarios through strategic interventions in the metaphorical, material and practical spheres through the construction of speculative prototypes (material, performative, narrative…)
  • Engaging in a process to iterate, concretize and refine students’ projects integrating the learnings of Transition Design and the work on social practices.

Targeted competencies and goals

  • Learn how to integrate a futures and systems centered practice into the design process.
  • Learn how to bridge discursive and speculative work with a system transition perspective.
  • Learn how to embed alternative ways of knowing, thinking and reflecting in our posture as designers.
  • Explore a continuum of strategies for system change both at a structure and granular level.
  • Enrich the students’ projects with a transition pathway towards the creation of new normalities involved in their work.

Structure by days

DAY 1 (april 26th)

  1. 15’ Introduction to the course
    1. explain that this is a research field for us on design of social practices.
  2. 30’ Frameworks and theory– Transition Design and theories of change (Max-Neef needs, Social Practice Theory and Socio-technical transitions).
    1. Theories of change – intentionality
    2. Human needs – we have developed different ways to satisfy these needs (Max-Neef).
  3. 2h 15’ Practice – Using the student’s projects as a reference we will use different lenses (temporal and ontological) to assess their future fitness by mapping stakeholders and their needs, understanding current ecologies of practices and deconstructing them in order to find design intervention points.
  • Stakeholder needs mapping
  • Historical analysis of related practices
  • Analysis of emerging practices
  • Future practice envisioning
  • Collective practice deconstruction
  1. Homework for next session – Practice mapping and deconstruction

DAY 2 (may 9th)

  1. 40’ Check-in about the homework. Feedback circle.
  2. 30’ Frameworks and theory– Transition design and new ways of designing. From user centered design to xenodesign. Speculative and discursive design. Performing transitions and embodied intelligence.
  3. 1h 50’ Practice – Pulling from the practice deconstruction performed during the time between sessions we will explore the potentialities of different interventions in the present that may lead to the targeted future social practices. For this we will use a combination of tools and frames that might help iterate, test and discuss the different approaches.
  • Tasting of different tools for imagining alternatives: speculative prototyping, ontographic machines, mental landscapes, forced metaphors, experiential futures, performing transitions, LARP…
  • Defining KPIs and measurements of impact
  • Outlining of a transition path using the spatio-temporal matrix
  • Defining the interventions to be designed next session

DAY 3 (may 10th)

  1. 20’ Check-in about previous session. Feedback circle.
  2. 120’ Practice – In this last part of the course we will focus in one of the mapped interventions of the previous sessions and design it from a performative perspective. Throughout this workshop each of the students will design performative situations in order to explore future social practices from other kinds of intelligences and ways of knowing such as embodied cognition and gut-level discernment.

40’ Presentations – performance of the interventions


Transition Design Seminar. Carnegie Mellon Design School (2019).

Xenodesignerly Ways of Knowing. Johanna Schmeer (2019).


System Innovation and the Transition to Sustainability: Theory, Evidence and Policy. Elzen B, Geels FW, Green K, Eds (2004).

Typology of Sociotechnical Transition Pathways. Research Policy 36. pp 54-79. Geels, Frank W. and Schott, Johan (2007).

Implications of Social Practice Theory for Sustainable Design. Kuijer, S.C. (2014).

Designing change by living change. Kakee Scott, Jaco Quist and Conny Bakker (2012).

Extrapolation Factory Operator’s Manual. Montgomery and Woebken (2016).

Performing transitions within emergent paradigms. Grace Polifroni, Mercè Rua and Markel Cormenzana (2019).


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