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Symbols tell stories

Cultures of Oceania have grown from oral and visual roots. Symbols and storytelling narrate our genealogy and mythology. In the modern world we have many different modes of communication but as people of Oceania, we should always remember that symbols and storytelling is a gift from our ancestors. 

Decolonising Design Futures Workshop 

May 2017

Project Role:

Researcher &

Workshop Facilitator

As part of the Emerging Technology, Design and Indigenous Culture Symposium myself and Dr Sarah Elsie Baker conducted a ‘Decolonising Design’ workshop. We created our own version of the card game ‘A thing for the Future’. Participants randomly selected three cards that outlined a design brief. Then they sketched an object for the future that considered the context prescribed by the cards and also the overall theme of decolonisation. Resulting in a thing for a decolonised future.

Time card

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Object card

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Location card

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A Thing for  a Decolonised future 

Case Study

Speculative Design implodes on modern design with a critical lens and questions what our everyday reality in the future might look like. It is a creation of future narratives reflecting on current consumer trends to speculate alternative narratives of future ‘everyday’ realities. The value of speculative design is to challenge, critique and reframe the role of product services in everyday life.   

The Purpose of speculative design is to offer audiences an opportunity to be inspired by speculative scenarios and start thinking like a designer about the future.

The Problem 

To present a workshop that encourages participants to use speculative design approaches combined with their own creativity to reflect on and question what a decolonized future might look like, one THING at a time. 

The Team

This workshop was developed with Dr Sarah Elsie Baker, Senior Lecturer (Master of Design) and Research Coordinator at Media Design School. The first iteration of this workshop was presented as part of a Techweek AKL symposium - Emerging Technology, Design and Indigenous Culture. 

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Above: The original cards from ‘The Thing for the Future’ card deck.

Developed by Situation Lab

The Tools

This workshop was based on the open-source game ‘The Thing for the Future’ created by Situation Lab (Stuart Candy and Jeff Watson) in 2014. A card game that is played by users to engage their imaginations.


A Thing for the Future provokes players to depict hypothetical objects from near, medium and long-term futures. There are four types of cards in The Thing From The Future: 


ARC cards broadly describe different kinds of possible futures. These cards contain two kinds of information. The main (top) text of each Arc card specifies one of four generic images of alternative futures for players to imagine: Grow, Collapse, Discipline, or Transform.*

**Grow is a kind of future in which everything and everyone keeps climbing: population, production, consumption…

**Collapse is a kind of future in which life as we know it has fallen – or is falling – apart

**Discipline is a kind of future in which things are carefully managed by concerted coordination, perhaps top-down or perhaps collaboratively.

**Transform is a kind of future in which a profound historical transition has occurred, whether spiritual or technological in nature.


TERRAIN cards describe contexts, places, and topic areas. In a completed prompt, the terrain card describes where – physically or conceptually – the thing from the future might be found. Two terrains appear on each card in order to provide richer possibilities for the deck.


OBJECT cards describe the basic form of the thing from the future.


MOOD cards describe emotions that the thing from the future might evoke in an observer from the present.


Each round, players will generate a four-card creative prompt containing one of each kind of card. Based on this prompt, players will imagine a thing from the future with a challenge to create a thing for the future shown in an annotated sketch.

The Workshop

The Thing for a Decolonised Future workshop was sequenced first as lecture to set the theme then, cards to set the brief and finally a worksheet to visualise and explain the idea. 

Above: The lecture slides for introducing the workshop given by Dr Sarah Elsie Baker

Workshop Continued

Participants listened to a lecture from Dr Sarah Baker who defines the terms ‘speculative design’ and ‘decolonise’ to give all of the participants a clear and defined scope of the theme and to give the participants some inspiration. 


Guided by the cards participants were asked to define a location for their object/s referring to a map of Auckland thinking about the ‘belongings of a place’.  


Paired with the ARC card the participants as a group then brainstormed and sketched their ‘thing for the future’ that responded to time,location, object and decolonised theme that the cards had set. Resulting in a collection of things for a decolonised future.


The Thing for a Decolonised Future workshop showed potential to be helpful to the following areas: 



To get team members to reframe and project their ideas as creatives to understand the impact of design. To extend the lens of creative thinking to design more mindfully and empathetically for users. 


To help the customer have input to product development and trajectory. A way to understand the users concerns. Providing the company with a projected user vision that the company can align with to better serve customers needs into the future. 


To help members of the community to become mindful consumers of products both physical and digital. To aid community to consider the life cycle of a product and involve them in creative critical thinking around the second or third life of a product. 


This is the first stage of development for future thinking workshops to be researched within New Zealand. Beginning with the idea of decolonisation helps New Zealanders think through complex yet young histories of navigation, settlement and identity. Future developments will focus on refining the play sequence in order to achieve the best workshop experience for participants resulting in the successful culmination of ideas for things to decolonise New Zealand’s future.

Symbols tell stories 

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