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Foresight aims to understand human behaviour and improve the world

At its best, trend forecasting serves the same need as a history course: it helps both to understand the past and to predict the future. The topic will soon be available for study as part of Aalto University’s lifewide learning offering.
Different materials photo by Eeva Suorlahti

To achieve an ecologically, socially, economically, and culturally sustainable future as a society, we need at least two vital skills: the ability to understand human behaviour and the ability to imagine possible futures.

These skills are particularly relevant to design but also bring significant value to non-designers. They help to identify and anticipate trends which, as they become more widespread, will guide and shape human behaviour.

At Aalto University, this is described with the term design-driven foresight, which means looking at the changing world from a design perspective. Foresight is a way of looking at what large numbers of people are interested in and what they are not. On the other hand, foresight focuses on environmentally friendly future products, services, and materials.

"Design-driven foresight gives you the tools to understand what is happening in the world and what things are a consequence of each other. It helps us to understand our own role and human agency in society," says Heidi Paavilainen, University Lecturer in Design, who teaches the course of the same name at Aalto University.

Foresight becomes a part of the lifewide learning offering

Design-oriented foresight has been part of Aalto University's degree education since 2000, but soon it can also be studied as part of Aalto University's lifewide learning portfolio. The new program is designed to consist of bite-sized online courses and longer implementations from which learners can build their learning path.

The study of the subject is suitable for anyone, as it does not require prior knowledge. The training is particularly well-suited for designers, for whom staying up to date with new materials and material development can be useful.

Foresight can help reduce overproduction when done well

Future trends can be anticipated through various research methods. Research methods include familiar service design methods such as interviews and observation, but also "non-scientific" techniques such as (social) media, books, and movies provide a fairly good idea of where values are developing. Learners are also encouraged to develop research methods themselves.

However, there are inherent dangers, especially in social media.

"In social media, the most visible are those who make the most noise. It is interesting to reach movements that are not so loud," reflects Paavilainen.

When it is well done, foresight describes people's preferences and needs, as well as the transformation of products and materials, for example, three years into the future. Foresight is a useful tool for sustainable development because, at its best, it can help avoid overproduction of goods.

Foresight can be especially beneficial for actors aiming to reach customers and whose production volumes are significant, such as consumer goods and consumer electronics industries and the service sector.

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Lifewide Learning

Aalto University Lifewide Learning helps you develop your skills in an ever-changing environment.

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