Don’t Predict the Future, Design it!

Tarun Durga
4 min readOct 14, 2021


Let’s get this out of the way — No one can foretell the future, but we can anticipate change and prepare for it. Future forecasting is not about predicting the future, it’s about setting direction. It typically looks at a 10 year horizon — where we begin by gathering signals, amplify them to imagine potential scenarios, choose the scenario we want and backward engineer to develop the road map.

My journey into future forecasting was sparked by an observation. As a design thinker I service 2 areas across different sectors — brand strategy and digital transformation. Over the last year I’ve observed clusters of asks arising from specific industries for periods of 2–3 months. It’s like a sector suddenly wakes up — and everyone wants more or less the same things. My original question was “Is there a way to forecast demand across different sectors over the next 3 years?” That insight would be invaluable for business — if I can share it with my clients, it will enable them to move quickly in the right direction. Here is what triggered that thought:

Sectors and Needs from September 2021 to October 2022
Automotive — ICE

  • Huge traction in the automotive space as sales of mid budget cars pick up — focus on integrating bot based messenger services to offset call center costs.
  • Focus on creating awareness and training around digitalization of all functions — IoT, Martech, Digital Twins, HSE.

Automotive — EV

  • Discussions around the EV ecosystem — value propositions and branding for EV public transport and battery manufacturers / distributors.
  • Customer touchpoint mapping for EV sales across multiple channels.

Financial Services

  • Small NBFCs wanting to go digital with a focus on optimising lead generation and service fulfillment at the last mile.
  • Larger NBFCs and banks focusing on end to end digital lending journeys for unsecured low value loans.

Healthcare & Wellness

  • Vaccine manufacturing industry feeling the need to ramp up marketing implementation across the globe.
  • Rise of alternative medicine for mental health, sexual wellness, body hacking with supplements in various formats — Nootropics, Nutraceuticals, Ayurveda — and the need for market definition and branding.

Human Capital

  • Keeping employees engaged with a focus on “happiness” creation and career guidance.
  • Learning beyond technical skills.
  • Value proposition design for a new generation of e-learning platforms.
  • Gamification for motivation, but confused with gaming.

I realised I had a good question, but it was the wrong goal for 2 reasons:

  1. Strategic forecasting is not very effective for near futures, but
  2. It’s great for digital transformation over a longer time frame

Signals — events, inventions, policies, actions — once spotted can be clustered to identify an underlying driver of change — the key motivating factor that can trigger different possible futures. Think of this as news of the Earth warming up, melting of glaciers, wars being fought over fossil fuel, the Oil Lobby manipulating government policies — these can all be classified as Climate Crisis — a critical driver of change. This in turn can lead to a series of scenarios.

When we amplify these signals, they start to become more distinct as the passage of time increases. Provocative scenarios begin to emerge clearly in that sweet spot of 8–10 years. In contrast, if we try to ascertain scenarios over the coming 1–3 years, they are more hazy — because not enough time has passed to give them a semblance of shape. We can’t design for them, because they aren’t mature enough. This is not to say it can’t be done — it is done, but it is infinitely more useful to project further out than closer in. It gives us time to build towards something we can picture more clearly.

One way to think of future forecasting is to see it as Design Fiction. We don’t know what will happen in the mid term to long term, but if we consider plausible signals we can imagine more possible outcomes. These can be both positive and negative, and while we don’t need to like them all, we can and should work towards making the ideal outcome happen. We need to lead by design and build that roadmap.

Another good thing about working with an 8–10 year horizon is that we can design more holistically. We can consider concepts like Life Centered Design, instead of Human Centered Design — and take into account the lifecycle of systems, processes and products with an eye on how they will end — ideally in a planet friendly way. We have the breadth to do this, instead of reacting to short term stimulus.

I have become an obsessive collector of signals since I’ve stepped into this space. There are signs everywhere, small events that can trigger massive change. I’d like to share a fun exercise I came across in IFTF’s Future Forecasting Program. It’s a good summation of this perspective.

Think about a driver of change and apply it in context of something you truly care about — project this 10 years into the future. For instance, I think of the Rise of Autonomous Vehicles as my driver of change. I add this to Increasing Government Surveillance, which I’m very concerned about. And I see a future where automotive brands will be at war with governments over the releasing of customer travel data — much like Apple vs. Autocracy today. What outcomes can you plan for? What opportunities can they lead to? Borrowing from Picasso — Everything you can imagine is real, when you have a decade to design it.



Tarun Durga

I help people think clearly about the problems they want to solve & more creatively about the options they might not have considered. I also draw obsessively.