Near Future Laboratory Imagines HarderNear Future Laboratory Imagines Harder

Hypothesis: Imagination is your evolutionary advantage.

It's what unlocks your unrealized potential.

Imagination leads to Inspiration.

Inspiration leads to Innovation

We translate unexpected, overlooked, emerging, and adjacent cultural and behaviorial trends into their possible futures to help you make sense of what could be.

And we have a Process that gets you to Imagine expansively in order to Innovate robustly.

Near Future Laboratory helps you Imagine Harder.

IMAGINEPOSSIBLEFUTURES
Soldering Image
STUDIOPLAYREAD_SEARCHWONDER

Our Services

Near Future Laboratory is the creative design, innovation, technology and strategy studio that pioneered the grounded futures practice known as Design Fiction.

It was founded by Julian Bleecker, BSEE, MSEng, Ph.D. in 2004.

Over the last twenty+ years, he has empowered some of the world's largest and most forward-thinking organizations to make sense of, and respond to, the dynamics of the kinetic and uncertain environment in which they operate. As a consultant, facilitator, creative partner, and even as an employee, Near Future Laboratory has helped these organizations amplify their ability to make meaningful strategic choices by grounding creativity and imagination into practical, tangible contexts.

We believe that the best way to prepare for the future, is to prototype it.
Learn more about the Services we've provided for our clients, collaborators, and partners.

What can we do together?

Netflix Future Of Hollywood Show Cover
FUTURESEXPERTISEEXPERIENCES

Client Roster

Design Fiction

Near Future Laboratory is known for its unique approach to translating analytic research, social-technological trends, and the dreams for possible futures of these kinds of organizations.

This approach brings clarity to the challenge of imagining strategic futures, and a vivid sense of 'what could be'.

We do this through tangible, legible, and meaningful artifacts that provoke conversations, evoke new knowledge, augment sense-making, and help guide and communicate vision.

We sometimes refer to this approach as Design Fiction — the creation of material cultural artifacts from possible futures that help clarify our decision making.

The Manual of Design Fiction

A cornerstone text for those interested in the intersection of design, creative practices, technology, research, innovation practices, and futures & foresight.

BOOKVISUAL DESIGNRETAILPUBLISHINGGRAPHIC DESIGNPRINT PRODUCTIONPRINCIPLESTHEORY

Approaches

ASIC: Assess. Synthesize. Imagine. Create.

This approach is not rigid nor fixed. There is no 'proprietary' process applied rote to every engagement.

We do a broad spectrum research and exploratoration of an idiom so as to assess trends. Next we synthesize the insights and implications obtained in order to imagine how the analytics might find their way into a world, and become integrated and integral to the world. Then we create representations of how such might become part of everyday life. This last step is crucial: it allows us to ground Imagination and make possiblity tangible and relatable.

Sometimes this feels like playing the part of an archeologist who 'digs' into possible futures and finds the shard of material that has come from that future.

Sometimes this requires experimenting with the forms we express our insights & knowledge. Sometimes it means that the arrangement of our ontological furniture should take help us see the world from other vantage points, or move us adjacent to our routine and hygienic ways of being and occupying the world. Shifting the contexts of expected outcomes, delivering insights in something that augments the old-fashioned report, PowerPoint deck or video presentation is crucial for integrating comfort with uncertainty and the unexepected.

We emphasize the creation of actual material cultural implications of the future, of the next, of change. Holding them in the hand, as if artifacts that have come from some future is instrumental in representing the dreams of possibility. When you can hold in your hand the 'not true yet', it changes the way you sense-make, communicate, and relate to the unknown.

(And it is more effective as communication, and travels more effectively, as a material artifact rather than an email or, heaven forbid, another PowerPoint deck.)

ASSESSTRENDSSYNTHESIZEINSIGHTSIMAGINEIMPLICATIONSCREATEARTIFACTSDISCOVERFUTURES

We have a process that makes sense of the unknown

What's the Future Of..

You've got questions
° What do I do next?
° How is my organization meant to operate in a kinetic and chaotic operating environment?
° What are my criteria for decision making?
° What is sense-making in a world I cannot make sense of?
° I need more context, a fresh perspective, external points of view, thoughtful discussion and new insights.

Our Futures Of..X programs are designed as expansive dives into any idiom of human activity and experience imagining into the possibility space. We look at behaviorial, sociological, cultural, technology evolutions to expand your perspectives and appreciation of change.

We take as a truth that human ingenuity, ambition, audacity — as well as hubris — can accomplish remarkable feats.

We also appreciate, and will remind you over and over, that it took nearly 6,000 years for humankind to finally put wheels on their luggage.

Most of the time, humans are content see the world as we want to see it. From our vantage point, 2 meters above the ground, we are often content to not see that far forward. Change hurts. Imagining a different way of doing things hurts. What lies over the horizon, beyond the edges of the map is where we go with our Futures of X programs, workshops, sprints, and summits.

We do this to prepare you, like exercise, for the adventure of innovation — so change won't hurt.

Prototyping Futures

Prototyping Futures captures the sense by which Near Future Laboratory operates both in the speculative and the practical/pragmatic. Materializing from the edges of plausibility or even from the edges of what 'makes sense'.

All of my ideas take shape as 'the not true *yet' — a 'Slow Messenger' that is an embodiment of the implications of a turn away from always-on, always-connected ways of being.

A quotidian product catalog that appears like so many others on our front door step or mailbox, yet this one has come Twilight Zone-like, from one a possible future or even from some nearby timeline — an 'adjacent now'.

I prioritize the making of a thing — not just discussing it, but rather using craftwork to assemble ideas in material as a prototype from a possible future to stir conversation, activate, inspire and reflect. Sometimes prototypes yield new insights as they extend conversations into physical form. Sometimes prototypes embody strategy and provide a concrete, tangible reference and representation that sits as a totem on the desk, reminding one of a set of ideas, a strategic ambition, or north star. They are always more provocative and reflective than a PDF buried in an email inbox.

PROTOTYPEFUTURESDISCOVERYMINDSET
Cornell University logo

BS Electrical Engineering

(Computational Systems Design)

University of Washington logo

MS Engineering

(Human-Computer Interaction Design, VR & History of Technology)

UCSC logo

Ph.D. History of Consciousness

(Philosophy of Technology & Culture)

Operating Systems

Actively maintaining and developing a broad range of interests, constant skills-building, curiosity, and an intrepid creative spirit are what undergird my ways of operating.

I believe Imagination is our most valuable and existentially vital capability

Bringing Creativity back into rich, meaningful collaboration with Rationality is my mission.

Finding the ways Imagination and Structure can become more integral to the epistemologies and ontologies of what we often refer to as 'work' is what I strive to achieve in what I create. There seems to me to be no more important task at hand.

Integrating Imagination into ways of sense-making and strategy isn't a deviation, but rather the way to see into the unknown. Imagination is how we see unexpected opportunities.

To Imagine thoroughly, one must have an optimism and intrepid spirit that assumes that the unexpected and unknown at the edge of the map is full of Angels — not Dragons.

HEREBEANGELS

Case Studies

TBD Catalog

The Design Fiction product catalog from a normal, ordinary, everyday possible product future.

3D DESIGNAIDESIGN FICTIONFORESIGHTFUTURES ARTIFACTPRODUCT DESIGNSTRATEGYVISUAL DESIGNVISUAL PRODUCTIONWORKSHOP

Car & Driverless

Imagine a world where things drive themselves. We created a 72 page full-color printed magazine that imagines that world with all its implications; a world where self-driving cars are normal, ordinary, and everyday.

3D DESIGNAIDESIGN FICTIONFACILITATIONFORESIGHTFUTURES ARTIFACTMAGAZINEPRINT DESIGNPRODUCT DESIGNSEMINARSTRATEGYVISUAL DESIGNVISUAL PRODUCTIONWORKSHOP

Annual Report From The Future

Every business leader should make their Annual Report from four years in their future..every year.

3D DESIGNDESIGN FICTIONFORESIGHTFUTURES DESIGNSTRATEGYVISUAL DESIGN

ADM Futures of Food

ADM, a global leader in the agribusiness sector, was looking for ways to showcase their research and development in low-carbon impact food science. ADM's Marketing & Communications Team partnered with Near Future Laboratory to conduct a comprehensive interview series with their Chief Scientists and a team of food science experts so as to imagine ways to translate their analytic work into some forms that would be grounded, legible, and relatable to the general public.

ADVERTISEMENTDESIGN FICTIONEXPERIENCE DESIGNFUTURES ARTIFACTFUTURES DESIGNMARKETING/COMMSPRODUCT DESIGNVIDEO PRODUCTION
A view of the printed Design Fiction artifact of a self-driving car quick start guide

Self-Driving Car Futures

Imagining a future of self-driving cars using the humble quick-start guide as a container of the implications and contingencies of the autonomous way of life.

DESIGN FICTIONEXPERIENCE DESIGNFACILITATIONFUTURES ARTIFACTFUTURES DESIGNGRAPHIC DESIGNIMMERSIVE DESIGNPRINT PRODUCTIONVISUAL DESIGNWORKSHOP

Workshops, Keynotes, Design Sprints

AI Futures Design Fiction Sprint

Hyper Island Design Sprint Participants

We helped Tech Concept Lab organize and facilitate a 24 hour Design Fiction + AI Design Sprint. This was done remotely between Venice Beach 🛹 California and Karlskrona 🏂🏽 Sweden. The objective was to expose students to the mechanics of ideation, innovation, and imagination through Design Fiction. For my participation, I presented a 'Design Fiction 101' overview with some examples of past projects. There was some Q&A from the audience and then they engaged in their sprint. I joined some of the groups for more focussed discussion and review of their projects before they presented to judges.

DESIGN FICTIONDESIGN SPRINTWORKSHOP

AIGA National Conference

Keynote presentation by Julian Bleecker at AIGA 2022

I was asked to deliver a Keynote presentation at the 2022 AIGA National Conference. The presentation was a discussion of Design Fiction and it's 'Why?'. Key takeaways from the presentation were: Design fiction uses prototypes and imaginary objects to spark curiosity and conversations about possible futures; Examples like the Star Trek manual and Ikea catalog show how design fiction makes the future feel real and present; Design fiction exercises imagination and gets people thinking about the future consequences of new innovations; Organizations could use design fiction to explore strategic futures and prepare for coming societal and technological shifts.

KEYNOTEPRESENTATIONTALK

Organizing Human Creative Potential

I am constantly evolving and exploring means and mechanisms by which I can organize and facilitate unlocking the creative potential of individuals, teams, and organizations. In one way or another, I've been doing this for decades: four years as a University Professor in the graduate Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California's famous School of Cinematic Arts (USC Film School), as a start-up founder at OMATA, shepherding the Near Future Laboratory's 20 years of design/technology practice, mentoring graduate students, and countless professional, academic, and commercial workshops within Google, Amazon, the AIGA, Meta, Apple, Royal College of Art, technical consulting for Netflix film productions and many, many more.

Watch the 'What's Design Fiction' video and get a sense of the shape of an in-person Design Fiction workshop looks like for you and your team, and how it can inspire innovative thinking and unlock potential.

EVOLVEDMECHANICSFORINSPIRINGINNOVATIVEIMAGINING

Imagine Harder Summit

A private event and summit at a Frank Lloyd Wright House outside of Detroit facilitated by Near Future Laboratory to engage creative leaders in discussions about collaborating, coordinating, and amplifying the value imagination.

EVENTFACILITATIONLEARNING & DEVELOPMENTSUMMITWORKSHOP

Design Fiction Workshops

An internal workshop that presented the value of Design Fiction for creative practice. It was conducted for the benefit of a design and creative team at Apple that desired to integrate Design Fiction and speculative practices into its toolbox of approaches and methodologies. The workshop consisted of lecture, discussion, Q&A and hands-on activities.

EVENTFACILITATIONLEARNING & DEVELOPMENTWORKSHOP

Futures Talk Inspires Imagination

I've participated in a wide-range of projects beyond Big Tech engagements, including consulting to film production as a technical creative advisor, as an engaging speculator for public documentaries for television, public education, museums. I've participated, lending my insights, perspectives, and expertise on futures of many commercial sectors from 'future of social network' to 'futures of dating' and 'futures of food'.

FUTURESOF..X Y Z

Books, Work Kits & Artifacts From Possible Near Futures

"Androids Dream of Electric Sheep"

The mass-market self-help paperback Oprah's pick from an adjacent timeline in which the Sony Aibo is a massive success and the Sony Walkman is barely a passing fad

AIBOOKDESIGN FICTIONFUTURES ARTIFACTGRAPHIC DESIGNPRINT PRODUCTIONVISUAL DESIGNWRITING

"It's Time To Imagine Harder"

The Manual of Design Fiction answered "How?" - this book answers the "Why?" Why is Design Fiction particularly releavant today as an approach to clarifying strategic decision making and augmenting research implications?

BOOKESSAYGRAPHIC DESIGNPRINT DESIGNVISUAL DESIGN

The Work Kits of Design Fiction

The Work Kit of Design Fiction comes from a long line of ideation-style prompt cards — a whole sub-culture unto its own. I've created four editions of this since the very first one created in the summer of 2012 for the TBD Catalog workshop in Detroit. I made this as I was intrigued by the possibilities of generating thought-provoking and potentially preposterous concepts for products that would have to fill what would become TBD Catalog. The fun I felt about creating a generative idea generating tool was too much to ignore. It was so popular that I created 3 additional 'editions' of The Work Kit.

AIGRAPHIC DESIGNMERCHPRINT PRODUCTIONPRODUCT DESIGNRETAILTOOLS

The Manual of Design Fiction

A cornerstone text for those interested in the intersection of design, creative practices, technology, research, innovation practices, and futures & foresight.

BOOKGRAPHIC DESIGNPRINCIPLESPRINT PRODUCTIONPUBLISHINGRETAILTHEORYVISUAL DESIGN

General Seminar

LEARNING & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENTONLINEDESIGN FICTIONCOLLABORATIONEVENTSWORKSHOP

SuperSeminar

LEARNING & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENTONLINEEVENTSSALON

Podcast

CONVERSATIONCOMMUNITYCOORDINARIONCOLLABORATIONAMPLIFICATION

Community

LEARNING & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENTCOMMUNITYPROJECTSCOLLABORATION