CarAndDriverlessCar and 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.
A Design Fiction magazine created by Near Future Laboratory from a possible future in which autonomous vehicles — indeed an entire autonomous world.
A Design Fiction magazine from a possible future in which autonomous vehicles — indeed an entire autonomous world — is normal, ordinary, and everyday. In this possible future, we take autonomous vehicles as ordinary — perhaps even boring and expected. Our children marvel at the fact that we used to drive our own cars, and that there used to be things called 'steering wheels', and that we had to keep a car at home. Documentaries are done on what 'road rage' was and how deeply it affected social interactions. Municipalities are conflicted about how to manage the sudden shortfall in revenue from parking, tickets, and licensing. Driving schools are a thing of the past. So is long-haul truck driving. These and more implications are represented in our Design Fiction Magazine from a possible Autonomous Vehicle Future.

Project Summary

A 72 page full-color Design Fiction magazine from an autonomous vehicle future based on internal strategic vision and roadmaps, industry focus, market analysis, and STEEP foresight research.

Client: Motional Executive Leadership, Engineering and Design Teams

Team: Near Future Laboratory

Client URL:



Project Year: 2022

Project Duration: 16 Weeks

Published On: Jan 20, 2024, 09:27:16 PST

Updated On: Jan 22, 2024, 16:27:12 PST

Written By: Julian Bleecker

The Project

The C-Suite of the third largest autonomous vehicle company commissioned Near Future Laboratory to help them make sense of the full-spectrum of a possible autonomous vehicle future. The result was a rich, vibrant, experiential and immersive artifact in the form of a 72 page full-color Design Fiction magazine from a possible autonomous vehicle future.

The Outcomes

Near Future Laboratory introduced a Design Fiction methodology and approach and delivered a magazine from the autonomous vehicle future, portraying the complexity of a world integrated with autonomous vehicles.

We were able to successfully bridge the gap between Motional's pioneering work in autonomous mobility and the tangible representation of its impact on future societies, basing the majority of the Design Fiction artifacts and speculative implications on research conducted by Motional's market and consumer research teams, interviews we conducted with key stakeholders, and several internal workshops with Design & Engineering teams at Motional and Hyundai, their manufacturing partner. Through intensive workshops, focused interviews, and a deep dive into collective intelligence, the project synthesized a vision of a world where autonomous vehicles are not just prevalent but ordinary, crafting a narrative that's both compelling and thought-provoking.

This Design Fiction magazine serves to indicate some of the implications of innovation, aligning teams under a rich and shared vision of the autonomous vehicle future. It provided a unique and highly creative platform for public and stakeholder engagement, as well as capturing the mundane to the profound changes anticipated in such a future, from the evolution of driving schools and the transformation of municipal revenue models to the cultural shifts in perceptions of mobility. By embedding these societal implications in a very familiar archetype, the magazine not only enhances the understanding of what's at stake but also invigorates discussions around the unseen opportunities and challenges ahead.

For Motional and Hyundai, the magazine has proven to be an invaluable tool for communication, acting as a tangible reflection of their forward-thinking ethos and creative ambition. It has facilitated meaningful conversations internally with key stakeholders, aiding in the visualization of the company's commitment to autonomous mobility. The magazine has served as an instrumental asset, aiding development discussions and research directions to bolstering recruitment efforts by showcasing the company's dedication to futures design and innovative thinking.

The magazine has augmented Motional's brand as a thought leader in the autonomous vehicle domain, while also underscoring the company's research commitments and desire to develop a deep understanding of the contingent and complex implications of machine-based autonomy. The success of this project is a testament to the power of Design Fiction in converting abstract visions into engaging, tangible artifacts that inspire, communicate, and lead.
The table of contents of a Design Fiction magazine created by Near Future Laboratory from an autonomous vehicle future.
The table of contents of a Design Fiction magazine from an autonomous vehicle future. The magazine is of the type that is for autonomous vehicle enthusiasts, supporting and promoting the lifestyle of autonomy. It might be a kind of lobbying organization in the back office, lobbying legislatures and municipalities to make sure the autonomous way of life is supported at the political and social level.
Addressing the unknown or confusing knowns by wandering in to a partial view of an autonomous vehicle future through a Design Fiction news article speculating on the existence of a non-drivers license.
Addressing the unknown or confusing knowns by wandering in to a partial view of the future. An article like this — inconclusive, yet still substantive — in which we wonder about the future of drivers licenses and the implications of there being a 'non-driver' license.

The Brief

Senior Leadership at Motional wanted to envision the Autonomous Vehicle Future that they were building for. They wanted a compelling and tangible representation of the world to help them seek unseen opportunities, spark creativity within the organization, align teams to a common vision, and create an asset that they could use to communicate and publicize their forward-thinking and creative ambition.

We proposed a Design Fiction approach which would engage senior leadership, design, and engineering teams through our Design Fiction methodology. We proposed our typical three phase Design Fiction methodology.

In Phase 1 we did a deep-dive into the collective intelligence and research assets, as well as focussed interviews and workshops.

In Phase 2, we synthesized these findings, and presented possible directions we could go in order to transform these findings into a tangible artifact that could capture the diversity of findings. We settled on a Magazine as a Design Fiction artifact that would feel as though it had come from a possible future in which self-driving vehicles are normal, ordinary, and everyday.

A spread of from a Design Fiction Magazine from an Autonomous Vehicle Future by Near Future Laboratory
(Left) How will existing fossil fuel energy brands evolve and develop to support a world where fossil fuel-based energy is now ‘alternative’ and solar, wind, geothermal and other forms of energy production are mainstream? (Right) And what are the ways that autonomous vehicles, with their sensor-heavy configurations, can use their sensor data to help cities better manage their infrastructures?

Phase 3 was design production and development to produce and ultimately manufacture (print) a vivid 72 page paper magazine. Motional could dissiminate this artifact internally as well as to external stakeholders and the public in order to represent a world of autonomous vehicles.

A spread of from a Design Fiction Magazine from an Autonomous Vehicle Future by Near Future Laboratory showing advertisements from an autonomous Dunkin' Donuts coffee cart and Allstate Insurance as they might be in some near future.
A spread in Autonome Magazine reflecting Phase 1 discussions and ideation in which we were trying to imagine the implications of a world where no one drives, but convenience is still a priority. We represented many of these and related conversations through articles, products and advertisements, such as shown here. The drive-thru has become ubiquitous in cultures where driving and convenience are consumer priorities. What does this kind of convenience become in a possible world in which no one drives anymore, but autonomous vehicles are ubiquitous?

Autonome Magazine is a representation of the collective intelligence of Motional. It is a translation of their vision. It offers a compelling representation of the consumer, markets, ethnographic, and technology research they’ve conducted in a format that is quite legible and perhaps even more enjoyable to consume than a traditional terse research report. In it are the implications of the social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends. We can feel into their roadmaps, and strategic priorities. Ultimately, Autonome Magazine is a truly unique and creative representation of the autonomous vehicle world, one in which intelligent vehicles are normal, ordinary, and everyday affordances in the world.

The Design Fiction Approach

Translate Motional and Hyundai’s strategic foresight, market and consumer futures research and represent the implications and conclusions of this research from the perspective of that future.

Near Future Laboratory’s Role

We faciliated all aspects of this Design Fiction project, including facilitating the discovery process in Phase 1, the synthesis of insights from Phase 2, and the graphic and visual design, design layout, design production, and magagazine manufacturing of the Design Fiction artifact for Phase 3.

The Process

We worked very closely with design teams, engineers from Hyundai, their manufacturing partner, and senior leadership to create a compelling, vivid sense of possibility. This project took place during a period of global lockdown, thus was done fully online with remote collaboration.

Our process consisted of three phases: Design Discovery, Design Explorations, Design Production.

Phase 1 - Design Discovery

Design Discovery is the ‘forensic investigation’ phase in which we are made privvy to the client’s existing strategic visioning, consumer research (both quantitative and qualitative), and any related or endemic primary material. This phase also consists of interviews and conversations with senior leadership as well as front-line engineers, designers, and key stakeholders. The objective is to get a thorough appreciation of the ambitions, hopes, dreams, fears, and contingent factors that are shaping the collective imagination of the organization.

This Design Discovery phase goes beyond analytics so we can factor in the contingent aspects of possible futures. This happens through our General Seminar Design Fiction Workshop process in which we travel into possible autonomous vehicle futures rather than just predict and prognosticate. In this case, Near Future Laboratory facilitates discovery in possible futures by engaging in deep-dives where we begin with evocative prompts to help get into the mundane characteristics of possible futures.

These General Seminar Design Fiction Workshops are where we capture and synthesize aspects of possible futures that are difficult to gather otherwise. They provide insights into the multiple possiblities where commercial, design, and engineering opportunities and challenges lie. We use these as opportunitites to travel into possible futures, prompting ourselves to consider the normal, ordinary, everyday experiences people may face.

PROMPT: You’ve bought a sofa on Craigslist. How do you get it home in an autonomous vehicle future where ownership of vehicles is a thing of the past?

GENERATIVE DISCUSSION: What are the opportunities for providing cargo delivery, pickup, storage and related facilities, affordances, and businesses in a possible future? How can we represent these for later recall?

PROMPT: In a world in which non-humans drive, and humans merely occupy vehicles, what happens to ‘Drivers’ Licenses’? What are the contingent implications beyond the technology factors?

GENERATIVE DISCUSSION: How do you allow or disallow a segment of people to use autonomous vehicles? How do you address bad-actors who abuse social norms? What happens to the revenue from drivers licensing? How do we manage establishing our identity in endemic and non-endemic contexts when the drivers license is no longer?

A Design Fiction advertisement for an autonomous cargo and garbage dumpster service called Harlan's Hauling and Heaving
A translation of the implications that in some possible autonomous vehicle future, moving ‘stuff’ will be seen as a consumer need as well as a commercial opportunity. What are the grounded representations of this possible future that are difficult to represent using conventional futuring methodologies? How can you sense into and make sense of the implications beyond just a research report? An advertisement in a magazine from a possible Design Fiction future in which municipal services such as Harlan’s Hauling and Heaving can help represent these kinds of conversations.

Phase 2 - Design Explorations

This is a synthesis phase where we decant the expansive exploration and deep-dive into a possible driverless future from Phase 1. The synthesis consists of translating these insights into ‘implications’ or ‘symptoms’ of the future in the form of simple and humble results — advertisements for services that have emerged, evolutions of recognizable brands adapting to the autonomous future, endemic feature articles, letters-to-the-editor expressing concerns or support on topics of the day, and so on.

A spread of Design Fiction classified advertisements from a possible future of autonomous vehicles.
Classified ads are a very effective way of representing a lived future without over-indexing or over-fetishizing the too-easily fetishized: the instrumental aspects of what we call ‘technology.’ Because Design Fiction allows us to enter into a possible future, we need a way to sense make within there without being overly didactic, and still leaving room for the reader to bring their imagination as they wander and wonder about this world. We are not trying to make predictions, but provide ‘set dressing’ or a ‘production design’ of elements that help establish a mood and vibe. This is the value of Design Fiction over approaches that try too hard to get to answers, like Design Thinking.

Phase 3 - Design and Creative Production

This is the lengthiest phase where we work to ground the high-intuition and imagination of Phase 2 and bring it into the container of a Magazine. We operate in this phase as a magazine design team, taking on the specific roles therein.

We create principle imagery, construct a flatplan, produce 3D objects, author articles and editorially manage the necessary consistency of ‘the world’.

It is important that we do all of this work, rather than outsourcing to a third-party. Creating representations of the future has a subtlety to it, and it is one we’ve honed over 20 years of working in this space.

After Action Report

The Magazine as a Design Fiction archetype offers a rich frame and we took full advantage. This project was able to present the world fully and with verisimillitude allowing for a deeply immersive, experiential container of possible futures.

For Motional and their manufacturing partner Hyundai, it provided a platform for conversations with key stakeholders and offered a representation of their complete commitment to the autonomous vehicle strategy. It also serves as an aid for assessing development, a tangible reminder of ongoing research domains and topics, and as a reflection of the vision and ambition of senior leadership.

Additional opportunities exist for it to serve as an aid in recruitment as it reflects a high-level of commitment to creativity, futures design and integrated imagining. The magazine is also a useful and low-cost bundled give-away for events, such as developer days, hack-a-thons, conferences, and investor relations.

An image of a Jeep future that is the Autonomous Adventure Four Wheeler Overland VTOL Future in which it is implied that Jeep develops an adventure wagon that is a quadcopter. 😉
A full-spread ad for the Autonomous Adenture Four Wheeler Overland VTOL Future in which Jeep develops an adventure wagon..that’s a quadcopter. (Autonomous, naturally..) 😉

More Information

To learn more about how we created this and to find out how to engage Near Future Laboratory, contact us directly.

Want to learn more? Curious how we work? Feel like your organization could use a bit more Imagination to help make sense of the dynamic character of a kinetic marketplace?
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