Eco Futures Design Workshop


Creating fresh vision for future living in our design-thinking workshop at Nottingham Trent University

Paul Fillingham, Founder & Chief Digital Strategist @paulfillingham 

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The Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is a forum for sharing innovative practice and emerging themes in learning and teaching.

In recent times, people have taken to the streets to express their anxiety about an increasingly precarious and unsustainable global ecosystem.
Occupy Nottingham, street protest 2012. Depiction image from the Sillitoe Trail project - Photo; David Sillitoe.

Katalin Butt-Bethlendy Chair of the Design Thinking in Education TILT Group invited Professor Petra Molthan-Hill (leader of the NTU Green Academy and Chair of the Education for Sustainable Futures TILT Group), and Paul Fillingham Chief Digital Strategist of Thinkamigo, to help participants think about the design of new socio-economic models that might help reduce our eco-anxiety.

Design-thinking workshop format

Petra Molthan-Hill used her workshop session to explore various ecological scenarios using game-based (gamification) exercises. These eco-futures were subsequently developed by Paul Fillingham though a series of design thinking exercises:

Design-thinking research models:

  • Problem statement and goal definition
  • Stakeholder mapping
  • Persona creation
  • Service lifecycle mapping
  • Ideation
  • Trend and risk mapping


Futuristic rocket preparing to lift off from a sled-based launcher. Still image from the title sequence of Gerry Anderson's children's science-fiction TV series, Fireball XL5 (1962).

Paradigm shift, provocation and re-patterning

By way of introduction, Paul talked about 'the future' as depicted in childhood puppet shows by Gerry Anderson, and the RAF-inspired Dan Dare, Pilot of the future. But sometimes the future isn't what you expect it to be, and this distinctly British form of Post-war science fiction iconography was swiftly swept aside by the stark, yet beautiful realism of Frank Borman's impromptu earth-rise photograph. Taken from the window of the Apollo 8 space capsule in 1968, 'earthrise' represents a paradigm shift in how we perceive our world.

Apollo 8 Earthrise image taken by Commander Frank Borman in 1968, cited as 'the most influential environmental photograph ever taken' - Galen Rowell, Conservation Photojournalist. Source: NASA

Today we are at a critical inflection point concerning climate change and security over natural resources. In recent times, people have taken to the streets to express their anxiety about an increasingly precarious and unsustainable global ecosystem.

Images from Thinkamigo local heritage projects served to illustrate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy: A sometimes painful transformation within living memory for many cohorts of the Nottinghamshire coalfield.

From empowerment to positive actions for an inspiring future

Participants were divided into groups and engaged in set-exercises, framed around paradigm-shift, provocation and re-patterning; attributes that are fundamental to design innovation.

Workshop participants collaborating on design thinking exercises.

Exercises were based around around Thinkamigo's six-step agile design framework which is closely aligned to the lateral thinking methods of eminent psychologist, Edward de Bono. Participants were also introduced to cloud-based ideation tools such as Miro (formerly Realtimeboard) and Google Keep.

At the end of each fifteen minute exercise, a representative from each group shared their design ideas, encouraging lively discussion and forming an action plan to meet the goals outlined in the original scenarios and problem statements.

The workshop equipped participants with practical design tips, tools and methodologies that they could apply to future projects involving product and service development, advocacy and marketing communications.

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