Imaginaries of Climate Pathways – Part 1

Design Jam
From 05.10.2019 to 05.10.2019 – 09:00 GMT -5
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

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The Event

How do we imagine climate change? What futures do we understand, or can we envision, for our own communities or others? It’s easy to be completely overwhelmed with powerlessness, and the complexities and uncertainties of the situations we might have ahead of us. International bodies such as the IPCC and climate science researchers have the idea of plural ‘pathways’ which give insights into possible futures we might experience, but what could they look like in everyday life? How might we actually experience these pathways?

Students at Carnegie Mellon’s Imaginaries Lab are applying design research methods to this topic: investigating how people think about and understand this complex, massive, systemic issue through building models and experiences which enable people to explore aspects of climate pathways and possible futures for our everyday lives. We are doing this via a more intensive weekend ‘design jam’ format than a traditional studio course.

As part of the Many Tomorrows Festival, the students will be sharing their ideas and projects in development, paired with presentations and discussion with guests. Parts of the weekend at Carnegie Mellon will be streamed live on Zoom at

If you’d like to attend in person, please email to confirm

Relation to TRANS-

We aim to develop projects that visualize or make experiential, very tangibly, that the different paths and choices ahead of us are about TRANS-itions, whether formally seen as part of sustainability transitions or transition design or just transitions or something else. But the projects will also aim to TRANS-late these potential futures into different forms of engagement than graphs or textual descriptions.

The Organizer(s)

Dan Lockton is Chair of Design Studies at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, and founder of the Imaginaries Lab. He’s an interaction designer and researcher interested in questions of how we understand the world—institutions, the environment, cities, infrastructures, technologies and complex systems around us—how they, in turn, understand us, and how design can help us understand our own agency differently in imagining and creating futures.


We're told to think globally, act locally, but these days, it seems like the most urgent questions may require global action. Our own organization is deeply considering how we can build distributed, scalable projects that are both embedded in local community, but have potential to scale more broadly. What kinds of environmental projects currently embody that approach, and how do they function? Are there pitfalls you've encountered that others should be wary of? Can we develop some best practices?


We definitely recognise this question—the tension between local and global is driving a lot of how we're thinking as designers trying to engage with futures, transitions, and the climate crisis. In talking about it we considered whether using the framing of 'projects' sometimes limits how we think about transferrability or scaleability. Is a protest movement a project? Is the format for a protest a project? Could it be worth thinking in terms of patterns? Patterns are designed to be adapted as they're adopted, linking what works in one place with what can work in others. Maybe even memes, perhaps. The concept of communities of practice across nations and cultures and time seems helpful here. As well as contemporary phenomena such as the permaculture movement, Greta Thunberg, the pipeline and anti-fracking protests, the concept of the Green New Deal, and specific examples such as Olafur Eliasson's Little Sun, and even patterns such as the rise of FabLabs in such a plurality of forms, urban and rural, we considered that we could probably learn a lot from older projects (e.g. in the US, the Green New Deal echoing the Works Progress Administration, and the Tennessee Valley Authority) or projects that have worked elsewhere, in other places, including ways in which people are living more sustainably (e.g. the Amish) but without necessarily making that the focus of why they are doing it. It may be relatively easy to start (forming) projects, but finding (norming) 
projects, where practices are already happening, and where communities of practice already exist, may be more useful. The permaculture movement seems to be an example of something that can happen anywhere, but with local knowledge. For these patterns to work, they need documentation, to make it possible for others to adapt them—and maybe producing and sharing this documentation, as well as connecting people to others who are working through similar problems, is a crucial role that writers and designers can play.