Prototyping Social Forms


ASU’s Global Futures initiative addresses wicked problems at planetary scale. The core wicked problem is that people with incommensurate value frameworks addressing a complex situation like climate change or urban energy habits will reasonably disagree on what is the right thing to do.   Bringing expert know-how from laboratories and experiential arts, together with individuals’ and business’ power to act in the world, we build a sandbox where designers, impacted people, and expert makers jointly vary and assess social forms: an atelier for prototyping social forms.


Exploiting Synthesis@ASU’s fusion of art, science, conceptual and experiential methods, the ateliers will prototype and assess how people experience technologies, products, services in plausible, thick social settings.  We will build a knowledge enterprise: ateliers for prototyping at lifescale, the lived, whole experience of social forms, such as places: home, city, street; events: play, meal, learning; or infrastructures: finance, governance, energy.  Scaling our techniques for creating augmented experiences, we will prototype homes, streets, parts of buildings, parks and playgrounds to the degree needed to get a sense of what it would be like to actually live with those forms.


We build a prototyping facility intermediate between the lab bench and the open world.  A client brings a social form to vary. Drawing from a spectrum of low and high tech methods, plus off-the-shelf as well as custom, expressive technologies, our resident expert makers — e.g. artists, engineers — realize alternatives proposed by hosted clients and experimentalists, co-designed with stakeholders from the impacted constituencies.  All participants experience the varied social form, assess the quality of lived experience in the prototype, and suggest variations.  Sponsors and participants share design insights and specific prototyping techniques with the following ingredients:


  • Plausibly lifescale, “in vivo”, rescaled to collective experience in controlled space.  Get usable empirical insights from “in vivo” holistic, field study.
  • Sponsors gain heuristic insights generated in atelier.  In place of delivering tech in exchange for support we produce empirically-refined heuristics, technique, experience studies, design thinking and creativity as common IP.
  • Space for creativity. For large companies that have mastered the productivity curve, creativity is the angle on sovereignty.  Creativity is also the angle for really small companies looking for opportunity and disruption.
  • Develop and retain polymath talent: Companies send their talent to work outside IP walls, carrying their company’s interest but in field setting.  They bring insights back from fieldwork.  Know-how internalized by employees is far more effective knowledge transfer than reports, patents, licensed technology.
  • Student apprentices perform as interns in the atelier (no employee cost to sponsor), synthesizing skills from their studies, learning how to navigate, assess and improve complex social forms condensed from life.  Sponsors do not have to apply narrow competence filters (like a programming test) for entry-level candidates and then retrain for open-world skills like problem aikido.   Instead, working shoulder to shoulder with hosted researchers and interns, corporate externs can identify students with technical skill and supple imagination and growth potential in the atelier’s practicum setting.


  • Lifescale prototyping means living in a working version of the social form plausibly enough to get a sense of what it’s like to live under given conditions.  We use computational and poetic methods to scale large systems (like weather) to the human.  We use artistic means to sketch that which we cannot or should not explicitly engineer.
  • Participatory navigation of ecosystems. The open world’s complex geopolitical technocultural dynamics usually exceed available models and data.  So, complementing walls of data and charts, we provide adept makers fused scientific and expressive tools and techniques to create experiences, together with experts who can articulate and assess whole experience, from anthropology, experimental performance, and phenomenology and process.
  • Enaction: We cannot presume the narrative is known in advance, so in place of telling prefabricated stories, our scenario makers create constraints and conditions in the social form, and equip participants to make their own sense of the experience, to assess and articulate variations legibly to expert designers or makers.
  • Atelier studio: we agnostically use whatever tools are apt: low-tech, high tech, off-the-shelf, purpose-built. This enables ad-hoc tinkering with techniques ranging through movement, role-playing, body-scaled architectural mock-ups, mobile apps, augmented / mixed reality, gestural media, realtime simulations, responsive environments.

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Prototyping Social Forms Techniques Workshop 1: Enacting and Sensing Process, Anticipation Conference 2022, ASU (video)

Prototyping Social Forms Techniques Workshop 2: Enacting and Sensing Body, Anticipation Conference 2022, ASU (video)

Prototyping Social Forms Curated Panel: Un altro mondo è possibile, Curated Panel, Anticipation Conference 2022, ASU (video)