Futures techniques have long been used in large enterprises as designerly means to explore the future and guide innovation. In the automotive industry, for instance, the development of concept cars is a technique which has repeatedly proven its value. However, while big companies have broadly embraced futures techniques, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have lagged behind in applying them, largely because they are too resource- intensive and poorly suited to the SMEs’ needs and idiosyncrasies. To address this issue, we developed DIVE: Design, Innovation, Vision, and Exploration, a design-led futures technique for SMEs. Its development began with an inquiry into concept cars in the automotive industry and concept products and services in other industries. We then combined the insights derived from these design practices with elements of the existing techniques of critical design and design fiction into the creation of DIVE’s preliminary first version, which was then applied and evaluated in two iterations with SMEs, resulting in DIVE’s alpha version. After both iterations in context, it seems that DIVE suits the SMEs because of its compact and inexpensive activities which emphasize making and storytelling. Although the results of these activities might be less flashy than concept cars, these simple prototypes and videos help SMEs internalize and share a clear image of a preferable future, commonly known as vision. Developing DIVE thus helped us explore how design can support SMEs in envisioning the future in the context of innovation.
Designing successful products and services that people like, requires an understanding of the context and the aspirations of those people. Over the past decade, a range of methods has been developed to help designers gain such empathy. These have worked well when designer and target user share a cultural context. However, designers often find it difficult to empathize with the user insights of individuals from a culture beyond their first-hand experience. To help designers step beyond this limitation, those user insights need to be placed in a larger understanding of the cultural context. In this paper, we present Cultura: a toolkit that uses nine cultural aspects based on cultural models, informing designers about user insights in a broader cultural context. The toolkit was evaluated in design sessions with four design teams. The findings indicate that Cultura provides inspiration and motivation for designers to gain empathic insights into users beyond their own cultural boundaries and to make effective designs for people.