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Terminology in a Futurist's Dictionary

long shadows cast by people walking in an urban setting


We sense an ever-evolving present. We live it day in, day out. Then there’s the future that’s harder to sense. A single future emerges every day. Futures methods show us what's emerging, already in progress.

A double rod pendulum illustrates the sensitivity of futures to original conditions in a complex system. We do not live in chaos. We simply cannot measure all of the variables to the degree necessary to fully grasp an ecology and therefore predict strengths of forces over timelines.

In the present we have tangible or observable objects, structures, and people that show us what might soon be.

A black box the size of a coffee table with a frosted top that shows digital photos
The 2007 Microsoft PlayTable prototype

Product Prototypes: ideas being made tangible for the product development team and stakeholders.

The final version or a prototype is intended to be a product on the commercial market.

A closeup of Captain Kirk's hands holding his communicator showing the internal interface.
Captain Kirk of USS 1701 Enterprise holding his Communicator.

Props (short for "properties"): non- or partly functioning objects meant to support the depiction of a fictional or non-fictional narrative world in any place or time period. A prop in a futuristic setting may assume the role of Speculative Design and later a product prototype if it inspires its form and function IRL (e.g., sci-fi objects or costume).



In Futures studies and projects, concepts, values, behaviors, and worldviews can be foreseen and displayed for futurists to see emerging changes more clearly.

Worldbuilding: generation of all/most functional and aesthetic aspects of a specific fictional world in any time or setting.

A ski lift passing beneath an adjacent cable in fog.

Orthogonal: forces with intersecting vectors in time that do not influence each other over their subsequent trajectories.

Speculative Futures: multiple imagined not-yet times derived from empirical evidence of present and some past conditions.

Speculative Fiction: a much-debated term among writers but generally regarded as a super-genre.  With appreciation and apologies to human belief systems, Futurists disregard fantasy elements to favor realistic possibilities.

  • Anything supernatural such as fairies/sprites, unicorns and dragons, ghosts/spirits, elves and orcs and wizards, zombies and vampires, and gods.

  • Not yet confirmed entities such as intelligent extraterrestrial beings.

  • Extra-human abilities such as self-propelled flying, willful invisibleness, telepathy, x-ray vision, transmogrification, energy shooting from fingertips or eyes, hyper-strength – which rule out all superheroes.

  • Imaginary Earth physics such as variable gravity fields.

The noted author Margaret Atwood is known to prefer the term Speculative Literature, which hasn’t yet gone viral. The term implies written rather than other forms of storytelling expression.

A tablet device showing an augmented reality vision of a piece of red seating in a hall space where there is no furniture.
Augmented reality (AR) as a relatively benign example

Transhumanism: a philosophical and intellectual movement that champions the augmentation of humans and their environments by developing and proliferating sophisticated technologies that may optimize human longevity, cognition, and well-being.




A futurist's dictionary appropriates and expands upon terminology from various fields - the mark of a maturing field.

Speculative Design: an object or image derived from and intended to prompt visions of a particular Speculative Future or Futures. Sometimes exhibited in an art gallery or immersive environment.

Diegetic Element: any object or behavioral expression that exists or occurs within the world of a narrative in any place or time period. An antique that exists in a later time period is still diegetic to that later time period, whether or not it is used as intended.

Artifact: Futurists ponder imaginary artifacts, usually mundane, that illustrate life in a speculative world in a future timeline. 

A piece of Celtic pottery being exposed from the dirt of an archaeology dig.
A real archaeological dig in Ireland.

As an archaeologist does, Futurists consider an artifact’s purpose, who uses it, where it fits in that world’s ecosystem, and what meaning it might have to that person and others.

Unlike archaeologists, Futurists and their creative cohorts generate artifacts as diegetic elements and situate them in the ecosystems of imagined worlds.

Design Fiction: a media expression of the existence of a diegetic element/artifact which prompts speculation today about the rest of that imagined world.

The Star Trek prop master drew the specifications of the Communicator. But it's not a true Design Fiction because it presumes the persistence of transistor technology into the 22nd Century.
Speculative technical specifications for the Star Trek TOS Communicator circa 1971

SITRA Dictionary

Finally (pun unintended), here's SITRA's dictionary that covers a much wider range of less designerly concepts, some with EU origins, and enthusiastically shared here.


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