CHI 97 Electronic Publications: Design Briefings
CHI 97 Prev CHI 97 Electronic Publications: Design Briefings Next

Social Trends and Product Opportunities: Philips Vision of the Future Project

Robert Lambourne, Khodi Feiz and Bertrand Rigot
Philips Corporate Design
P.O. Box 218, 5600 MD Eindhoven, The Netherlands


This paper describes a project that was carried out by Philips Corporate Design (PCD) to explore ideas for products and services which could be part of our future in the year 2005. It discusses how a socio-cultural tool was used together with technology forecasts to arrive at the creation of scenarios that describe future products and their contexts. The concepts were then communicated to a wide audience in the form of short film clips. The project involved many people from a wide range of disciplines.


Future, design process, socio-cultural forecasts, interaction design, industrial design, film making, scenario.

© Copyright ACM 1997


The Vision of the Future project was initiated within Philips to explore how future products may be in ten years time. Traditionally, new products have been introduced mainly through technological innovation. Today, however, to make products and services which come closer to meeting peoples needs and desires, we need to redress the balance, looking more carefully at the increasingly complex relationship between people and technology. The broad aim of the project was to explore what people will perceive as useful, desirable and beneficial in the future in order to provide future possibilities for Philips.

It was not our intention to create a vision and categorically say 'this is what our future will be like', but rather to raise questions and issues about our future, and to propose ideas and solutions that will enhance people's lives. In January 1995 Philips Corporate Design was asked to direct the project and to provide the design input within a time frame of one and a half years.

scenarios in 4 domains of life


The project addressed social cultural developments only in societies which lead in the adoption of new technologies, such as North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.

As well as the broad aim of exploring what people will perceive as useful, desirable and beneficial in the future, based on socio-cultural analysis and design, the more specific objectives of the project were:


The project, within PCD, was made up of a core team of five designers who worked full time on the project. They had the responsibility of guiding the project and ensuring that the goals and objectives of the project were met.

In addition to this, a larger team, called the 'fluid team', contributed to the project on a part-time basis. The fluid team consisted of; product designers, interaction designers, graphic designers, human factors specialists, exhibition designers, and experts from the film industry.

structure of the project team


The project went through several phases which, although synchronous, had large overlapping periods. The phases were:


Extensive research was carried out prior to the creative process to ensure that the path the project followed was based on peoples' needs and desires. The research was carried out in two areas: socio-cultural trends and trends in technology.

Socio cultural trends

In order to gain an insight into how people will live in the near future, two forecasting institutes - Trends Lab, Milan and the Research Institute for Social Change (RISC) - were commissioned. Their conclusions provided the team with valuable input for the development of concepts and ideas. The information that was received from them described emerging 'sensitivities'; new attitudes, preoccupations and concerns within society. The sensitivities that were identified are described below.


In the present age, more than any previous age perhaps, people are searching for identity. Recent developments in society, a falling away of certainties and the destabilisation of monolithic power blocs and sources of authority have created in many people a sense of doubt about their own position. In addition the rapid pace of modern life is leading many people to take time out to reflect on what the 'true' values of life - specifically their own life - might be.


In order to truly be ourselves, we need other people. The traditional source of reaffirmation and support has always been fragmenting steadily over recent decades. Families are becoming fragmented to the extent that relatives are moving, not only away from home, but often to another part of the country or world. Naturally, through the medium of telecommunications (phones, faxes and e-mail), people are trying to stay in touch, but, in the future we will see the emergence of products which link people living far apart in more satisfying ways than are currently available.


A sense of curiosity and exploration has always been an important part of the human spirit, but the manner and the extent of its expression may vary from period to period and from culture to culture, depending on the prevailing social, political, economic and technological circumstances. Today, technology is offering us ways of exploring a new world - that of 'cyberspace', the 'virtual' world- as well as finding out more about our 'real', physical world.


People are increasingly viewing the world as a place in which all the various parts are connected. Improvements in satellite links, the advent of digital broadcasting, the emergence of cellular telephony and the rapid growth of computer networks are heightening this sense of being connected. And, for businesses, global markets are making it necessary to take into account activities outside their home territory.


The search for new rules and values is becoming apparent in various fields, from politics and business to the environment. In many countries around the world, political and judicial authorities are conducting campaigns against corruption. And many people and companies are responding to appeals made to their personal responsibility to respect the environment and are actively working to conserve energy and minimise waste. The individual and the family are becoming more proactive in their own ethical codes and values. With developments in the fields of communication and networking, there is a need to stimulate the creation of new rules which support these developments.


Holism deals more specifically with the search for environmental balance, with the trend towards seeing ourselves, the natural world and the man-made environment as one. We are increasingly becoming aware that treating the environment carelessly in one country can affect the health and well-being of the inhabitants of another. This holistic attitude is no longer simply reflected in conservation. On the contrary, it is developing into a tendency towards the elimination of all boundaries between ourselves and our environment in the widest sense. It even extends to the mind and the body. There is a growing appreciation that health and well-being depend not only on physical fitness or taking medication. They also require a balanced lifestyle.

Time and Space

These sensitivities were then mapped against space and time relationships in order to create a matrix. Time was considered in two different ways. One is to consider our ever accelerating lifestyle. People have a sense that a lot is happening at once, that they are doing many things at the same time, that they never have enough time and that they are constantly struggling to keep up with the demands of modern day life. Another contrasting way to look at time is to consider the moments when time seems to stand still: moments of rest, mediation or wonder. These are the moments when we become aware of our relation with the past, our heritage, and when we see ourselves as part of a continuing tradition. Likewise space can be considered in two ways. Firstly we can consider a person's own personal space, one that is familiar and comfortable. This trend is often referred to as 'cocooning', the sense of feeling comfortable in one's own territory. Secondly space can be considered as having no borders. Through telecommunications we are able to communicate, in real time, over vast distances. We can also join virtual communities whilst remaining members of our own physical community. As a result, our subjective experience of distance has changed, and physical borders no longer limit our ability to communicate with people in distant places.

The Sensitivity Matrices

The mapping, described above, produced a matrix for each of the domains of 'personal', 'domestic', 'public' and 'mobile'. The matrices were then used as a tool that helped us to focus on particularly interesting areas of social change.

A matrix and its parameters

As an example, one matrix, which describes the domestic space, is shown below. Unfortunately the contents of all the cells in the matrix cannot be divulged in this paper. However, one cell is shown which is the product of mapping temporal depth (the moments where meditation and quiet thought become possible) against subjectivity (the search for the answer to the question 'who am I?'). The result is a cell called 'the filing of the self'. This provided the context for a workshop discussion leading to ideas such as 'the interactive family tree' which is described in the results section of this paper.

The tool proved to be quite complicated and difficult to use at first. But, after a certain amount of perseverance we were able to use the tool effectively. The reason why we needed to learn to work with the tool was that forecasters speak a language with which we were unfamiliar and had to learn to understand. The time that we spent understanding the tool has been worthwhile as it is now used for other projects which look towards the future.

Technology Trends

There are many emerging technologies that will affect our future lives. For this project, however, we decided to concentrate on the technologies that we saw would have the most realistic chance of success and the technologies that Philips is currently involved in. Our research into technology trends was twofold. Firstly, we gathered information from different business groups and Philips Research Labs within the company in order to gain an overview of the technologies that were being developed. Secondly, external research which focused on technology projections in Germany and Japan was studied. Our concern was not only in technologies that would be mature by the year 2005, but also in technologies which would begin to emerge at that time. The most important technologies that we considered were: improvements in computer power, software agents, voice recognition and synthesis, virtual reality, smart materials (e.g. liquids which increase viscosity in response to a stimulus), active plastics, remote-source lighting (allows light to be transmitted), light-emitting foils and polymers, global networks and telecommunications.


The creative process began by having a series of two workshops in which 30 people participated from the disciplines of product design, human factors, interaction design, cultural anthropology, sociology, engineering, exhibition design, graphic design, and video and film.

The first workshop involved the group familiarising themselves with the socio-cultural tool and the technology forecasts. The total group was then divided into smaller groups of five people who concentrated on particular user needs that were identified using the socio-cultural tool. At this stage the socio-cultural tool was more prevalent than the technology forecasts because we wanted to ensure that our ideas were biased towards people and not technology. Each sub-group was led by a 'facilitator' who helped to record ideas, ensured that the group remained focused on their area of concentration and made certain that each group member's ideas were expressed.

a facilitator and his group

A simple paper template was created that allowed participants to record their ideas simply and consistently. On this form, participants were asked to fill in the following sections: a title, the sensitivity and time/space relationship to which the concept related, the scenario summarised in six lines of text, the user benefits and the technologies involved.

This form proved to be very important because it ensured that not only a product idea but also its context and potential users were thought about and recorded. This was very useful at a later stage in the project when film storyboards had to be created. That fact that all the ideas were recorded in a standard format also meant that each idea was considered equally during the stage of the project where ideas had to be filtered.

The second creative workshop followed the lines of the first except that the participants were by then familiar with the socio-cultural tool and technology forecasts. The members were as a result able to generate ideas more swiftly. The two workshops each lasted for five days and resulted in the creation of 300 scenarios which described products and their context of use.


The next phase of the project was to filter the ideas with the most potential. In order to do this a number of filters were created which addressed the scenarios and asked the following questions:

As a result of this phase the original 300 scenarios were filtered down to a more manageable 60.


Once the ideas had been grouped they were presented to a group of experts who were able to validate them. Some ideas were at this stage discontinued whilst others were altered following their advice.


After concept generation, a smaller group was selected to further develop the ideas. This group consisted of product and interaction designers who, as the products developed, tried to work together as much as possible. In reality this sometimes proved to be difficult since more product designers were available to work on the project than interaction designers. The aim at this stage of the project was to design physical models and interface simulations. Due to the large number of diverse products that had to be designed and the number of people who had to work together on the project, it was decided to define both interaction and product design philosophies. Generating a product and interaction philosophy was the starting point of the design phase. If we had not carried out this exercise, each product would have been isolated in it's context and would have been a one off.

Interaction Design

For the interaction design part of the project it was necessary to show that in the future people would interact with products and services in many different ways. This is due to; demands for personalisation and customisation, the requirements that products should be usable in different contexts and that products be easily utilised by different users. This makes future products and services richer in interaction styles. The context of the project, which was to create a impression of the future and not its details, did not allow us to pursue the interaction design of each product in depth. Instead we tried to find a way of creating an impression of what interaction with products in the future might be like. We tried to incorporate natural modes of communication in our interfaces, such as speech, writing and gesture. We were also very aware of emerging software developments such as 'learning systems'. We attempted to show how these systems would be interacted with on a domestic and personal level rather than on a work level, which is the usual focus of research. One example of this can be seen in the 'living room heart' concept which is explained in the results section of this paper.

We were also very aware of different users and proposed contexts of use that products would have. For example, domestic products, such as the living room heart, can be used in two ways. When the house is full of people and the noise level is perhaps high, a user would interact with the heart using a touch screen. Alternatively, when a user is alone, simple speech, or gestures can be used for interaction.

Product design

A simple harmonious design language that would be appropriate throughout the different types of products (for example 'children's products' to 'medical systems') was developed for the physical products.

Extensive use was made of visual metaphors, relating the designs to familiar objects, for example, watches, books and picture frames. However, for some new products there were no obvious metaphors, and for these, new original identities were created. The figure below shows a range of interactive books, which combine the traditional intimate and personal qualities of books with interactive touch screens. This approach is typical for the project, in that we chose to visualise an interface both in terms of a screen and a dedicated physical product, rather than as an application that can be used on a traditional desktop computer.

Interactive books

Towards the end of the design development phase we had to begin to think about the communication of our ideas. It had been decided at the beginning of the project that we would make film clips in order to show the products and services being used in context.


In order to attain a realistic description of ideas which are not yet realised the medium of film was used. By using film we were able to not only show new products, but demonstrate them being used by ordinary people in realistic, future contexts.

Short films were made, each lasting between 30 to 90 seconds. The films show fragments of a day in the life of the people who will use one of our products or services. This technique helped us to illustrate that our Vision of the Future was not one of science fiction, but one of normal progression in which the products around us may change, allowing people and their personal values to remain the same.

Five different film studios were selected from three countries, namely; Italy, The Netherlands and England. The purpose of working with several different film makers was two-fold; firstly no one studio had the capacity or resources to make all of the film clips in the time frame that was required (2 months from initial brief to finished films). Secondly, it was important to maintain the attention of an audience throughout the entirety of the film clips. A variation in style, provided by the different film studios, was therefore important to keep the whole viewing dynamic and fresh. We were also aware that our final audience would be extremely varied, from Philips executives to children as potential users.

Also, the different styles of the studios enabled us to pair particular products with film makers who had an affinity for the product area. For instance, sometimes it was necessary to create drama for some stories whilst others required a much more sedate approach.


This section highlights some of the designs showing the range and diversity of the concepts that were developed. The project resulted in 60 concepts that were communicated in 45 short films and about 180 different product models and simulations.

Interactive Family Tree

This multimedia family tree is an interactive picture frame which brings together existing archive material: videos, photographs, letters, names and dates with current information about the family. It organises all the material and presents family relationships. This is received and updated, through the 'family network', from other family members who have a similar device. It can also act as a reminder for birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions.

Home heart and wands

The home heart and wands replace current black box interfaces that we have in our homes today. The heart controls all entertainment and services in the living room. It is operated through a touch-screen display or by using a personal Wand, a small rechargeable hand held device which works through voice commands. The Heart also controls all major multimedia activities in the room and also the management of home functions such as lighting, temperature and security. Through the recognition of patterns learnt through use over time the Heart helps users to filter what information they need, such as preferred television channels, videophones and favorite 'video magazines'.

The Living room heart and a wand

Emotion Containers

These multimedia products are designed to be given as special presents. They have a small screen, a loudspeaker and a scent compartment. Emotional Containers come in various versions to allow people to choose the one they feel would be most appropriate to give. The products are made of rich materials and are meant to last and be cherished by the recipient.

Emotion Containers offer a more sensory way of giving. They are attractive on two levels: as objects in their own right, and as carriers of messages of special significance. The future could be that you're watching an old movie 'Casablanca' and you remember your best friend with whom you went to see the movie many times. Instead of calling him up and leaving him a message, you send him 30 seconds of your favourite scene from the movie.


Increasingly we are having to accomplish many tasks simultaneously. Contemporary life is characterised by our constant need to access information and be in touch with each other. Named after the many-armed Hindu god, Shiva is a multitasking tool which integrates communication information gathering and information. Rather than creating one uniform Shiva (or Personal Digital Assistant) we tried to show that in the future several would be available to suit diverse users and their lifestyles. Each one differs both in visual design and interface style, from the business person's Notebook which incorporates a videophone and a pen controlled business-like interface, through to the voice controlled agent interface of the Shiva Mono and the more playful, sinful, Shiva Devil.

Above:Shivas Note and devil. Below: Shiva Mono

Mobile Diagnostics

As vital diagnostic equipment such as magnetic resonance scanners become smaller, they will be made as portable units. This allows diagnosis and treatment of patients in the field or in the ambulance, saving valuable time. A network link provides ambulance staff with direct access to experts and medical data from their home base. These mobile units may also be able to treat and release some patients on the spot, relieving pressure on hospital facilities and cutting the costs of unnecessary hospitalisation.

the mobile scanner

These 'mobile hospitals' can also act as self sufficient units, traveling to remote places to provide assistance in the cases of emergencies or to provide periodic screening facilities.

Multimedia Dispenser

Having access to vast databases of archive material and operating in a manner similar to today's vending machines, multimedia dispensers will allow people to record a personal compilation of sounds and video clips on a chip which is dispensed.

Payment for the selection is made with a credit smart card. At concerts these dispensers can be used to give audio and video recordings of performances you have just seen, together with the current 'audio-video' albums from the artist.


In order to ensure that the project is communicated to a wide audience and feedback can be obtained and conversations about our future started, the project is presented in the form of: a book, a permanent exhibition in Eindhoven, The Netherlands (shown in the image below) and an Internet site

the exhibition


In carrying out this project, Philips has demonstrated its intention to explore the creation of products which enhance peoples lives. This is now beginning in many of the Philips business groups.

Through the communication medium of the book, exhibition and internet site the project has reached, and will continue to reach, a wide audience within and outside Philips. With the help of the information that was gathered in the project and as a result of feedback on the project, the Philips Business Groups are much better equipped to focus their future developments activities. It is certain that this approach helped us to find new opportunities to develop products which would not have been dreamed of had we taken a purely technological start-point. The next step, which is inherently more uncertain, is to develop the concepts as real products, or as input to the development of real products.

The socio-cultural tool helped us to clarify what the important aspects of our future will be from a user point of view. By having this clarified vision of the future we were able to explore ideas on a more human, rather than system, level.


The project had taken one and a half years to complete and had directly involved more than fifty people from within Philips Corporate Design and numerous external alliances. Some of the lessons learned in carrying out such a project are mentioned below.

Multi-disciplinary team

Many people have stressed the importance of working in multi-disciplinary teams in product development. Although working in multi-disciplinary teams is a pre-requisite for success in a project as described in this paper, it is also very difficult. When we started the project, people from different disciplines (for example interaction design, screen graphic design, product design, World Wide Web (WWW) design, human factors, exhibition design, film directors) did not have experience in working together. Project team members therefore did not always have a clear and concise picture of who needed what information, when and in what form. It is very important to define a clear goal and iteratively and continuously describe and discuss roles and deliverables of the different team members from the beginning of the project. Furthermore, the team has to realise that it has to learn to work together and that this will be an evolutionary process with successes and failures along the way.

Testing of concepts

It is difficult to use the concepts that have been developed as stimuli to obtain feedback. At the moment a number of projects are being carried out in which the concepts are evaluated. One of the problems encountered is that the concepts are sometimes too detailed and 'finished' to evoke the sort of qualitative and 'rich' user responses in which we are interested. In future projects we need to think more about the requirements of the presentation material that we need for obtaining feedback. One of the evaluations uses the WWW as a medium. The advantage of this medium - besides the fact that it is easy to reach a large number of people from different countries and cultures - is that it is an medium that stimulates visitors to give feedback and to interact with the concepts that are presented.

Communication is the key to everything

It is difficult to carry out a project such as this in a large corporation that is organised in a large number of relatively autonomous Business Groups. The project described in this paper was carried out by a group of people from one corporate department (Corporate Design). A lot of effort has and is put in communicating the goals, process and results of the project to people in the different Philips Business Groups. 'Selling ideas' within a large multinational company such as Philips can be very difficult. It is therefore very important to develop and plan communication about the project and make the communication an integral part of the project. The Vision of the Future project is therefore communicated as well via the WWW, a book, an exhibition and 45 short film clips.


The authors would like to thank all the Vision of the Future project participants and in particular, Govert de Vries, Irene McWilliam, Ron Oosterholt, Ian McClelland and Elizabeth Denby-Peirce for their support and advice in the preparation of this paper.
CHI 97 Prev CHI 97 Electronic Publications: Design Briefings Next

CHI 97 Electronic Publications: Design Briefings