Design Foresight

A research focus at Stanford combining Design Thinking and Strategic Foresight

Looking ahead with the benefits of hindsight and insight into our current condition, that we might plan and implement innovation and change to get us where we want to be.

Our vision is to be the world’s premier program committed to researching, understanding, and supporting organizations pursuing innovation in environments of high ambiguity and complexity.

Professor Larry Leifer (School of Engineering)
Professor Michael Shanks (School of Humanities and Sciences)

  • The JANUS Initiative – [Link]

Affiliated and working closely with Stanford mediaX, an industrial affiliates program in Stanford Graduate School of Education [Link]


To bring the most advanced understanding to how organizations, teams, and communities design, plan, and implement innovation with long-term and human centered perspectives. 

Our areas of interest include: future user need-finding; third cycle design; blue sky research models; moonshot program development; organizing for disruptive, radical and architectural innovation; and tools for bringing foresight abilities into organizations.

Research Goals

  • Develop a deep understanding of how organizations invent the future.
  • Openly disseminate our team’s learning.
  • Work with industry to identify bottlenecks and deliver approaches to promote the adoption of research findings and best practices.


Design Foresight

How might we design a better future? Our focus is on design thinking – looking to the future of design practice for products, services, experiences, relationships. [Read more – Link]

Urban Futures

City life is the key to the future of society and culture. We bring long term perspectives on the development of cities to bear on the challenge of delivering sustainable well being. [Read more – Link]

Future of Learning

How might we extend a flexible learning mindset throughout our organizations and communities? We connect technology with human centered perspectives on life-long learning, education institutions, learning mindsets in organizations, businesses and personal everyday life. [Read more – Link]

Future of the Past

How might we best manage and mobilize the past to enhance personal wellbeing, individual and community identity, the values that organizations and businesses wish to stand for and pursue? Our memories make us who we are.

The past, embedded in places, artifacts, collections, memories, archives, legacies is essential to the identity of organizations, businesses and communities as well as individuals. This is especially the case as more people can expect to live longer lives – lives that will benefit from richly documented pasts-in-the-present that point to hopeful futures. [Read more – Link]

Future of Mobility

Mobility, a defining characteristic of human experience, is changing again. How might we understand with hindsight and foresight the emergence of robotic cars, new energy systems to power physical mobility, and their relationship to modes of immaterial mobility through information and communications technologies? [Read more – Link]

The Roots of Our Research

Our research builds on work started at Stanford’s Center for Design Research (CDR) in 1984. Upon its founding, Professor Larry Leifer set out to understand how individuals, teams and organizations practice design. CDR has delivered one breakthrough after another in understanding the practice of design engineering and design thinking.

The focus on design-actionable Foresight and Innovation emerged from conversations Professors Leifer and Michael Shanks were having with organizations in the early 2000s, in which they heard a recurring question – 
“How do we build a future that’s centered on people and may be almost unimaginable today?”

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