Future Observatory

How can we put design to work to rebuild Britain?

This is a new national programme of research, debate and training that will show how design can drive Britain's future prosperity.

The programme is coordinated by the Design Museum in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UKRI.

We are facing complex challenges, from building resilience for a world post-pandemic to an ageing population, climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence.

Future Observatory is a programme that aims to accelerate how we find solutions to the most pressing issues. It brings together the most important thinkers in academia, industry and culture to define new opportunities for growth and get the public engaged with them.

Using design as its engine, this project will set the agenda for social and technological change in Britain over the next 20 years.

Challenges for the future

Future Observatory is looking to explore design-led innovation around six key challenge areas, working in collaboration with the AHRC’s fellowships programme ‘Challenges for the Future’ to identify opportunities for the near future of design. As part of this programme, the museum is researching the role cultural institutions can play in enabling design research to have a greater public impact.

In its first year, and in conjunction with the museum's Waste Age exhibition, the programme will be shaped on a theme of Net Zero.

Net Zero: How can design enable the UK to meet its environmental targets, whether on air and water pollution, carbon footprints, waste management or biodiversity?

Future areas of interest:

AI & Data:Artificial intelligence and machine learning are transforming our world. How can design enable us to use these technologies for the benefit of society?

Mobility: How can design harness new technologies and infrastructure, from autonomous vehicles to cycling high-ways, to improve access and transportation?

Place: From the housing crisis to the urban/rural divide, how can design make spaces safer and increase sustainability across the built environment?

Public Services: How can design improve and facilitate new public services for the benefit of all, from hospitals and financial aid to policy innovation?

Ageing: In a rapidly ageing society, how can design create new products, systems and buildings that enable us to live healthier, happier and longer lives?


  • To convene key stakeholders to identify future net zero+ design opportunities and build cross-sector communities.

  • To curate live design research on a range of design challenges unified under the umbrella goal of net zero+, to demonstrate design’s value to the UK economy, and to shape public conversation and engagement with design.

  • To upskill emerging designers and equip UK businesses with relevant design-for-net zero+ and sustainable enterprise skills.

New Old - touring exhibition by the Design Museum

3D-printed electric motorbike, NERA (part of Beazley Designs of the Year)

Professor Jeremy Myerson (photo by Robyn Johnson)

JUMP Electric Bicycle and Scooter by Uber (part of Beazley Designs of the Year 2019)

Myriad (Tulips) installation by Myriad (Tulips) AI-inspired installation by artist and researcher Anna Ridler (part of Beazley Designs of the Year 2019)

The Future Observatory Development Group

The Future Observatory Programme Development group provides strategic and operational guidance, input and advice on the development-phase of Future Observatory. Its current members are:

Professor Edward Harcourt (Director: Research, Strategy and Innovation, UKRI)
Professor Deyan Sudjic OBE (Director Emeritus, the Design Museum)
Professor Jeremy Myerson (Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design, Royal College of Art)
Sarah Weir OBE (CEO, Design Council)
Graham Hitchen (Independent Consultant)
Dr Paul Meller (Associate Director of Programmes, UKRI)
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (Founder, designswarm)
Professor Dee Halligan (Co-Founder, From Now On).
Dr Andrea Siodmok (Deputy Director, Policy Lab, Cabinet Office)
Professor Lucy Kimbell (Director, Social Design Institute, UAL)


Since its founding in 1989, the Design Museum has had an ongoing commitment to new forms of research and innovation across design, architecture, and technology.

In November 2018, the Future Observatory project began with a reception hosted at the Houses of Parliament and has since hosted 6 round-tables; internal workshops and convenings on the thematic areas of the programme. Through the programme, the Design Museum has worked with over 80 senior figures across design, industry and government.

At the end of 2019, the Design Museum partnered with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to undertake a nationwide programme of research to inform and develop a full proposal for the next five years of Future Observatory. This research included scoping into the current design-research landscape across the UK, in addition to developing new organisational models and national collaborations to be utilised by the programme. The results of this research were published in 2020.


Although emerging from the Design Museum and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Future Observatory is a developing network of individuals, organisations and initiatives. We are grateful to all those who continue to support this initiative. A full list of those who have advised, collaborated or supported the programme to date can be shared upon request.