Future Observatory

Future Observatory is the Design Museum’s national research programme for the green transition.

Launched in November 2021, the three-year programme is coordinated by the Design Museum in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

As a cultural institution, the Design Museum is ideally placed to bring cutting-edge design research to broad audiences, making it accessible and engaging and enabling it to have a greater impact. Indeed, Future Observatory redefines what a museum can be: a place not solely focused on the past or the present but one that can help shape the future.

Acting as both a coordinating hub for a nationwide programme, as well as a research department within the museum, Future Observatory curates exhibitions, programmes events and funds and publishes new research, all with the aim of championing new design thinking on environmental issues. Future Observatory also runs Design Researchers in Residence, the Design Museum's flagship programme for emerging design thinkers and practitioners.

Design the Green Transition

Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition supports over 100 higher education institutions and 75 industry and local authority partners across the nation. It is the largest publicly funded design research and innovation (R&I) programme in the UK. 

The project has four main strands:

· Three-year Future Observatory programme at the Design Museum

· 4x Green Transition Ecosystems

· 75x Design Exchange Partnerships

· 50x Design Accelerators


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. 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 AHRC to undertake a nationwide programme of research to inform and develop a full proposal for Future Observatory. This research included scoping into contemporary 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.

Future Observatory was launched in November 2021, in conjunction with the museum's Waste Age: What Can Design Do? exhibition and to coincide with COP26 in Glasgow, UK. The pilot year focused on the net zero agenda and related environmental issues; championed AHRC funded research, including 15 Design Exchange Partnerships; and featured the Questions of Scale symposium at the Design Museum, a net zero housing roundtable in partnership with the Design Council and the museum’s Design Researchers in Residence 21/22 display, Restore.

Future Observatory Journal

Published by Future Observatory, the biannual online journal platforms new research, new forms of practice and new narratives from designers working towards a liveable future.

Exploring design and ecology, the publication features in-depth and interactive essays, case studies, interviews, critical analysis and striking photography from designers and researchers around the world. The journal is held on a bespoke website designed by award-winning graphic designers Studio Airport.

Each issue explores a theme through three lenses:

Forecast: borrows the format of trend forecasting to offer a thematic overview of a key concept.

Practice: builds on that view with case studies, interviews and think pieces.

Strategy: provides an analysis of the broad systemic implications of the theme.

Contributors and designers featured in the journal include: Arturo Escobar, Donella Meadows, MASS Design Group, Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman, Studio Folder, Dan Hill, Sharon Prendeville, Justinien Tribillion, Atelier Luma, BC architects & studies, Shayari de Silva.

Read the first issue here, published in April 2024.

©Studio Folder photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani

In collaboration with Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

This programme is generously supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation. AHRC funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects from history and archaeology to philosophy and languages, design and effectiveness of digital content and the impact of artificial intelligence.


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.

Future Observatory Advisory Board

Camilla Buchanan Co-head of Policy Lab

Edward Harcourt Fellow of Keble College, Oxford and former Director of Research, Strategy and Innovation at AHRC

Indy Johar Founding Director of Dark Matter Labs

Hanif Kara Design Director, AKT II and Professor in Practice of Architectural Technology at Harvard GSD

Suhair Khan Creative Strategist

Adrian Lahoud Dean of the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art


Future Observatory display

Discover a new display space dedicated to design research on the environmental crisis curated by Future Observatory, the museum’s national research programme for the green transition.

Design Researchers in Residence 2023/24: Solar

This year's residents will respond to the theme of ‘Solar’, investigating ways in which design can influence our rapidly changing relationship with the heat and light of the sun. From June, visit the free display to learn about a range of impactful new thinking that centres design in the green transition.


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