Odd Studio’s Cultureberg: Causal Layered Analysis meets Design




Designing is the process of shaping the future. By designing new technologies, services and environments, designers expect – intentionally or unintentionally – to change people’s values through their exposure to new artifacts, interactions and experiences. Such revolutionary designs as the car or the smart phone drastically changed human behaviour in many beneficial ways. However, the unintended consequences of these designs and others cannot often be understood without hindsight; or, perhaps with a sophisticated foresight methodology. Due to this realisation, that designing is the act of “future making” (Adams & Yelavich 2014), and in order to understand the social influence and integration of designed things in our daily lives, there has been an increased interest among designers in Futures Research and the methodologies and techniques that exist in this discipline (Dunne & Raby 2013).

Odd Studio is a future-focussed design and research studio. We came across Sohail Inayatullah’s critical futures methodology Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) which grabbed our attention as a methodology that has strong similarities with our own design research process, and one which could contribute to design research in general. As stated, in recent years many designers and design studios have become increasingly concerned about: (a) the influence that their designs have on society, and (b) the influence that political, economic, social, and technological factors will have on consumers, citizens and future users. By using CLA within the design process, our hope was that if designers can better visualise preferable and non-preferable future scenarios they can have a clearer understanding of how their designs might influence people, ultimately helping them to determine what should, or possibly should not, be designed.

(1) CLA levels 


The Cultureberg Workshop is developed from CLA and is based on the same process of deconstruction and reconstruction, through the four layers of analysis shown above. The name comes from the description of CLA as a process of discovering what lies beneath the tip of the iceberg and we felt that rebranding CLA could help to widen its appeal to a non-academic audience. Building on the same process, we designed tasks and tools which aim to make the methodology more creative and visual.

These tasks and tools combine design orientated methods with CLA to develop the existing futures technique into a participatory and co-design process which focuses more on the designed things – products, technologies, services, organisation, relationships – that result from the reframing of issues such as finance, mobility or food.

(2) Creative Material


By adding a creative dimension to the existing CLA method, we believe that a somewhat complex foresight methodology can be made more accessible. By focussing on one creative tool or task at a time, at each layer of analysis, workshop participants build stage by stage until they have engaged fully with the critical futures technique. Furthermore, we believe that adding creativity to the CLA framework could inspire more innovative futures thinking.


(3) Litany


The first stage of the workshop is the Litany: WHAT is happening now? After initial time is spent to discover what the issues are in relation to a specific theme,* finance, energy, mobility, healthcare, or on the future direction of a community or organisation, for example, participants turn these issues into news headlines. The workshop tools have been designed to allow for the subject matter or theme to be understood from the human perspective, exploring actions and events on the ground level.

(4) Systemic Causes


In designer terminology, systemic causes comes closest to the concept of ‘stakeholders’ and ‘stakeholder mapping’: WHO are the relevant stakeholders and what are the relationships between them. For this task participants draw the stakeholders – the political, economic, social and technological factors and actors – and map out and write the relationships, or lack of relationships, that exist between them.

(5) The Matrix


After each stage of the workshop the tasks which have just been completed are used to fill the Cultureberg Matrix. The Matrix acts as a database for the information generated, showing how participants moved from “Here and Now” to “There and Then.” The relationships between the stakeholders are added to the Matrix as the key systemic causes. It is key that participants, with the help of workshop facilitators, acknowledge both opportunities and obstacles as the spaces where design concepts and action exist.

(6) Worldview


Building on the stakeholder mapping exercise, quotes are added to each stakeholder that represent their worldview: WHY they act the way they do. By writing a quotation for each stakeholder that represents their values, participants can understand the ideological justification that supports the stakeholders actions. For every issue in society there are dominant and marginalised views which create a hierarchy of opinion. To convey this the quotes of the stakeholders are numbered, 1. 2. 3. and so on, in order of their dominance in society, and added to the Matrix.

(7) Myth and Metaphor


At the deepest level is the layer of myth and metaphor. Having deconstructed an issue from the surface level – the tip of the ice berg – to the deep water below, participants now consider what lies at the level of collective archetype, proverbial saying, etymology, subconscious preconceptions, grand narratives, archetypes, and cultural beliefs and faiths. Participants draw and write the myths and metaphors which frame the issue in question.


(8) New Myth and Metaphor


Having deconstructed the issue to the level of myth and metaphor, the myths and metaphors are then flipped, reversed, or entirely new myths and metaphors can be developed which lay the foundation for the alternative, future scenario. Again, participants write and draw these new myths and metaphors.

(9) New Worldview


By reframing the issue through the development of new myths and metaphors, participants consider who are the new stakeholders involved or what new responsibilities current stakeholders could have. In order to help participants be more creative with their ideas we introduce toys which allow for conceptual and figurative playfulness with the complex issues being discussed. As before, once the toys representing the new stakeholders have been identified, participants create a hierarchy of quotations which represents their new values.

(10) New Systemic Causes


With new worldviews attached to new stakeholders, existing in a new context, participants now map out the new relationships that exist between them. Participants are encouraged to consider what new obstacles and opportunities might exist, and also what new objects, services, and organisations, i.e. designs, could help facilitate these new relationships. We encourage participants to push their ideas, advocating a more speculative approach. From such a speculative position, new ideas can be developed which can be brought back to the present.

(11) New Litany


To summarise the process of reconstruction, participants write news headlines of the future that exist within the this new context, or world, bringing the future society back down to the day-to-day experiences of people. To reflect the complexity of society, participants are encouraged to write news headlines that represent new solutions, as well as new problems.

(12) Diorama


After the process of deconstruction and reconstruction has been completed, to bring the information together into one coherent story, participants build a diorama – a theatrical set within a shoebox which presents the future scenarios as a new world. Participants are asked to think of a key actor who lives in this world and design the diorama around them. Using collage, play-doh and toys, each group presents the new world as a story with protagonists, heroes and villains, helping to contextualise their research into an understandable narrative.

(13) Backcasting


To conclude the workshop we have a final task in which groups mark off important events which could have happened to bring about their future context. By considering the events which could happen, near future opportunities for action and design become clearer, giving us greater agency today as a result.

  • This workshop has currently been ran four times. Twice with undergraduate and postgraduate Product Design students at the Glasgow School of Art, on the future of mobility and the future of finance, respectively. The workshop has also been ran twice as part of collaborative project with researchers at the University of Glasgow on the future of urban agriculture and alternative food networks in Glasgow, using the Cultureberg Workshop’s as a key method of our research.


Adams B, Yelavich S, eds. 2014 Design as Future Making. London, England: Bloomsbury

Dunne T, Raby F. 2013 Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, London, England: MIT Press



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