Disruptive Futuring
: A new design approach to addressing climate change

  • Nicholas O'Donnell Hoare

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis outlines the notion of ‘Disruptive Futuring’ as a new design methodolog yto addressing climate change. It is founded on making a connection between our behaviour as individuals and the environment. Since the publishing of ‘Our Common Future’ (Brundtland Commission.1987) major bodies have been publicly documenting the damage that climate change is having on the planet. This has been followed by the creation of United Nations Climate Change Conference international incentives including the Kyoto Protocol and national attempts including government departments and NGO projects. All have been directed to address the issue of climate change but have seen minimal success.

    Psychology plays a significant role in understanding and promoting human behavioural change and how we prioritise particular decisions or actions. However, until recently it has carried less weight in a design approach to solving behavioural problems in climate change. The primary issue is that climate change isn’t a normal behavioural problem, and numerous psychologists including Stoknes (2015) highlight its incompatibility with innate human motivation. Newly explored areas within psychology and behavioural economics expose some of the reasons we may react to climate change with lower importance then other less damaging problems. Disruptive Futuring provides a new methodology based on thinkers such as Fogg (2002), Gilbert (2015), Dubner and Levitt. (2009), Marshall(2014), Pink(2009) and Stoknes (2015) to improve quantitative and qualitative adoption of designed interventions aimed at changing behaviours in order to accelerate human actions affecting climate change.

    This thesis takes a research through design approach that incorporates reflective practice. The research builds upon a literature review evaluating our connection with climate change, resulting in combining behavioural psychology with mapping and lens methods. Disruptive Futuring is presented as anew design methodology that develops new types of behavioural change using what Thaler & Sunstein (2009) describe as “Nudge” as a process to reroute people to new actions and flows in their everyday lives. These behavioural changes are achieved through framing climate change in ways humans are motivated by.

    Three practice-based projects pilot the methodology of Disruptive Futuring by exploring the topics of energy, water and food. These areas were selected because of their significance to our physiological requirements as highlighted by Maslow (1943). The projects result in three systems-based interventions aimed at changing behaviours that negatively impact climate change. It is observed through reflection that this methodology provides a context for designers to work in an oblique way; it has a preference to influence thinking and designing in systems; and that complex psychological concepts can be applied through designed interventions that reduce the conflict between our psychological composition and the human perception of climate change.

    This research explores the capability and capacity for Disruptive Futuring to bring climate change psychology into a unified way for designers to use during the conception and research stages of designing interventions, technology or services that target behavioural change, decisions making and create new ways of living to have less impact on climate change.

    Date of Award2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsCarnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland
    SupervisorSandra Wilson (Supervisor) & Jon Rogers (Supervisor)


    • design
    • climate change
    • behavioural psychology
    • design methodologies
    • behavioural change

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