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making the future tangible

It was a considerable pleasure to meet Victor Lombardi after JJG’s Elements talk in Manhattan some years ago. I pay attention to what he writes at Noise Between Stations, but it was Peter that drew my attention to what Victor’s been writing about what he calls tangible futures. It’s impressive and innovative thinking, and represents a concrete method for people who are in the business of solving other people’s problems.

In a strange coincidence, I wound up reading Victor’s post(s) on this topic right after I attended Pentagram’s “Design Heavyweights” case study presentation at SFMOMA last week. During it, several things Pentagram partner Michael Beirut talked about mirrored Victor’s points. Here’s what he had to say.

Having been charged with naming and creating the identity for United Airlines’ low cost operator (“LCO” in industry jargon), Pentagram created a presentation that walked the client through their creative process and arrived at their recommendations on the name and brand direction. The deck was intended to get “everyone nodding at the same time,” according to Michael, and included something I thought was brilliant:

They actually mocked up FAKE articles from the WSJ and put them in the deck. The first was a reminder of just how late United was entering into the market against established LCOs like Southwest and Song. The second was after they’d presented their recommendation – an article lauding United for it’s bravery in pursuing a compelling and unique identity in the LCO space.

Those articles were almost as compelling as the direction itself, and I’m certain they had quite a bit to do with how well the idea sold within the organization.

Victor’s right, and Michael’s right. I think one of the most effective things we can do for ourselves and our clients is to start mocking up the future.

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