Cecilia Tham
Rebuilding the "social train"
for a sustainable future

DESIGN VISION is an original design research project at Sony that predicts societal trends
and explores the course that the future might take.
In this initiative, Creative Center designers themselves conduct research and interviews, leading to analysis and proposals.
Following last year’s project of backcasting through Sci-Fi prototyping, in 2022,
DESIGN VISION conducted this year’s research based on forecasting. By quickly identifying changes in the world,
we put together recommendations for what we need to do now.
We will post some of the interview research conducted as part of this project over the course of five articles.
The following article features this year’s overarching theme, "The Balancing Act," and is a reprint of an interview with futurist Cecilia Tham.
It reveals a vision that can lead to future harmony between individuals, society, humans and the earth.

Cecilia Tham Futurist / Cofounder Futurity Systems
An award-winning entrepreneur (recently named top 40 Futurists in Spain) and futures maker, Cecilia Tham is currently the Director and Co-Founder of Futurity Systems, where she produces future-driven solutions in the intersection of technology, impact, and business opportunities.
Cecilia Tham is a Harvard-trained designer, formerly a Social Technologist at Alpha Telefonica, Europe’s first moonshot factory, and a serial entrepreneur, founded multiple companies such as Makers of Barcelona, FabCafe and She has served as advisor to UN World Food Program X, SXSW, City of Barcelona as well as other private companies.

About 2022 DESIGN VISION activities

DESIGN VISION is a design research project continuously undertaken every year by the Creative Center.
This initiative aims to predict the future of the world by utilizing the power of design to quickly identify global movements, as well as trends in individual awareness. The designers conduct research in various parts of the world, extracting insight from their observations. Those insights are the foundation of the proposed visions describing what we should strive toward.

Last year, in DESIGN VISION Annual Report 2021, we implemented Sci-Fi prototyping for the first time, which uses science fiction to reassess the present. We conceptualized the world of 2050 with Sci-Fi authors and created reports and a chronology of the future. To identify what actions we need to take, we used a backcasting approach; working our way from the future vision, back towards the present.

This year, while closely assessing the worldwide COVID-19 situation, designers conducted fieldwork and interviews in Europe and Japan for the first time in two years. In addition, they visited and surveyed various worlds in the metaverse, which is drawing increased attention. Based on such experiences, we used a forecasting approach to conduct analyses and we published the results as the DESIGN VISION Annual Report 2022.
The report can be viewed interactively on the Sony Group’s intra-site, where it is used to build shared awareness across business segments and departments, and to design new values.

Overarching research theme:
The Balancing Act

This year’s research theme is "The Balancing Act."
Today, with unprecedented events causing a chain reaction of effects, it is difficult to see even a little into the future. Nevertheless, while researching the complex entanglement of relationships between fields such as climate change, the world economy, and international affairs, we started to recognize a certain movement.

The world is indeed continuing to grow more volatile. However, there also seems to be a re-balancing effect going on behind the scenes, which is working to restore systems that have malfunctioned.
For example, initiatives that incorporate knowledge from nature and not just technology, those that merge the physical and digital worlds, and those that create communities that transcend existing national and cultural borders. These movements carefully ascertain the balance of various relationships and search for new ways of living in harmony.

The overarching theme of this year’s research, “The Balancing Act,” expresses this broad movement.
The below interview article with Cecilia Tham, a futurist working to reform the social system, looks at how new forms of harmony may develop.

Rebuilding the "social train"
for a sustainable future

Cecilia Tham is a futurist based in Barcelona, Spain.
She has founded multiple startups that strive to resolve social issues and is currently the Principal of Futurity Systems.
In this interview, she shared with us her initiatives aimed at rebuilding the current flawed social system.
She discussed topics like her original concept of a social train, an interspecies metaverse,
and the development of technological tools, such as for the future of food.

Cecilia Tham sitting in front of Makers of Barcelona, where she is the Founder.

What It Takes to Change
the Rails That Have Been Laid

You have traveled and experienced the world, founded, or created many startups, always trying to solve society’s most imminent problems. Which problem are you currently focusing on?

To give you my perspective on it, our society right now is built on the “social train”. We have built the track and the infrastructure. We get on this train, we go to school, we get good grades, so that we can get a decent job, etc.

Everyone gets on that train, and everyone goes through this process, except that this train is currently broken. We learn things that very quickly will become obsolete as things are changing much faster than ever. We go to university, again, to learn skills that will also be obsolete. We get a job that we hate. We earn money to buy things that we do not need, get married, divorced… But there are mechanics for us to rebuild this train in a much more equitable and much more sustainable way and a part of my job is doing that.

We need to be intentional
about the consequences
that we are
designing today.

How do you see the world improving and moving forward?

We need to be intentional about the consequences that we are designing today. And those consequences will lead us into deciding on how we are going to create the future that we want. For example, the positive consequences are things that we need to take advantage of, and make sure that we understand and maximize those aspects. With the negative consequences, we should either actively avoid, or preemptively create solutions so the net impact will be positive.

One of the problems right now that we are lacking in is the culture, the education, and the training. We do not teach this to kids, we do not think about the long term. We do not really have the mechanics to deal with this on the societal level, on the business level, and on many fronts. So, we need to build out all of these as part of society, for us to be able to move forward.

Technology and science are changing at a rate that we have never seen before.

There is this framework I particularly like, laid out in the Pace Layers by Stewart Brand. On the very bottom layer you have nature, and then culture. This is categorized according to the pace of change. So, nature is slow because evolution is slow. On top of that, you have culture and tradition. Then you have governance, laws, regulations. And then on top of that, you have infrastructure, which entails schools, hospitals, highways. On top of that, you have commerce – companies and corporations. At the very top, you have fashion, where things change constantly.

The tech and science are in the speed of fashion layer. For example, we are changing phones every two years. And this rate of change is adopting so fast, like the metaverse hit us really fast and this is shifting all the technologies being incorporated. But all the other layers below have not been able to catch up. The laws and regulations cannot even keep up with something as simple as the regulation of AI. We still do not have the mechanics to do that and it is causing a lot of the problems...

What happens is that now you have bad disruption amongst these layers. But we can use these formats or frameworks. Using the pace layer as a kind of understanding of how to build resiliency in our society, how to incorporate technology and sciences, how to really manage and anticipate the impacts of tech and science ahead of time throughout all the layers. It is crucial in planning strategy for the years to come.

Vapeohol: Alcohol that you can inhale to improve your wellbeing by Futurity Systems.

A Vision of the Future in 2050
With All Species and
the Metaverse

You work on designing long term scenarios. Looking into this future - 2050 and beyond, what can we anticipate?

We talk about futures as a plural. Futures are a matter of perspective: my present and my future are very different from someone with a different lifepath. The life I live here is different from the life of someone living in an emerging country for example.

That being said, one of the possible futures that we can anticipate is the blurring between when it is virtual and where there is physical. That kind of overlapping will create a lot of issues, but a lot of possibilities and opportunities as well.

Futures are a matter
of perspective:
my present and
my future
are very different from
someone with a
different lifepath.

The other future that we can investigate is how physical space can become more overlapped: a blur between countries, between states, between boundaries of people. We are currently in a very binary world where it is purely based on where we were born, which is a very unfair way of thinking.

We are moving towards true planetary equity.

Herby is equipped with sensors to measure physiological well-being and decision-making capacities.

You told us about food as a key topic of exploration, as it is a vector of innovation but also a wonderful way to bring people together.

It is because I love to eat, but also under the premise of wanting to drive our society into becoming more responsible consumers.

We want to explore how we can separate essential eating from hedonistic eating, the functional versus the emotional. Can we replace the pleasure side of things with digital means? That means we will not be wasting our calories, wasting food, and wasting natural resources just to satisfy our pleasure.

The Electronic Popsicle; a prototype which explores how electricity can produce taste.

For example, we explore how we can use electricity to induce tastes on our tongue. We have looked at something similar called Vapeohol where we are inducing smell without food. We are breaking up different senses of smell, taste, texture, and we are now in the process of putting them back together in a way that we would not have. Electronic food is an exciting topic for the future of realities, imagine a device you could put on your tongue, that can simulate sweet on the tip and salty on the side. What does it mean, in the future when we talk about creating a playlist of tastes, or a Spotify for taste? What does it mean to DJ a taste?

(Interview conducted online on July 13, 2022)

Interviewer’s commentLinda Lissola, Senior Designer / Senior Researcher, Design Center Europe, Sony Group

In the conversation with Cecilia, she talked about how many systems, and the way we do things, are out of balance, and how we need to find new ways forward to regain that balance.

She touched upon the necessity of challenging flawed systems and routines, to find new ways of dealing with new issues. This process is not linear or unilateral, not about ‘us’, humanity, and ‘the rest’, but we need to leave the binary world behind and enter a plural world, learning from every species and leveraging all kinds of knowledge.

This is what we call The Balancing Act.