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Updated: Sep 21, 2022

What do you see in this image? "Looking," directing your eyes to something, is the first instance of visual reading. However, deep and detailed perception, the attitude that leads us to the concrete reading of the visual message, occurs when one seeks to "see." This article asks you to "see" the potential for the use of images for Futures Studies. Welcome to Visual Futures Studies, an area dedicated to the connections between future and image, which can revolutionize the work of futurists by addressing questions such as:

Why are illustrated Futures Studies more accessible? How can visual literacy improve the work of futurists? What are the most effective methods to collect weak signals from images? How do we decolonize visual narratives in projects about futures? Should we contest the values of tomorrow's societies based on images of the traditional culture of the present?

Visual Futures Studies has a great deal of potential, which led me to investigate what the futurist community has produced on this topic. So far, I do not see a structured area with theory, frameworks, and tools. I only see scattered projects. In this way, we have a powerful space of creation to be shaped and advanced. In this first blog, I invite you to reflect on some initial outlines for the area. Let's work on its concepts, importance, and potential.


Discussing concepts is a tiring and bureaucratic task but necessary when thinking about something new. In the case of Visual Future Studies, when we do this exercise, we have the opportunity to build on and explore how the futurist community perceives itself and wants to be seen in this area. Futures Studies and Visual Studies are already complex and interdisciplinary areas without theoretical and methodological consensus. As we move towards Visual Futures Studies, and bring together elements of Futures Studies and Visual Studies, the challenges increase.

Image: Raquel Valença

I propose three new concepts to structure the discussion about the area: 1. Visual Futures Studies: a field that would work from hybrid forms of research to produce interdisciplinary knowledge using the relationship of the future with image, vision, and visuality. 2. Visual Futures: synthetic, colloquial, and commercial expression for the area of Visual Future Studies. 3. Visual Culture of the Futures: area dedicated to understanding the image, vision, and visuality in the future from human constructions that are socially and historically situated.

That would be our initial vocabulary on the subject. In summary, Visual Futures Studies would be the means, Visual Futures the synthesis, and Visual Culture of the Futures the object of study. The three concepts express the starting point for the foundation of Visual Futures Studies and are complementary. These need to be discussed and further developed.


For centuries, many cultures have regarded words as the ultimate expression of intellect. We are so confident in writing that we don't realize our role in perpetuating this myth. We underestimate the potential of images to transmit messages quickly, objectively, and directly. By doing this, we give up a more universal and accessible language. Much of the brain relates to visual processing. Images have the power to catch our attention quickly and hold it. Studies concluded that we process images 60,000 times faster than text. Images are the things most easily remembered and are essential for our learning. Start by reflecting on your experience with this blog: did you first look at the images or the text? Now, envision the role of a futurist in conducting a futures study, producing an art exhibition with immersive technologies, designing a speculative product, or developing an illustrated book. In all these circumstances, the convergence of Futures Studies and Visual Studies is present. It seems highly promising to innovate in theory and method. Understanding images and how they affect us is just as important as mastering written code. Therefore, I recommend that you adopt the new paradigm offered by Visual Futures Studies. Fluency in and use of visual language will allow greater effectiveness and accessibility in your projects. The importance of Visual Future Studies goes far beyond the ability to think through the color palette and choose the right typography for a Foresight project. We are talking about an area that requires complex skills to transcend the process of “looking” to actually “seeing” the world.


Visual Futures Studies have great potential to revolutionize the ways of organizing thought and the possibilities of representing tomorrow. You can use knowledge from the primary areas of Futures Studies and Visual Studies to hybridize established methods or create innovative approaches. You can also conceive ideas and techniques that have not yet been thought of by the structuring areas. There is room for theories, methodologies, technologies, and languages for scientific, organizational, educational, or artistic purposes. You can reframe the way you create and deliver your products to society. Reflect on the connection between Strategic Foresight and Urban Art. Consider developing a transmedia project about futures with extensive use of images or building future scenarios without words. Images are as important as the theoretical aspects of Future Studies. You need to exercise your brain to mature in this perspective. The futures of different societies can be reflected and constructed from images, either through impressionist pictorial techniques or 3D modeling tools for the metaverse. Images that go beyond the traditional boundaries of our culture bring new meanings that can influence how we think and build the future. You can provoke the viewer to think, feel, and plan differently, in the long run, using visuals. Demonstrating that images have the same relevance as the written word is another potential path to exercise. In a narrative of future studies predominantly composed of images, you can offer as much cohesion and consistency as a collection of written articles. Ensure that your visual material remains firm on its own. The image can be a tool, an object of the study, or a result of its work. Realize the fluidity of using this feature and take it seriously in your projects. Visual Literacy goes hand in hand with Futures Literacy. It is challenging to synthesize the technical capacity and social potential of this new field in this brief essay. The current context of technological and media effervescence, combined with global challenges of different natures, makes room for numerous discussions. For this, the next articles will focus on decolonizing images about tomorrow and graphic narratives.


Bordieu, P. (1983). The Scientific Field. IN: Ortiz, R. Sociology. Ática: São Paulo, pp. 122-155. Barthes, R. (2001). Rhetoric of the Image in Visual Culture: The Reader, ed. Jessica Evans and Stuart Hall. Sage: London. Mirzoeff, N. (2000). An Introduction to Visual Culture. Routledge: New York. Mitchell, W.J.T. (2009). Image theory. Ediciones Akal: Madrid. Mitchell, W.J.T. (2015). Image Science: Iconology, Visual Culture, and Media Aesthetics. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago.


Image 1: Hermann Traub by Pixabay Image 2: Raquel Valença

© Raquel Valença 2022

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