A group of people sitting in chairs in a room with a large screen.

Design Forecast Cascadia: The Future of Human Experience

Editor’s note: This post is part of Gensler’s Design Forecast Local, a series of hyper local conversations with our clients about the topics that matter most in our cities.

Because cities profoundly touch the lives of people who live in them, we believe that human connection and experience will be the driving forces behind thriving communities. On Nov. 6, 2019, Gensler’s Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver offices hosted an intimate dinner conversation with the region’s business and civic leaders, "People, Place, Purpose: The Future of Human Experience," to discuss new strategies for planning the future of the region, and the responsibilities we have to create opportunity, vision, and hope.

Sparked by provocative viewpoints from speakers Aaron Hurst, author of “The Purpose Economy,” CEO of Imperative, and founder of Taproot Foundation; Dr. Wilfred Pinfold, CEO of urban.systems, Inc. and professor at Portland State; and Joel Fariss, futures strategist and innovation leader from Gensler, the event convened 40 of the Pacific Northwest’s thought leaders at The Collective, an “urban basecamp” and community collaboration site in Seattle, to explore how businesses, organizations, and cities are preparing for an urban future. Participants offered their unique perspectives on human connection through the lens of People, Purpose, and Place.

A crowd listens to the keynote address for Gensler Cascadia's Design Forecast Local event.
Gensler Northwest Regional Managing Principal Karen Thomas delivers the keynote address on "Human Connection and the Future of Cities."

PEOPLE: Human connections will alleviate physical and emotional isolation.

People are moving to urban environments with more opportunities for engagement than ever before, yet loneliness and social isolation have become an epidemic. Even as we’ve become increasingly tethered together through our networked lives, there’s a direct correlation between our use of technology and loneliness. Loneliness is not the absence of other human beings, it’s about the loss of time and meaning as technology compresses and accelerates our lives.

According to Gensler’s Joel Fariss, multi-dimensional, complex problems such as loneliness, which are systemic at an urban scale, need large groups of people to collectively come together to address them. To remedy this impending public health crisis, we need to ask ourselves “What have I lost?” How might we retain a sense of presence and time, while retaining deep connection with ourselves, so that we can remain connected to others? The answers to these questions can move our teams, businesses, and institutions toward a state of belonging that defines community.

There’s always some sort of emotional state for every generation. And for our generation, for this era, loneliness is one of those defining traits. It’s something that we need to understand in relation to the human experience in urban environments.
— Joel Fariss, futures strategist and innovation leader, Gensler
Participants at the dinner discussion for Gensler Cascadia's Design Forecast Local event
Jacob Simons, director of Design Strategy, Gensler, asks participants, “How can we use technology with intention, for the benefit of all?”
PLACE: It's our responsibility to humanize smart cities.

“Smart cities” encapsulate all the promise and anxiety of the contemporary city. Representing both a desirable livability and a potentially invasive surveillance, technologies need to offer the urban citizen a tangible benefit. In other words, it’s our responsibility to humanize smart cities. Dr. Wilfred Pinfold, CEO of urban.systems, Inc. and professor at Portland State, predicted that smart city technologies designed in service to people will allow us to maintain privacy while creating the personal and custom environments that we want to live in.

As technology relates to the city, we have to think about the context of place. Technology should make the environment fundamentally better than it would be without it.
— Dr. Wilfred Pinfold, CEO of urban.systems, Inc. and professor at Portland State
Panelist Aaron Hurst talks about the importance of purpose
Aaron Hurst, author of “The Purpose Economy,” CEO of Imperative, and founder of Taproot Foundation, introduced participants to the importance of purpose and fulfillment — at work and in society.
PURPOSE: Purpose and culture can cultivate resilient communities.

Aaron Hurst, author of “The Purpose Economy,” CEO of Imperative, and founder of Taproot Foundation, talked about the need to spend time reflecting to create meaning at work and to figure out what fulfills us as individuals. When people are aware of what brings purpose to them, they're substantially more likely to state that their work is meaningful and to exhibit curiosity, diversity, and generosity. By uniting people around a shared purpose, we can build connection in our companies and our cities, creating a new social resilience.

There’s no such thing as a meaningful job. The job itself does not create the meaning; it’s our ability to reflect and connect experiences to each other and to ideas that actually creates the meaning.
— Aaron Hurst, author of “The Purpose Economy,” CEO of Imperative, founder of Taproot Foundation

The perspectives offered during this intimate dinner setting, and the subsequent discussions by the region’s business and community leaders, will inform how we design for experience in cities across the Pacific Northwest. The ideas that we exchanged in this forum will point the region toward a future that is more connected, and ultimately, more human.

The things we're talking about do not have simple answers. Tonight, we set the table with our aspirations, and that made us put down our phones and talk about solutions. If we could do this in our cities, it would be very powerful.
— Ken Montler, CEO, Mobility Cubed
Guests at Gensler's Design Forecast Cascadia event discuss new strategies for the region.
Jacob Simons
Jacob is a Strategy Leader for Gensler’s Northwest region and co-leads the delivery of Innovation Consulting services at Gensler. As a Strategy Director based in our Seattle office, he provides leadership on strategic engagements with clients and internal design teams to identify, develop, and deploy new products, spaces, brands, and experiences, working across multiple studios and practices. Contact him at .
Tana Hall
Tana is a client experience director based in Gensler’s San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Northwest region. She leads client engagement programs, helping craft exceptional experiences across all touchpoints of the design process. Tana’s work ranges from CX research and journey mapping, to communications strategy and the development of brand principles for the workplace. Contact her at .