Alan Schacher performing Share my Coffin
Alan Schacher “Share My Coffin”— Melbourne Festival of Death & Dying 2017

The medium of time: designing for survival

By Oliver Damian

Prior to reading Tony Fry’s article “Methods of Change 2 – Designing in Time” I never really thought of time as a medium. That is as Fry quoting Aristotle said: “the event in which things occur”. I did previously see time as a measure, not as a medium.

Seeing time as a medium is much richer. As noted by Fry the past can become an eternal present like the loss of the caliphate for some Muslim people, and the future is not a tabula rasa, a terra nullius waiting to be filled, waiting to be colonised. Rather “the future is delimited by what we have already thrown into it”.

Fry’s analysis made me understand that futuring is not about ‘what will be’ or ‘what might be’ but it is about ‘what potentialities beg interrogation’. It’s an active process of interrogating what in the present is a determinant of the future and using this to elaborate a future. Fry points out that this implies (1) the notion of a continually modified ‘present’ impacted by significant events, and (2) future scenario development has to be relational. That is, a change in one aspect let’s say technology can have a domino effect on others like politics, the economy, culture.

I like Fry’s contrasting of design scenarios which beget incremental design versus scenarios of design which can lead to a radical re-design. Scenarios of design in a way relates to Dunne & Raby’s speculative design.

By thinking of time as a medium it woke me up to the reality that time is something that we construct together and that we can make our existence in time longer or shorter depending on the design choices we make, that is before we run out of time.


  1. Dunne, A. & Raby, F. 2013, ‘Design as critique’, Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  2. Fry, T. 2009, ‘Methods of Change 2 – Designing in Time’, in Design futuring: sustainability, ethics and new practice, Berg Publishers, Oxford, pp. 145-155.