The Future of Outdoor Activities

Exploring future scenarios of human-nature connections to plan for long-term strategies

Client: Airstream

Date: Spring 2019



General Situation 


Airstream, a universally recognized brand for travel trailers, has dominated the luxury camping space for decades. While quite successful in the baby boomer segment, they have struggled to acquire a market share with millennials and gen Zers, groups that have shown enormous beginner level interest in interacting with nature.


They initially came to the MDES program to discover and learn what the future of campgrounds was, but as we began to draw out the system, the scope had to become much more broad. Campgrounds were a small part of the system of understanding the relationship between humans and nature. The new objective then became exploring and co-creating what the relationship between humans and nature would look like by 2050.

Overarching Challenge

What possible futures should Airstream consider for the year 2050, and how can they create better opportunities for themselves now in expectation of those future scenarios?


Cost of NOT Finding a Solution    

Failing to understand the evolving relationship that humans have with nature and what the future of that could potentially look like could result in Airstream becoming “just another” travel trailer company and falling into obscurity. 




Approach: Speculative Design (Future Thinking combined with Systems Thinking) uses fiction and speculates on future products, services, systems and worlds, reflectively examining the role and impact of new technologies on everyday life and moves away from the constraints of the commercial practice (steered by the market). 



Systems Thinking / Mind Mapping

It’s important to recognize that the campground is only a subsystem of the larger, complex system of human outdoor activities. We had to analyze the system as a whole, (zooming out) breaking down the big picture into smaller components (zooming in) to be able to understand the system and its parts, including the implications, connections and interrelations. 


Early on, we divided into teams as different themes began to emerge from the initial mind maps. 


  1. Communicating with Nature

  2. Interacting with Nature

  3. Sustainable / Alternative camping

  4. Accessibility to the outdoors

Stakeholder Mapping

Once we had a clear mind map of the system, we ran a similar generative exercise to identify the stakeholders that play a main role and interact within it. This helped us identify not only how interconnected all the stakeholders are, but also which relationships tend to be the most conflictive. We proceeded to contact and interview stakeholders that had tensions between and gain an understanding of their perspective on these relationships, their individual concerns, and cultural and social values.


Trend Mapping using STEEP

With a systems thinking mindset, we considered all social, technological, economical, environmental, and political (STEEP) aspects of human life today and also what these factors were like in the past, 10-30 years ago, and what they might look like 10-30 years in the future. This made us realize how actions, values, ideologies, and advancements are all interconnected and a change or breakthrough in one forces the others to change and evolve as well. As we analyzed the timeline, we started noticing, not only patterns, but signals about how certain trends may develop in the future. 


Scenario Matrixing

This prompted us to ask questions about the future and how combining two or more trends could result in different scenarios through "simply" asking: What if..? We extracted key uncertainties and their relationships from the Trend Map, and continued to ask more questions (or 'what ifs') around them. Intuitively, and with the support of all the research we'd done up to this point, we started developing possible future scenarios.

I shared with the VP and team, how impressed I was with the different approaches for the future the MDes students proposed.

The artifacts were very thought provoking! Very good presenters, engaging, clean and easy to follow.

- Mollie Hansen

 Chief Marketing Officer, Airstream



Considering the future in 30 years and using the scenario matrix, we started to create functional and operational views of alternative futures. The key here was to depict possible, probable, and preferable futures.



Before the co-creation session, we presented multiple future scenarios to stakeholders via mood boards. Their reactions and feedback then determined, altered and fleshed out the future scenarios that were presented to our co-creation groups. Co-creation sessions were designed to immerse users, as much as possible, in a given future scenario. Picturing themselves in this new world, participants were asked to create an object that they would use in that world. This artefact from the future showcased how they interacted with nature, providing insight into their fears, hopes, and relationships within this new world. 

The insights gathered from the co-creations allowed us to create our final design fiction and our own artifact.


Design Fictions

Columbus College of Art & Design | Master of Design 2020