How do we plan the future of humankind? Attendees of a design sprint — an exercise similar in nature to a hack-athon — hosted by the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking addressed this lofty question on Monday.

In the event, titled “FutureLabs: Designing to Prototype Human Futures,” Mark Gonzales — author, visiting Stanford professor, futurist and CEO of the Institute of Narrative Growth — guided audience members through a 90-minute crash course on the framework he uses to approach the future.

“Mark brings a very unique positionality to his work. I would describe him as indigenous, as Latinx, as Muslim . … I would describe him as someone who engages in design thinking from the ground up,” said event moderator Abdul-Rehman Malik, a postgraduate associate at Yale University’s Council on Middle East Studies and a Mentor in Residence at the Tsai Center.

Gonzales opened the event by asking attendees “What brought you here today?” Audience members cited a wide variety of reasons tied to their identities and careers.

After the members of the audience introduced themselves, Gonzales began his discussion with a metaphor for design challenges. He introduced the idea of “wireframes,” the structure of a problem that he compared to the body of a car. He then extended the metaphor to an “engine,” the force that motivates individuals.

“But there’s something that’s completely absent from both of these,” Gonzales said, “and that’s the North Star: where are we driving to?”

He emphasized the importance of questioning the purpose of development. While current thought about the future may include problems and the drive to solve them, Gonzales said, there is a gap in thinking about our North Star sense of purpose.

“All our visions around the future ask, how do we develop better machines? But what does it mean if we’re developing machines, and not developing people?” Gonzales said, explaining the value of converging innovation and human development.

After the introductory lesson, Gonzales divided the audience into groups based on the region of the world in which they were raised to work through a design problem focused on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Each small group had to select three of the 17 goals — which included zero hunger, education, climate action and gender equality — that its home region should prioritize. Then, participants analyzed the behavioral and structural roadblocks that may interfere with the achievement of these goals.

“Mark’s point on the humanity of technology was meaningful because it introduced a new perspective that I hadn’t thought of before. His emphasis on humanity’s role in the sustainability of the planet reinforced the idea that we have the capability to design the solutions to pressing and pertinent issues around us,” said Philena Sun ’21, an attendee of the event.

Gonzales has worked on many design projects focused on creative change. For example, he directed the We the People’s public art fundraising campaign on fundraising website Kickstarter, which raised more than $1,365,000. He has also worked with Embrace LA, which combats racism in Los Angeles, and Storytelling Somalia, which focuses on eliminating violence through cooperative storytelling.

“There are many ways I could describe Mark. I would describe him as a futurist, I would describe him as an incredible father, I would describe him as a storyteller, and I think if there was one word that would trump all of them, I would describe Mark as a dreamer,” Malik said.

Gonzales also spoke on a panel hosted by Dwight Hall from 4-5:30 p.m. on Tuesday called “No Ban on Stolen Lands: Connecting People of Land and Prayer.” This prayer focused on the Native American and Muslim communities.

Jessica Pevner | .