When Fiction Informs Policy: The Introspective Shift Imagined by Speculative Design Studio N O R M A L S and the European Commission

Berlin, June 11, 2024



A speculative design piece in five acts, INWARDS depicts a major cultural shift in the European Union during the 2050s: as materialistic values crumble, citizens turn inward to find meaning, direction, and agency. Taking the form of short animations, it depicts future lives through introspective narrations, with a focus on the felt and ritualistic. Whether this model is desirable or not is left to the viewer’s discretion.

INWARDS was designed by N O R M A L S as part of the EU Pol­i­cy Lab's Futures Gar­den project, and based on the research work of the Fore­sight on Demand net­work and Insti­tu­tul de Prospec­ti­va. The project aims to spark con­ver­sa­tions among EU cit­i­zens and pol­i­cy­mak­ers about pos­si­ble futures and the EU's role in cre­at­ing them. 

The full arte­facts will be on show at the Waterkant Fes­ti­val in Kiel (June 13 & 14) and at the Cit­i­zens Engage­ment Fes­ti­val in Brus­sels (June 13), and will be offi­cial­ly pub­lished online on June 20. A pre­view is avail­able on https://www.futuresgarden.eu/inwards (pass­word: InwardsEU23), and a project page can be viewed on https://normalfutu.re/studio/inwards.

If You Can’t Change the World, Change Yourself

Can shar­ing the neu­ro­chem­istry of our feel­ings deep­en mutu­al under­stand­ing? Can com­mu­ni­ties thrive when every­one is pushed to indi­vid­u­al­ly flour­ish? Can chang­ing your­self tru­ly change the world? 

The devel­oped sce­nar­ios reflect on the wide­spread pes­simism of young gen­er­a­tions, who wres­tle with mul­ti­ple plan­e­tary emer­gen­cies and a grow­ing dis­trust in demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions. This per­ceived lack of agency dri­ves them toward intro­spec­tive prac­tices, with new spir­i­tu­al move­ments, mind­ful­ness, and self-opti­mi­sa­tion apps rapid­ly gain­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty. Are these prac­tices mere escapism, or path­ways to a bet­ter future? 

Build­ing on these sig­nals, INWARDS imag­ines a soci­ety where indi­vid­ual well-being becomes a cen­tral con­cern. What starts as grass­root move­ments focused on unlearn­ing mate­ri­al­ism, devel­op­ing kinder work cul­tures, or build­ing empa­thy through neur­al inter­faces even­tu­al­ly becomes a mar­ket that catch­es the atten­tion of leg­is­la­tors. Devices for assist­ed intro­spec­tion and mood shar­ing must be mon­i­tored, and new types of skills inte­grat­ed into the pro­fes­sion­al landscape.

Five Scenes from an Introspective Future

The project explores var­i­ous aspects of this trans­for­ma­tion through five thought-pro­vok­ing ani­ma­tion films:

The Wishless

A helpline call explores the chal­lenges of let­ting go of mate­ri­al­is­tic ideals.


A dai­ly rit­u­al of gam­ing-meets-intro­spec­tion aims to replace therapy.

Neural Bonfire

A set of devices that net­work emo­tions helps a group over­come self-centeredness.

Emotional Excellence

A cer­tifi­cate of emo­tion­al excel­lence trans­forms work culture.

The Collective Path

A work­place fos­ters com­mu­ni­ty by orches­trat­ing indi­vid­ual journeys.

Engaging Citizens and Policymakers through Speculative Design

The Futures Gar­den project uses spec­u­la­tive design to cre­ate tan­gi­ble, thought-pro­vok­ing sce­nar­ios that ignite con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing work­shops with EU cit­i­zens and pol­i­cy­mak­ers. These sce­nar­ios chal­lenge par­tic­i­pants with pos­si­ble futures, prompt­ing reflec­tion on their social, polit­i­cal, and envi­ron­men­tal costs. Feed­back col­lect­ed on a polit­i­cal com­pass gauges the desir­abil­i­ty and real­ism of each sce­nario, and helps shape for­ward-think­ing, inclu­sive, and impact­ful EU policies


From the EU Policy Lab, about Futures Garden

"Futures Gar­den sparks inno­v­a­tive pol­i­cy mak­ing by explor­ing pos­si­ble futures in a proac­tive and co-cre­ative way. "
Erica Bol — Architect Futures Garden at the EU Policy lab
“The Futures Gar­den is an exer­cise in col­lec­tive dream­ing for the future of our soci­eties. It opens a new way of engag­ing with the futures that is more proac­tive, imag­i­na­tive and hopeful.”
Elahe Rajabiani — Head of Design at the EU Policy lab
“Futures Gar­den makes imag­i­na­tion around emerg­ing issues more rich and vivid, which is the first step to cre­at­ing togeth­er good poli­cies for the future.”
Maciej Krzysztofowicz  — Foresight Futures Garden at the EU Policy lab

From workshop participants, about INWARDS

Amaz­ing­ly sin­cere… This self emo­tion­al diag­nos­tic is the best path to know­ing our­selves better
The video gave me mixed feel­ings: the feel­ing of calm­ness, peace and rest (enjoy­ing the sun­shine), but also the feel­ing of fear of los­ing our voic­es, our diver­si­ty, our tem­per, our humanity 
It seems to lack some healthy noise, a cer­tain lev­el of dis­rup­tion, and neg­a­tive emo­tions that must be expressed and not suppressed.
The idea of rais­ing col­lec­tive aware­ness about men­tal health, and well­be­ing, gain­ing a sort of lit­er­a­cy in that sense is super interesting.
After watch­ing the movie, I am con­cerned about the future and I hope it will be dif­fer­ent than the one pre­sent­ed there.
I real­ly like the future in which peo­ple could express their emo­tions and feel­ings and con­nect to each oth­er through them.

About N O R M A L S

N O R M A L S is a Berlin-based design stu­dio sup­port­ing organ­i­sa­tions in think­ing about futures through design and fic­tion. They spe­cial­ize in spec­u­la­tive design and work with pub­lic clients, research insti­tutes, and com­pa­nies. Their clients include the Ger­man Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion and Research (BMBF), the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, the Insti­tute for Advanced Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Stud­ies, Evonik, and Deutsche Bahn, and their work has been shown inter­na­tion­al­ly at the NY Fash­ion Week, the Nation­al Tai­wan Muse­um of Fine Arts, MoMA, and more.

The work of N O R M AL S pro­vides detailed and imag­i­na­tive explo­rations of pos­si­ble futures, sup­port­ing peo­ple in reflect­ing on and prepar­ing for these sce­nar­ios. Dur­ing the past 10 years, the stu­dio con­tin­u­al­ly pushed the bound­aries of spec­u­la­tive design, find­ing new con­texts and approaches.

For more infor­ma­tion, please vis­it our project web­sites

or con­tact us at ssup@normalfuture