A weak signal is an indicator to identify a change in the future with little or no impact on the present, but with the potential to lead to the identification of major impact events. They set trends and indicate certain directions and by that draw up future scenarios. A weak signal can be defined as a trend before the trend itself becomes a relevant source of future research.


As these signals are ‘weak’ by nature, the task of detecting them involves in many cases both addressing surrounding issues and exploring the boundaries between conventional society and the future of technologies. Weak signals are always more visible in retrospect, which is why it is important to detect them when they are still “weak” and before they have become a rule. When they are recognized in time they can be used as a design tool to initiate discussion and speculative thinking about the future.

The Atlas of Weak Signals

The Atlas of the Weak Signals is a toolkit designed by Mariana Quintero, transforming the research of weak signals into a practical space to navigate and understand possible emerging scenarios based on underlying trends in our current world. It is an exercise that facilitates seeking opportunities, threats, challenges and shared visions for innovation, policymaking, intervention, research and business opportunities in the future.

As an ongoing project part of the Master in Design for Emergent Futures, the Atlas of Weak Signals provides a space and structure for students to move and position themselves in the complex panorama of our present and to combat future challenges by creating opportunities for design interventions. Check out below one of the lectures of the seminar “Atlas of Weak Signals” part of the Master in Design for Emergent Futures given by Jose Luis de Vicente, who is conducting the research of weak signals. In the seminar Jose Luis de Vicente looks at the systemic crises dictating the way we live in the present and determining the challenges and possibilities of our future. In the first lecture, he is examining the defining issue of our time – The planetary crisis.

Design futures with us! The Atlas of Weak Signals offers you a hands-on, collaborative approach to the exploration of weak signals that have been detected across our strategic areas of action research over the past 10 years. You can now download and print out your very own copy of the Atlas of Weak signals and use the cards as tools for imagining futures – let’s design them together! 

Download the cards here!

Download the instructions here!

Got excited about Designing Futures?  The Master in Design for Emergent Futures is a program that challenges students to change the way things work today by designing for tomorrow.

It is organised by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia and Elisava Barcelona School of Design and Engineering, in collaboration with the Fab Academy.

Applications for the next edition starting in fall 2022 are already open. Read more about the program and apply here.

The practical content of the Master is developed by Fab Lab Barcelona, the research and innovation centre at IAAC.