Speech Topic

Shaping the Future

Although difficult to predict, we have great potential to shape the future.
In building the Envisioning effort at Microsoft, Ian developed a methodology and series of best practices that became a cornerstone for how the company innovated and inspired the world.
This talk will explore the details of the envisioning process along with a rich set of examples and strategic project experiences, both past and present. Ultimately, exemplifying how an over-the-horizon purview can add tremendous value to a company’s long-term strategic investments and build great mind-share with customers.

Ian Sands

Founder | Managing Partner, Pilot


With a background in user-experience design and technology R&D, Ian Sands has 20 years of experience inventing, designing and envisioning long-term futures and next generation software solutions. 

In his current role as Managing Partner and Founder of Pilot Lab, LLC, Sands is 18 months into starting his second company after retiring his post at Microsoft in 2010.

Pilot is a technology concept lab with outposts in Seattle and London. The company consists of designers and engineers that specialize in the invention of software and solutions that reimagine the customer experience. Leveraging a lab-for-hire model, they extend the team’s expertise in R&D, product incubation, long-term envisioning and people-centric design.

Pilot’s client list includes Microsoft, Skype, Pearson, Spotify, Delta Airlines and the private office of Bill Gates.

In 2010, Ian founded the Seattle-based strategy and design firm, Intentional Futures (iF). In his role as Managing Partner, Sands helped build a successful consulting firm and world-class design team whose work with Bill Gates’ private office and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (among others) explored the boundaries of concept, design and technology. In several of their capstone partnerships, like the Big History Project, iF was responsible for helping to pioneer next-generation learning solutions.

Prior to founding Intentional Futures, Ian Sands founded and headed the Envisioning effort for Microsoft. 

As a core component of Office Labs (an R&D organization in Redmond, Washington) Microsoft’s Envisioning group was responsible for driving Microsoft’s 10-year productivity vision and strategy. In this capacity, Sands worked with thought-leaders across industries and throughout Microsoft to develop concepts and solutions at the intersection of business challenges and emerging technologies. The team’s work consisted of IP development across a range of prototypes, videos (e.g. Microsoft 2019) and physical installations that helped excite, align and guide internal teams and customers.

Sands’ work was recognized as playing a pivotal role in how Microsoft aligned to re-imagine and unify long-term visions for the company.  In addition, the design language created by the team helped to spark a movement to modernize and unify the branding and user experience design across the company.