Design as a speculative process

We spent a day with Marianne Pührerfellner exploring design fiction (Bleeker, 2009) and how it might help us in the design process.

Using fiction to think about the future sounds more unusual than it is. Fiction is present in everyday life: We see the example of NASA taking carefully curated human data records to space (on gold plated disks) with the vision that they might be picked up by life in another dimension of time or space (1). Also, in film and TV the future is a common trope, with examples such as video phoning in Metropolis (2), gesture-based interactions in Minority Report (3), or artificially intelligent cars in Night Rider (4).

Design fiction is a tool that offers a new perspective on the future, giving us the space to generate awareness, raise concerns or challenge values about social or technological developments (Pührerfellner, 2020). The Globes, 2019, is a project by Dunne and Raby, showing all the possible and impossible shapes of the Earth as a planet, reminding us, and illustrating that there is more than one concept to explain our world. It reveals design as a tool to inquire and open up our views on the world. (5)
In contrast to traditional ways of analysing and projecting futures, design fiction offers a broader context. Through developing speculative objects, we are able to enlarge the space of alternative contexts and possible futures enormously.

In our workshop, we used the tool “The Thing from the Future” to explore this way of designing (Candy and Watson, 2015). The Thing from the Future is an imagination game, which guides designers by setting certain parameters towards coming up with their alternative futures. The parameters are set out to give constraints about the ARC of trajectories of the future (will it grow, collapse, be ordered and disciplined, or transformed), a TERRAIN describing the contextual landscape, a particular OBJECT the designer should focus on, and the MOOD that describes the experience of that future.

Design fiction was a fantastic instrument to explore design and its capacities.

References

Bleeker, J. (2009). Design fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. Near future laboratory, 29.
Candy, Stuart and Watson, Jeff. (2015). The thing from the future. Situationlab.org. Accessed at http://situationlab.org/project/the-thing-from-the-future/
Pührerfellner, Marianne. (2020). Design fiction, Workshop MxD @ New Design University.

Endnotes