What is "design fiction?"

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I've been writing "design fiction" for years (see, for example, Knights of the Rainbow Table), and when people ask me to explain it, I say something like, "An engineer might make a prototype to give you a sense of how something works; an architect will do a fly-through to give you a sense of its spatial properties; fiction writers produce design fiction to give you a sense of how a technology might feel."

Crap Futures (previously) has just published a long, fascinating essay about the nature and purpose of design fiction (it's part two here's part one), specifically asking how design fiction can let us think through very thorny questions about renewable energy, as part of a plan to make the island of Madiera energy-independent.

When the fictional world has been constructed in sufficient detail, it can become a testing ground for new ideas and approaches.

We mentioned Mohammed J. Ali’s energy-focused project, A New Scottish Enlightenment, in an earlier post. Similar to The Golden Institute it describes an energy related counterfactual history, in this case an alternative outcome to the 1979 Scottish independence referendum leading to a split from the United Kingdom. New Scotland’s key policies include legislation aimed to deliver increasing resources and independence to its citizens. This simple counterfactual history provides a powerful framework through which to rethink energy. Redesigning Madeira is essentially a re-location of Mo’s project (we are working with him) but with the key goal of actually implementing the design solutions.

Charles Eames once described design as ‘a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose’. Eames’s statement can be used to compare and contrast the function of normative design and approaches to technological application with the strategies/methods being developed for this project. As with energy, dominant approaches to the design of products and services were formulated last century, and likewise the systems and infrastructures in which designers operate exist along similar topologies with the elements being gathered and arranged at central locations and distributed radially around the globe. The role of the consumer is limited to simply interacting with the end product – for the time that it remains viable. Building on participatory design methods, combined with open-source knowledge practices, Redesigning Madeira will draw its elements from the local context: both natural elements in the landscape (as a source of energy) and cultural elements in the landscape (that can be potentially reused and recycled).

Three stages of design fiction (energy futures, Part 2) [Crap Futures]

Notable Replies

  1. This is a beautiful machine:

    It makes me happy to look at it.

    Anybody know what it is? The very large ducting suggests maybe some kind of steam turbine exhaust manifold?

  2. KXKVI says:

    I didn't know Apple had released a picture of the iCar.

  3. KXKVI says:

    Isn't design fiction just science fiction with a heavy predictive content? Like what they used to do in the old days before the new wave people got to it?

  4. I thought that design fiction was when a company says "we removed/changed item X because design" when it is really due to cost savings/whim/change-for-change...

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