I was talking to someone recently about what we have been reading/listening to, and he mentioned that he has been reading a lot of design fiction. I was instantly intrigued, wondering how I had never heard of the concept before. The conversation turned into a long discussion on the world of design fiction and an evening of me reading everything I could get my hands on. This post aims to be an introduction to design fiction as well as an invitation to read some of the examples I have included.
So what is design fiction?
The term “Design Fiction” was coined by Bruce Sterling in 2005, but the concept is more often associated with Julian Bleeker’s 2009 essay, Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. Design fiction, as defined by Sterling, is the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change. In layman’s terms, design fiction has been described as “an approach to design that speculates about new ideas through prototyping and storytelling.”
A good example of successful design fiction is the Corning - A Day Made of Glass “commercial”. The reality presented in the video is the perfect mix of relatable activities and emotion with artefacts that introduce new technological possibilities. The interactions are so believable and organic with the narrative that while watching, you don’t question the feasibility of the artefacts. It is the truth in that story, and by watching, our minds open up to how that truth can become our reality.
Bruce Sterling said that, “Design fiction doesn't tell stories -- instead, it designs prototypes that imply a changed world.” While this is true, narrative plays a very important role in making design fiction successful. As described by Davis Levine in an article published by Digital Experience Design, there are three core aspects of design fiction: the use of narrative, the diegetic prototype, and the context. In order to effectually demonstrate new ideas through design fiction, each aspect needs to be thoughtfully addressed.
Here is a list of resources to start you on your design fiction fan journey:
- Curated Design Fiction Videos: the videos every design-fiction fan should see
- Black Mirror
- Design Fiction: “Speculative Everything” by Dunne & Raby
- What is Design Fiction?, creativebloq.com
- Insights: Scott Smith, medium.com
Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.