May 11, 2011

Design Fiction as a Deliverable

Josh Williams's picture
Josh Williams
Director, Product Strategy

A couple years ago, William Gibson, the sci-fi author, gave us the term "cyberspace" with the watershed novel “Neuromancer” and helped pioneer the cyberpunk subgenre, stopped writing about far-off tomorrows, and shifted his attention to the possibilities of today. In a 2007 interview, he said:

Personally I think that contemporary reality is sufficiently science fiction for me. Some critics are already maintaining that science fiction is a sort of historical category and it is not possible any more.

Gibson’s most recent trilogy (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History) features trend detectives going to elaborate extremes to investigate subculture's cool, and uncover techno-social mysteries that include augmented-reality art installations, geo-caching, and a secret brand behind a line of underground fashion. These recent novels are brimming with ideas grounded in contemporary reality. For example, Twitter makes an appearance Zero History when operatives use anonymous accounts and DMs as a means of communicating covertly. Many other ideas are more speculative, but they’re still tied to fairly plausible assumptions about the directions technology, politics, and society are heading, or they’re extensions of actual proof points and prototypes. So, rather than projecting his novels through the fantastical lens of science fiction, Gibson is simply building off what already exists, using the lens of design fiction.

Another well-known sci-fi author and futurist, Bruce Sterling, also shifted his focus from sci-fi to design fiction. Here’s the video of Sterling’s closing keynote at the Interaction11 conference where he makes several comments about design fiction (among many other things).

Design Fiction isn’t just written, it can be any kind of narrative media, and it’s a powerful tool for getting people excited about what’s possible.

In their Platform blog, Wieden+Kennedy says:

Design fiction has emerged as a pre-eminent tool for designing, challenging and understanding speculative future realities. However, design fiction aims to make the extraordinary ordinary. It merges the elastic creativity of science fiction with everyday matter of fact reality. Furthermore, in using current media conventions as a way to express ideas about the future, design fiction is able to twist reality and trick us into accepting the fantastic as possibility.

I like that description, but I’d also be happy saying something like, “Design fiction is creating narratives around speculative ideas in order to communicate what could be possible.” And that’s not a perfect articulation either, but I think W+K’s description leaves out some key words like "narrative," but especially "communicate," because often the goal of design fiction is to communicate the scope and implications of a design. Like a good prototype, a work of design fiction helps clarify the value and fit of design as solutions to problems and pain points.

Hot Studio has created some examples of design fiction for projects. They usually take the form of videos that use motion graphics to demonstrate the potential experience of a design. The goal is to inspire everyone, from a core team to an entire enterprise and beyond, as was the case with these concept videos from our recent work with Zinio and Hearst.

Because you're a Hottie, please log in before commenting:

Post new comment