Design Fiction In The Workplace

15 February 2018 | Ellis Calderbank | About a 4 minute read
Tags: design, fiction, tech, workplace

A Quick Understanding of Design Fictions

In 2007, the US Department of Homeland Security envisioned a system that allowed for them to predict crime before it was going to happen, much like the pre-crime system seen in Philip K. Dick’s The Minority Report.


However, despite a property of the system being ‘Avoids All Privacy Issues’, it doesn’t actually seem that Homeland Security took into account how the methods were inherently intrusive and disruptive to privacy. People react very differently to privacy in the current socio-political era we have found ourselves in. Because of this, creators need to design services and products to serve different types of individuals, with different personalities, opinions and circumstances.

So, how do we do this?

We can use design fictions!


What is a Design Fiction?

A Design fiction is the result of utilising a technique that allows creators to understand how everyday people can interact with a technology or concept, and then make judgements on how further iterations can be designed. It takes what people believe in and, using educated speculation from our current reality, mixes it with fringe technology and elements of science fiction prototypes.


They are a synthesis of fictional narrative and critical design that can be utilised to produce scenarios used to question the use of a particular concept or technology. This then creates a framework for the future and allows critics, designers and artists to study the framework, redesign and create multiple iterations of it. They could also recognise the ineffectiveness of the framework and consider abandoning it. Design fictions can be experienced in a variety of formats, including videos, comics, video games and also research papers.


An example of a design fiction can be found in Uninvited Guests. It shows events over a few days depicting how an elderly person would react to smart-objects given to him by his children. The story explores how certain people would react to intrusive technology and how we develop relationships with technology.


The Importance of Designing with Narrative

Design fictions can have rippling effects on other industries. One instance of this is how the film industry tackles the question of the singularity; when will artificial intelligence surpass human intelligence and what happens when/if it does? Multiple films such as Ex Machina, The Terminator, Her and 2001: A Space Odyssey integrate design fiction into its narrative and attempt to tackle this existential issue. The drive to solve this issue typically roots from the combination of the speed at which technology is getting better and the related narratives of the 21st century, initialised by our own curiosity.


This is just one of the many reasons why design fictions are important in this day and age. It theoretically works as a crystal ball and a feedback system at the same time, predicting the future and showing where we could be going wrong.


Using Design Fictions in the Workplace

Implementing Design Fictions in your day to day challenges of designing products/services does take time. However, the payoff for exploring and experiencing these perspectives is that you can anticipate or cater for those views now, rather than further down your product’s life span when it could accrue some high costs. Maybe there is a better way of interacting with your product that you discovered through a video you watched or a paper that you read? You could even recognise the requirements for some of your audience that you didn’t realise! There are not enough design fictions out there and there may not be one for your particular product – however, there would almost certainly be one for your industry or area of technology.


Being able to establish future hypothesis helps designers know what to consider when partaking in the challenge to create a plausible future. It also helps us as consumers to know what to look out for if the same designs are showing up and to help us make a decision to purchase other items or invest in other markets, because it’s deemed to be the wise and responsible decision. Looking through the lens of modern media and fiction can also help us create more intelligent design that could show that we, as a species are moving forward, taking advantage of every technology we can discover and fabricate. Some of the obstacles that we may run into during this process can be tackled effectively with the use of design fiction. The combinations of the aforementioned traits are just a small part of the umbrella term of design, but they’re not to be overlooked. They help push technology and design forward into a better future.

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