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Design Fiction

Prototyping things from the future

Design Fiction

Prototyping things from the future

Design Fictions are prototypes of things from possible futures.

A newspaper from 2100, a jetpack instruction manual, a pack of tablets for 1hr brain wi-fi, a cereal box of insect protein cereal, a Mars trip day pack, and headphones that play the sounds of nearby plants needing water.

They inspire the imagination, widen our idea of what is possible, and challenge our ideas of preferred futures.


An Output and a practice

Design Fiction is also the practice to create prototypes of the future, ‘combining science fiction, science fact, and design’, aiming to combine the mundane and the provocative with restraint in detail so the audience’s imagination is sparked to fill in the gaps.

Julian Bleeker, Father Of Design Fiction

Inspired by Bruce Sterling’s description of his own science fiction in 2005 as ‘design fiction’—in that it explored more in the weeds of the practicality of the future than flying high in the hype—Julian merged his engineering skills and a sci-fi mindset to create physical prototypes of ideas of the future.

And so began the development of Design Fiction, as both an output and a method.

In 2009, Julian co-founded the Near Future Laboratory to further explore the hybridisation of product development and near futures through collaborations with universities, government agencies, businesses, design studios, and other organisations.

The NFL produced The Manual Of Design Fiction in 2022, the key source on the matter.

The Manual of Design Fiction resting on a marble table.

“Design fiction objects are totems through which a larger story can be told, or imagined or expressed. They are like artifacts from someplace else, telling stories about other worlds.”

Julian Bleecker

Extrapolation Factory

Founded by creatives Chris Woebken and Elliott P. Montgomery, Extrapolation Factory use their own experimental, collaborative methods to explore democratised futures by creating hypothetical future props. They often embed their provocative props into real-world scenarios.

The Factory’s first project, and my personal favourite, ‘99¢ Futures’ began with a selection of possible future scenarios expanded into small stories. Related product ideas generated from the stories (‘Benzene Vapor Refills’, ‘Mars Survival Kits’, and ‘Triple-Nipple Baby Bottles’) were created via rapid prototyping and then stocked for purchase in a real-world 99¢ store amongst usual products. This guerrilla installation of a 99¢ store with a Time-Warp sale provoked conversation between strangers about the future scenarios triggered by these specials.

Digital design fictions

While Design Fictions are traditionally physical creations, not everyone is adept at making physical things, and constructing physical prototypes is also a challenge for time-poor workshops.

With great respect to the physical origins of Design Fiction prototyping, I’ve experimented with digital Design Fictions, as an output and a practice, to allow my exploration and facilitate that of others.

Below are digital Design Fictions created by the author and by participants in the Future Scouting® game, book method, and workshops.

Many of these have been captured in the ALT-FUTURS ‘store’.

Vodafone Wi-Fi Implant Start Pack


The Maya Lenz is a speculative future design for an advanced mixed reality contact lens that provides the wearer a persistent, uber-personalised view of the world.

Illustration of a hand holding a smart phone which shows the Treaty of One Heart app—a heart beats in the centre of the screen in time with the user, and country flags appear showing how other people in different countries are using the app to sync their heart beat at the same time


A treaty between states at conflict committing them to ritual breathing via a smart phone app to minimise tension.

MR In-flight Kit


A 15-minute provotype exploring future of airline travel.

A hand peeling the seal off a smart patch


Speculative smart patches that monitor your well-being according to your choice of medical belief (Western bio-medical, Traditional Chinese, or Tantric Buddhism).

Land to Hand drone network—a speculative futures concept

A future of urban drone supply chains

Click the image to see the infographic.

A future store of future things

The ALT-FUTRS store is a means of collecting the Design Fictions created by participants in the Future Scouting® game, workshops, and book method.

Create your own Design Fictions

A fun and practical step-by-step guide to designing life-centred, values-driven technology products with speculative design.

#1 Amazon New Release in Industrial Design, Feb ’21

Future Scouting guide book
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