Prototyping things from the future
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.
“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.”
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.
Many of these have been captured in the ALT-FUTURS ‘store’.
A FUTURE OF MIXED REALITY
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.
A FUTURE OF HEALTH DIVERSITY
Speculative smart patches that monitor your well-being according to your choice of medical belief (Western bio-medical, Traditional Chinese, or Tantric Buddhism).
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.