Course on design fiction @ Pôle supérieur du design de Villefontaine 2014

Design for debate, an introduction to design fiction and my research topic

I had the pleasure to give a presentation of my research and to introduce design fiction again at Pôle supérieur du Design – Villefontaine. My presentation was organised in three categories that respect the 3 necessary steps to make design fiction (according to the 3 parts of my research design space):

  1. Proposing alternatives by design,
  2. Provoking meaningful reactions,
  3. Articulating a discussion/debate

After an introduction to the first branch of my design space (proposing alternatives), I gave some exercises (listed bellow). A week after it was great to already see improvements and appropriations of my advices. (Sorry, this feedback is composed of raw notes in french.)


Intro – Le design fiction est voué à soulever des questions chez l’audience/utilisateur quand au monde dans lequel on vit – et ce, par la confrontation avec des produits de design venus d’un autre monde et dont la conception repose sur d’autres valeurs que celles que l’on connait.

›› Check all the blogpost about this course here ‹‹ 

Next course here

Design legitimacy for critique, a discussion with Alexandre Saunier

The other day I had a good conversation with my friend Alex, he’s an electronic & digital artist, as I was presenting my work he stopped me right in the beginning to ask about critical design legitimacy.
“— Alex: Why is design relevant on the topic of critique? Is it just a fashionable trend?
— Max: No it’s not! OK maybe it has been fashionable during a period of time when popularized by Paola Antonelli and Bruce Sterling (under the name of Design fiction). But it no longer is and I find it more interesting now that we can observe what is left of it, what is it really good for.
— A: So why design and why critique? Art and philosophy have done that for ages.
— M: Critical design is different from critical theory and art, as it does not have the same tools and it does not touch the same people. In the popular culture design produces a familiar typology of objects – commissioned by a client, aiming at a user – that integrates well into our lives (and changes it). Design object have a different place than art or literature objects: they are aimed to be “used”. Therefore they are touching different people (and differently). They can reach the consumer (i.e. pretty much everybody).
— …
— …
— …
— M: Talking about consuming. In our current (consumerist) society, design and designer stand at a different place than philosophers and artists. They are at the interface of industries (plus other stake holders) and consumers. They translate technology and stake holders goals into user needs, at least they participate to making the final artefact appealing. I do not want to enter in a debate on consumerist society, I do not either think that designers have a legitimacy to propose critiques and solutions. But talking about designers role and impact, their place in the society is different and relevant (comparing to art and philosophy), they can (and they must) take action if they want to explore alternative paradigms and to stimulate the audience’s reflective concern for the current state of things.

Alexandre Saunier

Random quotes

About distance between critical theory and critical design
“we launched the term critical design ten years ago in order to describe our work. Sometimes people think it simply means criticism; that we are negative about everything, anti-consumerist and against design. Some people relate it to critical theory; to Frankfurt school and anti-capitalist thinking. We are definitely aware of it, but then again, not in that category either. Critical design is about critical thinking – about not taking things at face value. It’s about questioning things, and
trying to understand what’s behind them. In essence, our objective is to use design as a means for applying skepticism to society at large” p.22
Puolakka, A., & Sutela, J. (2010). Foundations: Dreaming Objects. In OK Do (Ed.), Science Poems

About people literacy for criticism :
“Critical design’s ability to inculcate critical thought and the imagination of alternative futures is dependent on how insightfully people can read designs: aesthetic perception, imagination, insight, and experience are not effects simply caused by visual stimuli (no matter what HCI research says on the subject); they are the result of a skilled and expert cultural subject’s efforts. We know of no practice that theorizes about or, in a very everyday sense creates such subjects, more than criti- cism. Medium-specific analytic skills are the stock and trade of criticism, and it seems obvious to us that critical design can avail itself of and contribute to them.” p.3303
Bardzell, J., & Bardzell, S. (2013). What is critical about critical design?

about defamiliarization
“Understanding what’s critical about critical design might be easier if Dunne and Raby’s work clearly explicated a healthy range of critical outcomes that have emerged from critical designs. […] we read a lot about transgression, provocation, defamiliarization, and estrangement […] A thoughtful reader might wonder whether defamiliariza- tion and ideology really are all that “critical” boils down to.” p.3300

A selection of Design Fiction references

In a previous post about design friction, I talk about a design fiction bibliography. Here it is thanks to Niclas Nova. I might post an updated version in a couple of months – find the original here.

  • Auger, J. (2011). Alternative Presents and Speculative Futures: Designing fictions through the extrapolation and evasion of product lineages., Negotiating Futures / Design Fictions, Swiss Design Network 2011, Basel.
  • Auger, J. (2013). Speculative design: crafting the speculation, Digit. Creat., vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 11–35, 2013.
  • Bassett, C., Steinmuller, E. & Voss, G. (2013). Better Made Up: The Mutual Influence of Science fiction and Innovation”, Nesta Working Paper 13/07.
  • Bleecker, J. (2009). Design fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction, Near Future Laboratory, Los Angeles, CA,
  • Bleecker, (2011). Design Fiction: From Props To Prototypes, Negotiating Futures / Design Fictions, Swiss Design Network 2011, Basel.
  • Bleecker, J. & Nova, N., (2009). A synchronicity: Design Fictions for Asynchronous Urban Computing. The Architectural League of New York, New York, NY.
  • Candy, S. (2010).  The futures of everyday life: politics and the design of experiential scenarios, PhD thesis. The University of Hawai.
  • DiSalvo, Carl. (2012). Spectacles and Tropes: Speculative Design and Contemporary Food Cultures. The Fibreculture Journal(20).
  • Dunne, A. & Raby, F. (2011). Design noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2001.
  • Dunne, A. & Raby, F. (2014). Speculative Everything: design, fiction and social dreaming. MIT Press.
  • Forlano, L. (2013). Ethnographies from the Future: What can ethnographers learn from science fiction and speculative design?, Ethnography Matters.
  • Franke, B. (2011). Design Fiction is Not Necessarily About the Future, Negotiating Futures / Design Fictions, Swiss Design Network 2011, Basel.
  • Galloway, A. (2013). Towards Fantastic Ethnography and Speculative Design, Ethnography Matters.
  • Grand, S. & Wiedmer, M. (2010). Design Fiction: A Method Toolbox for Design Research in a Complex World, DRS, 2010.
  • Hales, D. (2013). Design fictions an introduction and provisional taxonomy, Digital Creativity, 24:1, 1-10
  • Jain, A., Ardern, J. & Pickard, J. (2012). Design Futurescaping, Journal of Futures Studies.
  • Johnson, B.D. (2009). “Science Fiction Prototypes Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying about the Future and Love Science Fiction”, in Intelligent Environments 2009 – Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Intelligent Environments, Callaghan, V., Kameas, A., Reyes, A., Royo, D., Weber, M. (Eds.), IOS Press, Barcelona pp. 3-8.
  • Johnson, B.D. (2011). “Love and God and Robots: The Science Behind the Science Fiction Prototype “Machinery of Love and Grace””, in Workshop Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Intelligent Environments Augusto, J. C., Aghajan, V., Callaghan, V., Cook, D. J., O’Donoghue, J., Egerton, S., Gardner, M., Johnson, B. D., Kovalchuk, Y., López-Cózar, R., Mikulecký, P., Ng, J. W. P., Poppe, R., Wang, M. J., Zamudio, V. (Eds.), IOS Press, Nottingham pp. 99-127.
  • Kirby, D. (2010). The future is now: Diegetic prototypes and the role of popular films in generating real-world technological development. Social Studies of Science 40 (1), pp. 41-70.
  • Kirby, D., 2011 Lab coats in Hollywood: science, scientists and cinema. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Morrison, A. (2014). Design Prospects: Investigating Design Fiction via a Rogue Urban Drone, In Proceedings of DRS 2014 Conference. Umeå, Sweden.: 16.06.2014–19.06.2014
  • Raford, Noah. (2012). From Design to Experiential Futures, The Future of Futures: The Association of Professional Futurists.
  • Shedroff N. & Noessel C. (2012). Make It So Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction. San Francisco: Rosenfeld.
  • Sterling, B. (2009), Design Fiction, Interactions 16 (3), pp. 20-24.
  • Ward, M. (2013). Design Fiction as Pedagogic Practice Towards a fictionally biased design education, Medium.
  • Zeller, L. (2011) What You See Is What You Don’t Get: Addressing Implications of Information Technology through Design Fiction” Lecture Notes in Computer Science 6770  pp. 329-336.

Design friction and other design fiction terminologies

After a chat with my former teacher and friend Nicolas Nova on design fiction terminologies I had the pleasure to receive from him a list of references (pasted in this blogpost, he also posted them on his blog). At the start of the conversation were the idea of using the “design friction” appellation. We thought it were new, when we found it with Remy Bourganel, here at EnsadLab. However, as pointed by Nicolas, Monica Gaspar Mallol already talks about it in her paper “Displaying f(r)ictions. Design as cultural form of dissent”, presented at SDN2010 in Bâles, Switzerland.

Picture of Monica Gaspar Mallol presenting her paper at SDN 2010 (photo by the SDN team)
Picture of Monica Gaspar Mallol presenting her paper at SDN 2010 (photo by the SDN team)

I remember I attended this conference and made a student presentation with Leila Jacquet, as being part of HEAD media design master, at the time.

Gaspar Mallol, M. (2010). Displaying F(r)ictions (p. 112). Presented at the Proceedings of the Swiss Design Network Symposium, Bâles, Switzerland.

Paper’s abstract: Displaying f(r)ictions. Design as cultural form of dissent
This paper examines at close quarters the role of fictions in design, in order to push forward the scope and influence of critical discourses in design. It aims to raise a cross-disciplinary debate around the redefinition of the design profession and also around the practices of curating and reflecting on design. Main theoretical reference has been “The practice of Everyday Life” by French sociologist Michel de Certeau. Certeau’s work has influenced the thinking of three authors that were relevant to further elaborate this study: the combination between material culture, design history and gender studies by Judy Attfield; the theory on relational aesthetics developed by Nicholas Bourriaud and the thinking of Jacques Rancière, specially his notion of dissent as form of political subjectivity that can create new modes of sensing. In order to test its arguments the paper establishes two scenarios, where negotiations between reality and fiction take place: the home and the museum. On the one hand, representative examples of critical design are examined and put in dialogue with the theoretical positions. On the other hand, the paper examines the transformations that happen in the museum’s space, when displaying critical design becomes a kind of rehearsal for alternative ways of living. Two exhibitions were analysed: Wouldn’t it be nice… Wishful Thinking in Art and Design (Museum für Gestaltung, Zurich, 2008) and Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft (V&A, London, 2008).

The final part of the paper discusses how such positions in design play a critical role in society, by setting up micro-situations of dissent (disagreement), and in doing so they generate new forms of sensing and making sense in contemporary living. Conclusions will point at the potential of these design fictions (understood as projections) and frictions (considered as irritations) in order to re-fabulate the commonplace.

Other terminologies
When looking more around this appellation of “design friction”, there is are much other people using it (send me a message @maxmollon, if you find something). Philippe Gargov (from the blog “pop-up urbain”) for instance, also proposed to use this expression in december 2013 – without updates since then, unfortunately. However lot of other appellations are used, some new ones that do not last (glitch fiction) and old ones that became classics (mainly critical design, design fiction and soon, speculative design).

Finally, as listed by Anthony Dunne, many practices gravitate around a similar approach:

Speculative design, Conceptual Design, Contestable Futures, Cautionary Tales, Activism, Design for debate, Design fiction, Discursive design, Interrogative Design, Probe design, Radical Design, Satire, Social Fiction...”

(Taken from personal communication, Dublin, February 03rd, 2012). Let’s add to this list, counterfactual & alternative histories, critical software (Fuller, 2003), critical technical practice (Agre, 1997), reflective design (Sengers, Boehner, David, & Kaye, 2005) and critical engineering (Oliver, Savičić, & Vasiliev, 2011).
This number of appellations shows that it is difficult to limit these approaches to only one “school” of practices, or one group of designers.