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Design Fiction as World Building

Coulton, P, Lindley, JG, Sturdee, M & Stead, M (2017), Design fiction as world building. in Proceedings of Research through Design Conference 2017. Research through Design (RTD) conference 2017, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, 22-24 March.

In this paper, Coulton (my supervisor), Lindley, Sturdee and Stead address the process of world building in Design Fiction, exploring how Design Fiction uses a collection of artefacts, scenarios, and experiences for the audience to construct a space for speculation on plausible futures. The paper discusses the different scales of fiction that can be layered for the audience, creating entry points which allude to larger social and political implications. The authors use two examples of Design Fiction to frame an argument about the importance of Research through Design in thinking about Design Fictions; Game of Drones, and The Empathy Engine. Both projects use a range of resources to fabricate a future scenario, creating artefacts, videos and print materials that the fiction exists in and between.


Useful Quotes

“we believe the consideration of world building mitigates the promotion of what Dourish (2006) refers to as “genre conventions” imposed by storytelling and narrative that can stifle the flexibility of Design Fiction as an approach.” (p166)

“these worlds are imbued with a rhetorical intentionality by their creators (Coulton and Lindley, 2016). The creation of rhetoric within a world rather than through a story allows those interacting with the world to explore the rhetoric of that world rather than being forced down a prescribed path (Coulton, Burnett and Gradinar, 2016).” (p167-168)

“let us imagine a Design Fiction world as a distinct entity, one that we can see the overall shape of, but whose complex internal structure is hidden from view. What we can see, however, is a series ‘entry points’. Each artefact that contributes to making up this Design Fiction plays its role as a metaphorical entry point to the fictional world as shown in figure 1” (p168)

“Small details, based upon fact rather than fiction (such as the charging technology used on the landing stations) were included to bolster the plausibility of the fictional world.” (p171)

“a single ‘container’ artefact, the research paper, linked all of these elements together. Each of these individual elements, which in aggregate tell a world not a story, represent ‘entry points’ to that fictional world.” (p172)

“each artefact represents a view of the fictional world at a different scale or from a different perspective, but all of these views are mutually consistent and congruent with one another.” (p177)

“a Design Fiction is the map of our fictional world that can be explored in a variety of ways and a narrative, if used, would be a distinct path through this fictional world. In this way a variety of prototypes, situations, and – somewhat ironically – ‘stories’, can be nurtured on the substrate of the artificially constructed world” (p178)

Further Reading

Coulton, P., & Lindley, J. (2016). Game vaporware as design fictions. In Proceedings of the 20th International Academic Mindtrek Conference (pp. 341-349). ACM.

Dourish, P. (2006). Implications for design. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (pp. 541-550).


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