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Design Fiction: Takeaways From My Interview With Philipp Jordan

Design Fiction with Phil Jordan — Design The Things #1

On the hunt for new techniques to channel creativity — I dug deep into the world of Design Fiction. Design Fiction is the practice of imagining futures to explore and criticize ideas, outcomes, and consequences. For instance, what if our attention spans just keep getting shorter? What might a News service look like in 100 years?

Comparable to a thought experiment, Design Fiction lets you add, remove, and imagine constraints to unlock new perspectives. Once you’re done, typically you’d create an artifact that showcases your learnings or provokes reactions from other people. I love this stuff. It’s the perfect mix of dreaming, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving.

I set out to answer two questions:

  • How can we take this and make it useful in a commercial Design practice?
  • In our relentless pursuit of “Make things faster” is there space to playfully explore the future?

Some time ago, I reached out to Philipp Jordan for a chat, he teaches Design and Research to Computer Scientists at Oregon State University. Phil wrote a proposal, that argues for the use of Design Fiction in HCI education, to explore potential moral dilemmas and consequences of technological advancement.

We spoke about the potential of Design Fiction, it’s uses and limitations, and generally mused about Design. The full video of our chat is at the start of this article or at the Design The Things Youtube channel. If you have experience with Design Fiction, I’d love to hear your story. Get the conversation going in the comments, or drop me a message.

Without further adieu, here are my reflections and takeaways from the chat I had with Philipp Jordan:

Design Fiction Helps to Envision The Future

Creating fiction to explore your ideas, means that you control the constraints. You decide if it’s beneficial to explore a boundary-less world or a more realistic near term future. A good way to start a fiction is to identify the drivers that make today the way it is. You can then think about how the future might be different and how this impacts your subject.

Design Fiction Helps to Assess the Impact of Our Decisions

When we create and adopt new technology, we change the course of our futures. Design Fiction is a great medium to explore the impact and potential consequences of technological advancement. We can also reflect on the implications of allowing Ai to make moral decisions on our behalf. Check out MIT's Moral Machine.

Sci-Fi Inspires Real-Life; Real Life Inspires Sci-Fi

Sometimes sci-fi authors describe inventions that we aspire to build in real life; Driverless cars, virtual reality, mobile phones were all originally depicted in works of fiction. Other times, sci-fi authors explore the future of an invention that already exists, for example; Black Mirror’s exploration of social media, family surveillance, and virtual reality.

Design Fiction is Great for Creative Ideation

A key principle of creative ideation is to defer judgment and let the ideas flow without criticism. This helps you to channel your right brain’s creativity, without your left brain analyzing and blocking the flow. It’s hard, even with a great facilitator present. Fictions can add interesting dimensions to ideation tasks and temper our fear of getting things wrong.

Fictions Can Elicit Insightful Responses from Customers

Fictions can be used to evoke deep and meaningful responses from customers. Sharing a storyboard or a fictional prototype can help you to understand a customer's motivations, desires, and goals from new angles. Potential futures, thought experiments, and non-existent technologies can be a great stimulus for exploratory customer interviews.

Complement Design Fiction with Critical Thinking

Fictions help you to explore abstract ideas and parallel possibilities. Critical thinking helps you to analyze the idea and draw a conclusion that could unlock an innovation that’s feasible for today. Problem-solving helps you connect your innovation with an existing problem. Fictions unlock creativity — critical thinking makes it useful.

I love the science of design, gathering data, discovering insights, and validating concepts before usability testing a product to get it ready for market. However, I also love thought experiments, speculation, metaphors, and analogies. Understanding Design Fiction has helped me reconcile creativity and logic to create a compound effect.

For a while, I thought that Design Fiction would be too fluffy and intangible to be effective in corporate design practice. Now I’m pleased that I have another tool in the toolbox to help avoid stagnation and plateaus along the demanding path to innovation.

Share your stories, experiences, and opinions in the comments to help other people understand this practice.

Design Fiction with Phil Jordan — Design The Things #01

If you have an interesting topic and you’d like to record a conversation with me, visit www.designthethings.com or email jack@designthethings.com

Design Fiction with Phil Jordan — Design The Things #01

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