Visions for the real world

Visions for the real world

Visions for the real world

From a scientific perspective, predicting the future is impossible and any attempt to do so is pure fiction. The world is changing every nano-second, so we need people with imagination who make sure we do not simply accept our future, but decide it for ourselves.

NOV. 14, 2015 | 5 MIN. READ

AUTHOR: Robin Auer, Design Research, UBS Y Think Tank

Fictions are mostly based on assumptions, insinuations or imaginations. The typical science fiction movies we see in the cinema provide the best examples. The content often includes utopian or dystopian narratives influenced by current scientific trends. The stories are a linguistic, visual and physical composition of an imaginable, possible future. Science fiction movies create visions in our minds of how the world might look against a subtle critique of how the world is. [↥ See Grand, 2010]


[1] Holographic interface “Avatar” © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

[2] Holographic interface “Minority Report” © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

People look for patterns to understand the world around them. When designers produce visions, they help create those structures and patterns. Although there are many different design disciplines, most share a common desire to creatively disrupt. Combined with a strong imagination, this desire allows them to develop visual or tangible representations. Designers move between the future and the present, the possible and the real, the temporary and the established.

Designers create possible futures by challenging the present and working in the realm of fiction. They are not concerned with how a world is but rather how it might look in the future. Experts call this method Design Fiction. This method is future-oriented and aims to design multiple possible worlds. Design of this kind forms bridges between present and future and between the laymen and the futurists. Where future predictions are often complex structured forecasts of possible developments, design fiction creates a vision which reduces the complexity of information to make it understandable for everyone.


Communicate Visions

The best way to communicate visions is to translate them into a format that can be easily consumed. A narrative approach that allows the content to be packed into short, comprehensible stories is very well-suited to this task. All methods play with storytelling, which can be not only visual but also tangible. The tangible element often comes in the form of prototypes. These can be used to activate the viewer’s imagination and help them understand. They are excellent for investigation and the testing of future scenarios. Design Fiction and prototyping are critical and reflexive ways to examine the impact of creative fiction on the development and acceptance of new technologies. ­[↥ See Schäfer 2014]

“Design Fiction is a speculative design approach to think about new ideas through prototyping and storytelling. Its goal is to move away from the routine of lifeless scenario-based thinking.”

Rene Schäfer

Put simply, every kind of visualization of a future scenario is an element of design fiction especially when it focuses on the transfer of information. Even the smallest kind of visualization can convey a vision. An entire possible future can be communicated in a small pictogram; a compact and easily understandable graphic containing a complex future idea. Some design fiction prototypes can look exactly like a product designed 30 years later. Design Fiction directs the public imagination and stimulates discussions about the future. It is possible to design the future because human thinking changes and the objective of design fiction is to understand that change. The consequence of such fictions is the typical “I-want-that-too” effect. The prototype or story is desirable to viewers and is then expected or even desired by society. For this reason, the research and technical development of the coming years will be influenced by the visions of design fiction.

“It is in the nature of such visions that they do not necessarily claim to be suitable for series production, rather, they are intended to steer creativity and research into new directions.“

Chris Bangle – Former Chief of Design for BMW Group


[↥] Back to the Future II © Universal Pictures

Six points from Simon Grand on what design fiction is:

  1. Design fiction designs possible worlds, from a critical, subversive, innovative distance to the world as it is;
  2. Design fiction emphasizes the importance of materialization and visualization of these possible worlds;
  3. Design fiction advocates for diversity and the heterogeneity of possible perspectives in dealing with these worlds and criticizes the role of ideology in modern avant-garde and modern design positions;
  4. Design processes are open-ended, the focus of design fiction is on the interplay of possible processes and possible outcomes;
  5. Design Fiction benefits from the ideas and discussions of current and relevant scientific research: the creation of possible worlds needs experimental systems;
  6. New realities only prevail if they are attractive and exciting, their production and their communication are fundamental.

For example Think Tanks use design fiction as a method to develop future scenarios which are understandable for a wider public. But they start from the current future when developing a prototype or a story. Future concepts are an expression of the social reality and therefore are always ideas rooted in the present, they do not teach us about a future reality. The definition of future changes every day and is influenced by the world around us, the regular going on's and the structures that we have grown used to. Thus ideas of the future are the future today. So the portrayal of possible worlds is always connected to the current world in which we live and grow. Results from workshops and desktop research are the base of new visions, followed from visualization by using tools from design fiction. This allows to quickly and easily challenge ideas and make them accessible and understandable for others.

Design Fiction does not aim to achieve results or outcomes directly; it is more about developing and organizing design processes and discussions. To apply design fiction is to play and experiment with different media. The result is an interaction between the process and the product development which becomes the incidental object of design practice.

Grand, Simon
Design Fiction — Gestalterische Strategien für eine komplexe Welt, Basel 2010

Schäfer, Rene
Design Fiction, Berlin 2014

Bangle, Chris
BMW Builds a Shape-Shifting Car Out of Cloth, 2008