In October of last year, Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico ran a workshop at the Frontiers of Interaction (FoI13) conference in Milan. It was called ‘Near-Future Design V’s Design Fiction’. The workshop was part of an initiative of the ISIA (Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artistiche; Higher Education for Industrial Arts) to champion the role of near future scenarios in interaction design. The workshop largely consisted of collaborative storytelling activities designed to focus attention on the difficulties of ideating about possible future worlds from a focal point that is inextricably fixed in the present.
Iaconesi and Persico complement their exploration of near future design with design fiction, transmedia narrative, and a perspective on the concept of diegetic prototypes based on Beaudrillard’s simulacra. Story building is underpinned by Storienteering resources and approaches. A series of activities guide participants through the process of organising contextual information about the future world, working with story concepts, building well-structured stories and scenarios, and sketching multimodal narratives that underpin the composition of design fictions.
Iaconesi is a champion of ‘the new’ and ‘the possible’, a socio-technical systems activist, interaction designer, educator and performer. Persico is a researcher, communication specialist, artist, writer and expert on the formal analysis of cultural and social trends. Their interest in conducting this workshop is to explore the boundaries of the present, where, through the diffusion of new products, visions of the future fold into what they refer to as ‘the new normal’ (Web Ref.1). Science fiction distances itself from the present. It is unconcerned with how the future actually turns into the present. Whereas design fiction and ‘near future design’ are promising approaches for closing the gap between multiple alternative futures and the present through the use of diegetic prototypes, or what they refer to as ‘pre-totypes’ (ibid).
“Design fiction is the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” (Sterling 2012). They afford ways to get people ‘thinking very seriously about potential objects and services and […] concentrate on those rather than entire worlds or political trends or geopolitical strategies. (See examples at: Sterling 2012). Scott Smith, points to the significance of ‘the object as entry point, not as the terminal point’ (Smith 2012). In storytelling, objects can act as props in the same way they do during play or improvised performance, ‘a toy car, a doll, a stick for a sword all give us the jumping off point for a larger adventure and help us imagine the world in which we want them’ (ibid).
In a brief report posted after the event, Iaconesi and Persico describe the approach that they followed in the near future design process (Web Ref.2). The approach consists of a sequence of nine activities, the aim of which is to inspire and guide creation of a simulacra, ‘a credible, possibly functional, “prototype from the near future”’, a ‘pre-totype’. Inspiration for the pre-totype is drawn from a future ‘world’ that emerges during the course of story building activities. Most of the main story building activities are supported by storienteering resources such as printed card sets, worksheets and maps that are openly available on this site (see: downloads).
Story building activities began with the development of a near future version of a ‘Future World Map’, a visual/spatial arrangement of words and phrases that capture the key contextual elements that underpin stories about possible futures. The activity focuses on capturing technical aspects of arts and technologies including data and information, and descriptions of human trends including aspects of self, the lived experience, state and society. The approach is similar to that used in strategic management that considers trends and driving forces in Politics, Economics, Society, Technology, Law and the Environment (PESTLE: Aspect Maps are designed to support a similar story building activity). The material outcome of the Future World Map activity consists of a visual map and a written report. Arguably the more valuable non-material outcome is an ‘extensive knowledge-base’. Both act as directive resources for the next activity, Story Setup.
The visual and textual narrative form of the Future World Map provides a springboard for ideating about a number of future scenarios in an activity called Story Setup. Strategic thinking helps to constrain the number and focus of each scenario to ensure that they address key research questions. Concepts are elaborated through sketched mediating representations such as diagrams and narratives (Concepts).
In an activity that focuses on formally structuring the scenarios, a set of Story Functions help establish canonical story ‘acts’ and plot sequences. The set of scenario Story Functions that were used in the workshop are based on a combination of the three-act structure commonly used in plays and stories, and plot functions developed by Vladimir Propp in his work with Russian folk tales (Dial-a-Plot). These directive resources provide a starting point for ideating about a plausible beginning, middle and end to the story. As the story begins to take shape it becomes possible to reflect on the main course of the story and to observe the way it unfolds in a sequence of events and happenings. Observations are mapped both verbally and visually using diagrams and written notations.
Dial-a-Plot cards and Event Maps in use at Frontiers of Interaction.
Next, a visual arrangement of story events is made on an Event Map. Events are divided into ‘kernel’ events, which are essential to the story, and ‘satellite’ event, which, although they support the story are less crutial to the plot and therefore more changeable. The Event Map, along with the many other story assets, provide guidance for the development of a more elaborately expressed, more detailed and therefore concrete, Story Map.
Having established a world of possibilities within the skeletal framework of a fictional story, Iaconesi and Persico now focus the workshop activities on the creation of a simulacra or pre-totpye. From the description of the workshop the method used in the development of the pre-totype is unclear. The approach raises many questions that Iaconesi and Persico’s brief review of the workshop leaves unanswered. For instance, how are pre-totypes woven into the fabric of design fictions and expressed through transmedia narratives? What advantages does this approach have over, say, a scenario-based design approach? We look forward to the promised paper.
Smith, Scott (2012) ‘Exploring Object-Oriented Futures at Emerge 2012’, Available at: http://changeist.com/2012/4/3/exploring-object-oriented-futures-at-emerge-2012.html
Sterling, Bruce (2012) ‘Sci-Fi Writer Bruce Sterling Explains the Intriguing New Concept of Design Fiction’ Available at: http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/03/02/bruce_sterling_on_design_fictions_.html
Sterling, Bruce (2013) ‘Patently untrue: fleshy defibrillators and synchronised baseball are changing the future’ Available at: http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2013/10/play/patently-untrue
1. Design Fiction and Near Future Design, Available at: http://www.artisopensource.net/2013/08/02/design-fiction-and-near-future-design-at-frontiers-of-interaction-2013/
2. Near Future Design, Available at: http://www.artisopensource.net/2013/10/28/near-future-design-the-perception-of-a-new-possible-and-a-new-role-for-design/