Storienteering resources used at Frontiers of Interaction 2013, Milan.


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:
Sterling, Bruce (2012) ‘Sci-Fi Writer Bruce Sterling Explains the Intriguing New Concept of Design Fiction’ Available at:
Sterling, Bruce (2013) ‘Patently untrue: fleshy defibrillators and synchronised baseball are changing the future’ Available at:

Web references
1. Design Fiction and Near Future Design, Available at:
2. Near Future Design, Available at:

4 thoughts on “Storienteering resources used at Frontiers of Interaction 2013, Milan.

  1. Hi there! First of all thank you for your brilliant work! We strongly support it and promote it with all our students!

    And yes, the article is short and leaves quite a few things unanswered: we are setting up a wider set of explanations as we speak.

    Just a few hints here, that we also would really enjoy discussing with you.

    The whole idea of the pre-totype is to further enhance the idea of Design Fiction, and the role of the simulacrum. By implementing a pre-totype (which is a usable, believable, yet “fake”, version of the product/service to be implemented) we aim at diminishing the distance between the Now and the Future. We aim to actually try to bring the “new normal” (as Superflux defines it, for example) even closer to the present.

    This is done to achieve a higher level of immersion into the story, around which we build the transmedia experience.

    This achieves one major goal: being able to powerfully put out the whole thing (pre-totype+design fiction+transmedia) into the world, into society, establishing a “physical” alternate reality in which the product/service “really” exists. And transforming it into a conversation, actually emerging from the people who experience it.

    This is because our desire is to engage people into a performative state in which, by experiencing the product/service in a way which is as believable as possible (the simulacrum, the suspension of disbelief), they desire to express their feelings and opinions about it (which we try to capture using ethnographical and netnographical methodologies), thus expressing their visions. Not only Near Future, but also Desired Future, or Preferred Future, described through this performative state, enacted through conversation.

    We aim to push people’s perception of “what is possible”, and shift it a bit further for a few moments, as to understand what they think about it. And to use these expressions to build better things.

    Also, we really recognize the power of this pattern. Take Google, or Amazon, for example. Google’s projects such as Google Gars, Baloons etcetera. Amazon’s Delivery Drones. They might as well not exist at all, for what the majority of people know about it. They might be simulacra themselves and it would not make a single difference. Yet they push people’s perception of possibility a bit further, they bring on new languages and imaginaries. And people use them to express themselves.

    This is actually our final product, which we use as complex feedback, as a tool for co-creation with all the people involved.

    In all of this, of course, we strongly enforce definite design ethics: the idea of the “fake” could easily get out of hand otherwise. We only enact scenarios of this kind if they constitute “win-win” solutions for everyone involved.

    This is true also in our most possibly problematic works (for example we have one which is called “Incautious Porn”, here: , which we have used to explore the relation between social-network related business models and the various degrees of perception for privacy/publicness; in the end no-one is “hurt”, everyone is protected, and very interesting, valuable information is collected, and used to create better services).

    I will be more than happy to share the paper with you as soon as it is ready, and I would love your feedback on this and the implications.

    Again, thank you so much!

    • Hi Salvatore, I am very pleased to be in contact with you and to have the opportunity to discuss your work. Other than in controlled studies, your use of storienteering resources at the Frontiers of Interaction conference is the first independent use of the resources that I am aware of. It’s quite exciting to see the resources being used in practice as intended.

      I applaud what you are doing with near future design and design fictions. You are opening up new ways to explore design opportunities through stories and narratives that help to navigate the space between our experience of the present and our perceptions of the near future. It’s a considerable challenge, but one that, it seems, needs to be worked out as much by taking action as by theorising and studying. Part of the aim in developing and disseminating the resources in an ‘open’ and, perhaps, premature way has been to bridge the gap between theory and practice, because all too often worthwhile design research either never gets completed, never makes its way into practical everyday applications, or is disseminated at such a slow rate that by the time a practical application is found it is out of date and no longer of much use. You and your team are, as it were, taking the raw, as yet barely formed, theory ‘to the street’ and putting it work. So, many thanks for that.

      I’d like to respond to some of the points that you have addressed and expand on some of the ideas that are starting to emerge. But I’m also interested in how your workshop went? For now it might be best to lightly touch on a couple of things that your comment triggered for me and in due course respond to them more thoroughly. Then I’ll take the opportunity to pose some thoughts about the process of conducting storytelling workshops in the hope that this leads to a mutually beneficial discussion about process.

      Use of the term ‘prototype’ in relation to visual depictions of designs in use, for me, is questionable. Although design researchers are being quick to pick-up on the term ‘diegetic prototype’, Kirby’s use of it is in relation to a very particular set of circumstances that do not map directly to those found in design (‘The Future is Now’, 2009). In ‘Sketching User Experiences’ (2007) Buxton is very clear about the difference between sketching and prototyping, about their role in design, their distinct properties and attributes (abundance, disposability and timeliness, etc.), and their use at particular times. Just as not all scenarios are narratives, I suspect that not all visual depictions of designs in use are prototypes. Some may be sketches. For designers who have to rationalise their work the distinction may be one worth making. I’d be interested to know how you differentiate a ‘pre-totype’ from a prototype. If it suggests representation of a design proposition that pre-cedes creative design activities proper, then this may alleviate some of the issues just mentioned. It would place the activity of ideating through design fictions squarely at, or even before, the ‘fuzzy front end’.

      Two phrases you use that are well-put and notable; the purpose of the pre-totype is to achieve a ‘higher level of immersion into the story’, and the aim of putting ‘out the whole thing’.
      That participants experience a sense of immersion in storytelling is important so they can be active contributors and take ownership of the story. Props (the pre-totype), resources (material and knowledge, prompts and activities) and approaches (procedures) that help to achieve that are invaluable. The aim of putting out the whole thing at once, i.e. having all elements related to inspiring, framing and addressing a design situation within one’s sights at the same time, made available in a flexible system of narrative forms (your performative transmedia experience) that enable multiple views, interpretations and vantage points, is something relatively new for design. Having studied scenario theory and practice in design it is clear that in scenario-based design nothing of the kind is achieved. Scenarios are used in many ways throughout the design process, but in-and-of-themselves they are not ‘whole’ stories and therefore do not, by themselves, have the capacity for immersion in a whole ‘world’. In addition, they are expressed in a very limited range of narrative forms, which severely constrains their usefulness and makes them less well suited to the kinds of complex, distributed issues that face contemporary design practice.

      In an attempt to find a suitable language and approach for whole collaborative design storytelling (the core of my thesis) and much influenced by the work of Henry Jenkins and Lance Weiler, more than once in the design of a study workshop have I set the goal of creating a transmedia narrative as a final outcome. But, even following a sequence of as few as four or five activities have not yet managed to engage participants in the development of one.

      One of the things that I have found when conducting workshops is that each activity has a kind of lifecycle that is not unlike that of a story. Each activity (Story Functions, Event Map, StoryMap, etc.) has a distinct beginning, where the actants and actions are introduced to everyone, middle, where everyone takes part in ‘the play’, and end, where the activity either loses momentum or comes to a recognisable conclusion. This last phase of an activity can be particularly problematic because generative storytelling is a completely open-ended activity with no guarantee of success. As researchers or ‘story stewards’ who are interested in getting the story out, this is, as it were, the moment of truth; did the activity generate the hoped-for conversations and insights? If it does not, then moving on to the next activity can be difficult. In fact, regardless of whether the activity is fruitful or not, the space of time and supposed inactivity that occurs between generative activities appears to be a critical time where everyone gets their bearings and prepares to set off in a new direction. In some of the workshops that I’ve conducted there have been instances of hour-long discussions that were more like heated arguments over what sense can be made of the outcomes of an activity and what should be done next.

      I would, therefore, be very interested to know how your series of nine workshop activities went, how the transitions between activities took place, and whether you managed to come out with a satisfactory transmedia narrative?

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