Icon Minds: Tony Dunne / Fiona Raby / Bruce Sterling on Design Fiction

Raw notes!

Tony Dunne / Fiona Raby / Bruce Sterling

‘design has more to offer fiction at the moment than literature has to offer design’

Bruce S.

‘how to think about objects and surfaces that don’t yet exist’
our end goal is to mess with peoples heads
90% of the product of human genius doesn’t appear
patents, vapourware, social gestures, concept cars
hobbyist objects, unknown to the public
impossible objects: perpetual motion machines, quackery
frauds, fakes, objects that lie
futuristic devices: rep-raps: self-replicating replicators, robots, rayguns, urban battlesuits (heh)
why is it that sci-fi writers spent such a large amount of time with the last class of objects (the smallest slice of imaginary objects)
to expand my genre, i’m looking for help. I look a lot to design
very fond of critical design
wonder if there isn’t a much larger field of design fiction than we thought
what i call ‘speculative culture’ – a large set of social possibilities
a few of the approaches that design and sci-fi have in common:
* scientific experiment
* futurist scenario work
* observations
* storyboards and storytelling
* flowcharts, analytical software
* brainstorms
* mashups
this is a mashup – we’re going to leave a stain on each other…
might look like a stain for now, but might gel… into a sensibility
students are comfortable with mashups – polymathic – disintegrating structures of discipline

McG: idea of students being polymaths is very encouraging and important. what are the students doing – D&R?


an interaction design course – how tech impacts and enters our lives – as the starting point… but in the last few years broadening to emerging tech: biotech, synthbio, nano etc

fast-fowarding to when they are distributed throughout society, then bring them back to now and see if the outcomes are desirable or not.

open-sailing took shape thorugh social media/software: built a group that embarked upon a future, a dream. an important point for me – because the tools were invisible to the student (cesar) just a way to do the project rather than the ‘star’ of the project. for a younger generation, digital tech is nothing special anymore (but this is something that can be engaged with critically) and the emerging tech is the thing that also needs to be interrogated.

scientific process: hypothesis, which is tested through design and making – things are learnt and iterated

Bruce: the gartner hype-cycle ‘peak of inflated expectation’ / ‘trough of disillusionment’ – to the plateau of use… integrated into daily life… boring / meaningless

my genre was traditionally in the ‘peak of inflated expectation’ – i’m not trying to make my own work more ‘useful’
crunchy, crispy pop metaphysics – that bends your mind… I want to be MORE WEIRD
something that has a hallucinatory quality that comes through the skylight and floats through the keyhole
but- my role as a sci-fi writer is going away… because of the speed of media translation… people are not surprised by the future anymore.

if i blog something about something going on in a lab, the guy will email me and invite me for drinks to talk to about physics. the people i bring to the table are not physics enthusiasts. they are a weird crowd. when i link to something they go and dog-pile on it. that was not possible before. this is not fiction. having people in a social network go pile on something i link to is not fiction, but it has science fictional aspects.

i don’t worry about it’s power i worry about it’s fragility – it may be something that’s very had to explain to our children, or perhaps just in 7 years…

Tony: usefulness is there all the time in design: architecture and industrial design – blessing and curse
we’re trying to see how speculation through design could take on a social usefulness
if our imagination runs too far ahead in design, it perhaps ceases to become design and becomes fantasy
a lot of our debate with the student about where that line is – how to stay on the side that it’s not just pure entertainment

Bruce: our ideas or ‘use’ are too limited – is there a way of finesse it?
the psychopathology of everyday life – east german industrial design had ‘utility’ but born of a mad regime. these objects are uncanny and weird to us, but they made rational sense within the framework of east germany. the designers bought into the framework of that society.

we’re not instrumental beings – we’re not rational objects of use. you can’t write a short story about ‘use value’. not trying to being mystic about it – don’t want to wrap myself up in the thick cotton wool of storytelling, but we don;t understand ourselves well enough to define what ‘usefulness’ is. our society is mad like east germany – not in the same ways and perhaps not as crushing but it’s a framework we can’t see the edges of that makes us feel like we are making rational choices.

I’d like to see transhistorical critical design… what would ruskin say about interaction design… ruskin facebook… steampunk does this, but it’s also 19th century critical design of contemporary objects… the reason that people find it attractive is the sense of freedom it gives – the new/old.

(had to leave at this point for a meeting!!!)

6 thoughts on “Icon Minds: Tony Dunne / Fiona Raby / Bruce Sterling on Design Fiction

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