The Critical Function of Design FictionThe Critical Function of Design Fiction
The Critical Function of Design Fiction

Design Fiction has the vital function of grounding speculation in the form of things we can relate to, that are familiar perhaps even mundane.

Contributed By: Julian Bleecker

Published On: Saturday, January 13, 2024 at 08:30:00 PST

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  1. What might we consider to be the ‘Critical’ function of Design?

  2. By ‘Critical’ I mean the Essential function; that which is Vital.

  3. The most comforting understanding of what Design does that I hold close, that helps me get a grip on what it is that I seem to be doing when I do Design, is this:

  4. I am translating and transforming the imagery, notions, wonderings, and feelings that seem to be swirling about in my thoughts and cohereing those into some kind of material form.

  5. I am working to take what it is that is in my head, and bringing it into the world.

  6. Let me give you an example.

  7. OMATA

  8. This is the company you’ve heard me talk about over and over again.

  9. Why do I keep talking about it?

  10. Primarily because it occupied 9 years of effort and, of all the professional experiences I’ve had, was that which taught me the most about what it is that I do (am capable of) and how I do it.

  11. Which brings us straight back to this notion of translation/transformation as the Critical Function of Design.

  12. I asked myself: how can you imbue the feeling I had when riding a bike into a bicycle computer, because all of the bicycle computers out there in the world — or more precisely — the archetype of what a bicycle computer is understood to be, well — they are not very bicycle-y.

  13. All of these feel more like computer and less like bicycle.

  14. I won’t argue the point too passionately and just leave it there because we’re wondering more to this point about imbuing feeling into objects.

OMATA One bicycle computer on a flashing jig at the factory
OMATA One bicycle computer on a flashing jig at the factory
  1. Here’s a this vs. that image. You’ll likely get the point. To one degree or another the entirety of my effort was to transform the feeling of movement and momentum and heritage and grandeur and mechanism into this object I called OMATA One.

  2. That is, I’ll offer, the Critical Function of Design.

  3. Translating one’s ideas, thoughts, wonderings, aspirations, hopes, desires — Dreams — and making them legible, tangible, representable in the world.

  4. Making Things Mean Something.

  5. Making one’s ideas meaningful.

  6. Making one’s ideas sensible — able to be sensed and felt by others.

  7. So that all may be the Critical Function of Design.

  8. So then what is the Critical Function of Design Fiction?

  9. We might say that it is quite similar.

  10. In fact, we might say that it is entirely the same with an emphasis on possibility: The Critical Function of Design Fiction is to transform that which could become into a form that is legible, sensible, tangible.

  11. Design Fiction makes sense out of that which could come into being. It materializes possibility in very particular forms and formats: the kinds of normal, ordinary, everyday mudane objects that most everyone can relate to.

  12. Design Fiction represents possibility in the form of things we might find in a world that contains that possibility.

  13. Are you wondering about a world in which AI is integrated into the fabric of everyday life?

  14. Go ahead and write your report of Medium article but even better: make a kitchen appliance like a toaster oven from that future.

  15. Can’t make an AI toaster oven because you don’t know how to bend metal or write whatever firmware you imagine might do some kind of AI toaster oven features like try to get your toast the perfect amount of toastiness? Sure, I get it. Sounds like work and maybe even feels a bit like what you would do to make a prototype as if you were getting into the AI kitchen appliance business. That’s fine. Then..

  16. Make the Quick Start Guide for the AI toaster oven.

  17. Seriously. I’m not joking.

  18. Design Fiction’s Critical Function is to ground imagination down to earth; into the world; the surprise of the mundane character of its outputs is where attention falls.

  19. As much as we might convince ourselves that what we need to appreciate and prepare for the future is more reports and analysis, I would argue that we need more ways to sense-into possibility through tangible artifacts that feel like they have come from that future.

  20. This is why I’m pitching this project to create a Magazine from a Possible AI Future.

  21. Or it’s one of the reasons.

  22. The other reason is that anytime (these days, I mean) someone writes another ‘report’ or essay on AI, you get some goofy Midjourney header image that looks like a cyborg from a really bad science-fiction film.

  23. Over, and over, and over again.

  24. It’s excrutiating because it indicates to me how we struggle to translate all of this remarkable ambition into anything other than more prose, more shitty science-fiction imagery.

  25. Where’s the effort?

  26. I know we can do better. And that’s what Near Future Laboratory is here to help with. We’re open for business.

  27. Want to help me get this project to create a Magazine from an AI Future? Then get in touch.

  28. Let me suggest that the most consequential value of such a thing is simply this: a richer engagement with this AI future than another report, Medium post, or workshop ‘write-up’.

  1. You ready to do this?