(Street) Signs of Change - A Design Fiction Workshop at SxSW 2024(Street) Signs of Change - A Design Fiction Workshop at SxSW 2024
(Street) Signs of Change - A Design Fiction Workshop at SxSW 2024

Imagining possible futures through street signs! The street sign is a fantastic Design Fiction archetype. It's an artifact that is quite legible and recognizable as an indicator of social norms, rules, policy and thereby a small signal of a culture.

Contributed By: Julian Bleecker

Published On: Tuesday, March 12, 2024 at 09:25:58 PDT

Updated On: Thursday, May 16, 2024 at 07:22:53 PDT

Why do I blog this?  This is a fantastic grounding technique. Street signs are easily legible and recognizable indicators of social norms, rules, concretization of policy and thereby implications of culture. A little object that speaks volumes about society at a snapshot in time.
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I came to SxSW for a few days, mostly to appear on a panel I helped organize with Avi Bar-Zeev and Andrea Ion Cojocaru. (More about that in a future post.)

While in line to caffeinate just before the Imagine Harder panel on Monday morning, the woman in front of me turned to remark on my “Imagine harder” hat.

Admiring it, she asked if I was going to go to the ‘Imagine Harder’ panel so of course I had to mention that I was, and I was actually on the panel. We had a good laugh at that and introduced ourselves. I had my bag of prizes that I was going to give away during the panel, including a few ‘Imagine harder’ hats, so now Bettina Schwalm has a new hat.

But the real fun was when Bettina introduced me to her practice and invited me to a workshop she was facilitating at the Nordic House at SxSW called ‘Signs of Change’ — literally workshopping possible street signs and how they might help us imagine into possible futures.

Bettina Schwalm facilitating the signs of change workshop at SxSW 2024
Bettina Schwalm facilitating the Signs of Change workshop at SxSW 2024
Workshop description for Signs of Change at SxSW 2024

The workshop ran for just about 50 minutes, so it was a good tight sprint. Bettina shared an overview of speculative design and shared some really cool examples of how they’ve ‘deployed’ their signs around the world in various contexts.

We then broke up into small groups — I was with Jerri Lynn Hogg and Mark Gilbert. The task was to identify which of the 11 signs they had around the room we found most curious or compelling to engage and wonder about.

A sheet of stickers of Design Fiction artifacts street signs from possible futures
Stickers! A sheet of stickers of Design Fiction-y street signs from possible futures. Can you imagine the multitudes of possible worlds these might have come from?

We quickly settled upon this sign that indicated that ‘down the road’ is the ‘Swedish eEmbassy’. What the heck, right?

Imagine a world where affinities and socio-political alliances are formed around data and algorithms and are formalized by creating

Fun workshop. Fun artifact. Check out Bettina’s work over at signsofchange.io.

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Installations of some signs
Installations of some signs
Installations of some signs
Installations of some signs
Installations of some signs
Poster of a large variety of street signs from some possible futures
Poster of a large variety of street signs from some possible futures
Workshop survey booklet
Workshop form where we try to imagine some of the details of the world
Workshop form where we try to imagine some of the details of the world
Workshop materials from Signs of Change at SxSW 2024
Reflections
Hej new friend! Time to Imagine Harder!
Why do I blog this?  This is a fantastic grounding technique. Street signs are easily legible and recognizable indicators of social norms, rules, concretization of policy and thereby implications of culture. A little object that speaks volumes about society at a snapshot in time.