Failures and Design Fictions WorkshopFailures and Design Fictions Workshop
Failures and Design Fictions Workshop
A Design Fiction Workshop to Learn How To Anticipate Failures & Lacks As Well As Lapses of Imagination
A screen showing the workshop opening slide
Using Design Fiction to Anticipate and Explore Possible Failures, Unanticipated Outcomes, and Imagine Harder into the Unexpected and Outliers

Project Summary

I facilitated a Design Fiction workshop on the ways Design Fiction can help discover unknown unknowns and build up our ability to imagine the unexpected and unanticipated — or just the things we would prefer not to think about. I did this at the Swiss Design Network conference in Basel Switzerland in October 2010.

Client: Swiss Design Network

Client URL:

Team: Near Future Laboratory

Project Year: 2010

Project Duration: 1 Week

Published On: Jun 16, 2024, 12:05

Updated On: Jun 16, 2024, 12:05

Written By: Julian Bleecker


The Project

I facilitated a Design Fiction workshop at the Swiss Design Network conference in Basel Switzerland in October 2010. The workshop was largely Nicolas’ organization and we took advantage of the conference theme of 'Design Fiction' to consider the topic of failure in design — failure as a guide and approach and provocation together with the considerations that design fiction can offer.

From the Swiss Design Network Conference Notice

Designers see the world not simply as it is, but rather as it could be. In this perspective, the world is a laboratory to explore the contingency of the existing and thinking in options. Imaginations of the contrafactual are a key source for the creation of alternative political, technological, social, or economic constellations of artefacts, interfaces, signs, actors, and spaces. At the same time, strategies of materialization are pivotal to shift the boundary between the fictional and the real and to finally bring possible new realities into being. The conference addresses the questions of how fictions are designed and how the multiplicity of possible new futures is negotiated and realized.

This is also the conference at which I delivered a keynote on Design Fiction

Activity 2: Description of anticipated failures (design fictions)

In the second activity, we asked people to craft two stories about potential failures/problems caused by designed objects in the future. By projecting people into the near future, we wanted to grasp some insights about how failures can be envisioned under different conditions. Here again, some examples that came out:

Identity and facial surgery change, potentially leading to discrepancies in face/fingerprint-recognition

Wireless data leaking everywhere except “cold spots” for certain kind of people (very rich, very poor)

Problems with space travelling

Need to “subscribe” to a service as a new person because of some database problem

People who live prior to the Cloud Computing era who have no electronic footprint (VISA, digital identity) and have troubles moving from one country to another

3D printers accidents: way too many objects in people’s home, the size of the printed objects has be badly tuned and it’s way too big, monster printed after a kid connected a 3D printer to his dreams, …

Textiles which suppress bad smells also lead to removal of pheromones and it affects sexual desire (no more laundry but no baby either)

Shared electrical infrastructure in which people can download/upload energy but no one ever agreed on the terms and conditions… which lead to a collapse of this infrastructure

Clothes and wearable computing can be hacked so you must now fly naked (and your luggage take a different flight)

It was interesting to notice that the “observed failures” (activity 1) were about a large range of designed objects (without necessarily Information Technologies). In this second case, ICT were always involved in the anticipated failures. It is as if we had trouble projecting other possibilities… (((A significant finding, there.)))

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