Reading Response 6 / Natalie Washington

Not to get to “quote-y”, but something I was most drawn to by Dunne & Raby, was the statement:

Speculative design contributes to the reimagining not only of.. our relationship to reality. But for this to happen, we need to move beyond speculative design, to speculative everything-generating… The way the world follows on from how we think; the ideas inside our heads shape the world there. If our values , mental models, and ethics change, then the world flows from that worldview will be different, and we hope better.”

I think this succinctly indicates the role of the [responsible] designer.. or any creative for that matter.. Reimagining/manifesting an expression of a world that is a result of a better/worse or neutral future condition, draws my mind back to the reading we did on Dark Matter Trojan Horses by Dan Hill where he stated that the design world is full of “one-offs” “There are so many ideas produced every day, every- where, that installations and prototypes are almost a necessary pressure valve, a way of getting things out of one’s mind.”

It’s a  reflection of the the mental, emotional and even spiritual state we are in (society as a whole). The idea is touched on again when Dunne & Raby claim that the “era of big ideas and fantastic dreams” have passed. From what I have learned in this class, I think this is due in part  to complacency in our thinking, we have almost regressed to a dynamic of fulfilling our most instinctive wants/needs, highly due  to our hyper-commercialized and commodity-driven society.

To add to this point,  it’s interesting in  Just Design by Cameron Tonkinwise describe how even when we think we are being innovative, speculative or critical, we could very well still be repackaging regurgitated thoughts and ideas. I believe this to be true, it is easy to see in even my own rough sketching/early design work (just an example), design elements that begin to seep into a completely different project, that somehow make their way there, but don’t have much relevance in the new context. You could call it “aesthetic” or you could simply recognize how ingrained ideas can become and understand the vigilance it requires when trying to unpack an idea and manifesting it in a way that is most considerate to, what should be, a progressive concept. Every idea, every project, every movement should be progressive. It’s very inspiring.

noah | response 006

I want to begin with a quote from James Bridle. For some reason, his response here may be my favorite quote I’ve come across in these readings.

VanderMeer’s fiction is pretty interesting, because while it’s obviously somewhat future-oriented, it’s also deeply about the weird and strange and difficult to understand… That is the most interesting current within science fiction right now: not imaginings of weird futures, utopian or dystopian, but ones that really home into how little we understand about the world around us right now” (Bridle 21).

I believe I’m drawn to this quote because it delivers a validation for designing beyond profit-seeking. A general critique that people can have of designers is that we imagine these great and wonderful things, such as our utopias, but lack practicality. It’s invigorating to recognize that our speculative utopias or dystopias should not be the focus of our discussion, but the element woven into the dystopia/utopia that takes on the rhetorical meaning. It has the capacity to hold this rhetorical mean because we currently lack understanding or control.This quote and one from  speculative Everything are probably the most helpful for me in developing a robust concept for our semester project.  

I can willingly admit that industrial designers easy fall into a worldview that sees everybody else as “users,” which entails matching them with a persona or category, having some expected background based on their current physical appearance, and to have characteristics that we can design towards to make our product feel individualistic; an object that has an isolating effect that makes the object feel personally important and relevant, forgetting that there are a million more of that certain object. So when designing a conceptual project, my first inclination is to design the discourse that certain kinds of people will have in reaction to my project. But I’m seeing that it’s important to “view people as free agents , not necessarily rational , but free to make up their own minds” (Dunne 160). The best design will develop a multitude of conversations and emotions with it, have a level of newness and surprise, and be individually moldable/parasitic to a person’s worldview. What I will have to avoid is redesigning the discourse by actively leaving the it up to personal subjectivity.

I found myself very intrigued by David Beer’s recognition of data-rich infrastructures and how that could hold back societal change. This concept is concerning as a designer because I can see how quantified values for a “thing’s” efficiency or connections with it’s buyer could validate not touching the design. Or deciding to not fix/clean up a bridge because the data says the bridge is doing fine. This relates to how food labels lead to more food waste. If a product is beyond the date on the package, regardless of expiration date or sell by date, people will pitch it and buy another. This is an issue since those dates are often moved up substantially in order to create legal security. Unfortunately, i wasn’t able to find a really twisted design project that deals with expiration dates, by i did find one that included information on the “expiration date” of certain species, printed directly with the food idem’s date. There was another that i wish was more than a drawing, but proposed the idea of virginity having an expiration date. 

Reading Response 6 · Akshat Srivastava

“Whereas it is accepted that the present is caused by the past it is also possible to think of it being shaped by the future, by our hopes and dreams for tomorrow.” (Dunne & Raby, 160) This statement concisely sums up the argument for speculative design as a means to bring about meaningful change. Instead of trying to fix today’s problems directly, speculative design acts as a form of dissent expressed through alternative design proposals, helping individuals visualize realities that could be. And these alternative realities don’t necessarily have to even be viable; if they have imaginative value, that’s good enough to serve as individual inspiration. Dunne & Raby argue that there is no longer one shared reality but rather 7 billion different ones, building up to this concept of ‘micro-utopias’ for each individual. It’s an understandable approach and is reasonable to a certain degree, but I am not sure if it helps as much as they think it does. All of ‘our realities’ are profoundly intertwined, and meaningfully [re]designing one necessarily means rethinking others’ as well. While they are trying to argue for these micro-utopias to merely be better means of inspiration than unrealistic mega-utopias, it’s hard to imagine either being even remotely viable (and thus inspiring) without the other. That said, I certainly find value in embracing individual diversity and designing different worldviews that respect it. Overall, I think the writing in this chapter became slightly convoluted and at times mildly self-contradictory with the frequent definitions and re-definitions of what speculative design’s goals are, what ‘we want’ it to be. That said, the overall thinking is still quite respectable. They wrap things up saying, “The project’s value is not what it achieves or does but what it is and how it makes people feel, especially if it encourages people to question, in an imaginative, troubling, and thoughtful way, everydayness and how things could be different.” Sounds good.

Tonkinwise’s Just Designis highly reductionist and smug. (And clearly, his excessively assertive style of writing has rubbed off on me.) The number of logical fallacies even within the first few paragraphs is downright concerning. “Not all (commercial) designing does all those things, but it should.” This is a classic slippery slope. It’s overtly normative without adequate reasoning to back it up. It’s misinterpreting most of the terms it’s refuting. And it fails to acknowledge the varying scopes that different kinds of designers operate at. No, a visual designer working on making buttons for a design system doesn’t need to consider ‘alternate realities’ and the political repercussions of their work. And yes, that is very much a legitimate form of design. A graphic designer trying to pick a typeface for their project need not necessarily worry about ‘criticizing’ and ‘speculating’. Not doing so does not make them an ‘inadequate designer’. It makes sense for there to be focus areas within design that are dedicated for different kinds of scopes and tasks. The level of dictatorial, contrarian sensationalism in this article baffled me. This was a tough read.

Adi Robertson’s interview of James Bridle, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air. Air with a scent of academic rigor and logical composure. Bridle argues that one way of gaining agency around increasingly powerful computing systems is to approach them with a form of systemic literacy around them. Quite refreshingly, his approach involves building something as a means of educating ourselves about it, which is something I personally enjoy doing most even within the context of design tools and theory. He believes that the act of straightforward, direct articulation of today’s struggles is necessary. It’s about time we stop taking defensive stances on already out-of-hand issues such as climate change and start presenting them to the world as they are. He reiterates the necessity of framing issues the right way, as ‘struggles’, nothing less, several times. Speaking about ‘design fiction’, Bridle says there’s something quite risky about the way that’s being done currently, which sort of alienates them from our present reality. It can be hard to understand. Finally, the interview closes with a brief discussion on how romanticized histories (such as a the history of the internet) can be detrimental to our understanding and critique of the present. Retelling these stories more accurately could help encourage rethinking the present.

Throughout this debate on the efficacy of critical speculation and speculative design, I was reminded of the on-again-off-again debate among philosophers about the utility (or lack thereof) of though experiments in philosophy. I think there’s an interesting tie-in between what we’ve been discussing here and philosophy’s thought experiments, which are defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as “…devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things.” While there certainly are key differences both the goals and methodologies of the two processes of questioning (i.e., the design way and the philosophy way), the SEP article on Thought Experiments is a fascinating read, especially as a follow-up to the readings we have done so far:

Reading Response 6 | Andrew Chambers

The opportunities design has to make radical change are much more limited when you are restricted to the realm of current reality. I found it very helpful and inspiring to hear how “unreal”, “unthinkable”, and even “impossible” ideas or worlds are absolutely necessary to design for. It seems very real to me that todays world is heading toward that of a monoculture and quickly limiting the potential for imagining these future possibilities.

I found the discussion surrounding micro-utopias incredibly fascinating. While at first thought of this notion as unrealistic or even potentially dangerous, on further reflection I realize that it is not necessarily the idea of a micro-utopia that is novel but rather the way of thinking about the world in order to come up with it. It was particularly fascinating to read the section on Anarcho-Evolutionists as this sect seems to fit rather hand in hand with my speculative vision. When researching and preparing this vision I kept running into the roadblock that is not all people will want to subscribe to this new way of life, that some may actually view it as more of a dystopia. When considering it as a potential micro-utopia, one that not everyone has to subscribe to, it seems so much more feasible.

While all of the micro-utopias explored may not seem feasible or may come across as to sci-fi, their creation has far greater reaching implications. It goes to show just how important it is to allow or even force people to call into question the very systems that make up their everyday lives. By proposing something radically different, Dunne and Raby propose something powerful to the viewer, they give them the ability to examine for themselves this new way of looking at things. A new way to examine a synthesis of research in a form much more conducive than reading a report, they are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in a speculative reality.

While reading Cameron Tonkinwise’s article “Just Design” I felt mixed emotions, I found myself agreeing with most of his points, while feeling rather uneasy about others. I certainly agree that good design should embody “future, fiction, speculative, critique, provoke, discourse, interrogate, probe, and play” related aspects, I believe that the notion that all design must do this to be adequate is arrogant and harmful. I believe design is a process, a way of thinking, and an art that can embody thousands of forms and span multiple disciplines.

By understanding the systems at work in an alternative version of reality can prove extremely helpful in “Large scale systemic change” in the real world. James Bridle, in his interview on why technology is creating a new dark age, puts this very starkly. Bridle points out that that the use of fiction and fantasies can be instrumental in how we can “predict about long-term futures”. While science fiction is often written off as useless futurism I have so much better of an understanding of its role in figuring out our world and how it perfectly aligns with the act of design. By imagining worlds that operate off of different systems than our own, we can truly open our eyes to the way that things work. It is not until we as humans understand the world that we live in and how it works that we can change it for the better. It is the “weird, strange, and difficult to understand” that deserves focus, a focus which is best meet with a speculative view on design.

Reading Response 6 | Maeve Morris

Chapter 9 discussing the differences between specifically design thinking, social design, spec design and then captology made me consider how optimistically or pessimistically charged speculative design is. The definition Dunne and Raby give is that speculative design is “dissent … by alternative design proposals”. Is the nature of dissent naturally pessimistic, and do we consider criticism or new thinking this way? How much room is there naturally in speculative design for optimism about our future? Are our practices as pessimistic or optimistic as speculative design should be? What are all the confounding variables?

My experiences so far this semester would impulsively give me over to the opinion that our version of speculative design has a dark tint, but I suspect that my view is largely based on how scared I am that the changes we seem to be heading toward are ones I won’t like. I’m not a great judge on how objectively or subjectively “bad” the future we regularly discuss sounds, but the consensus seems to be there are more things to be scared of than excited about. This may also be rooted in our efforts to problem-solve with design, which isn’t necessitated in speculative design, but habits made by our experiences with design thinking (problem solving) and social design (fixing things with more complex human problems). Problem-solving involves focusing quite a bit on the problems.

Tonkinwise, in Just Design, gives great hope in that “design makes futures. What designers make becomes the future we inhabit”. Hopefully, while understanding that one of the steps involved in speculative design is evaluating futures and critically considering realities, there is still room for optimism. Not ignorance or oblivion, but choosing to consider all the possibilities and use design to shape the probabilities into a future we’d like to exist in.

Otherwise, I really appreciated the blunt one-liners delivered in Just Design, such as:

“A designer who does not have a clear sense of the wider future world is not only unconvincing but irresponsible”

“Compared to speculative design, design futures are more within the horizon of current expectations”

and “Designers fetishizing ‘noir’ embarrassingly belies their film auteur wannabee-ness”

Reading Response 6 / Emily Fishman

Speculative Design, International

An intensely interesting point was brought up in the Dunne-Raby article in his comparison of American design projects from Futurama with a Soviet-era beacon of design. Both visualizations imagined what a plane of the future would look like, but the end results were vastly different and tailored to the ideologies, cultures, and habits of their respective nations. The American example by Norman Bel Geddes ‘Airliner No . 4,’ depicts a massive and luxe craft built for comfort and entertainment and taking the ‘strain’ out of travel, reflecting the American mindset at the time based on their already successful base of innovations. Conversely, The Soviet plane, ‘The Lun -class Ekranoplan,’ was ambitiously created as a tool to support the militaristic and propagandized view of the society at the time.

This is personally intriguing to me because my family is from Russia, and I grew up with stories from my parents about how massively different their way of life and thinking was, and their experiences with ‘Imagining the Future’ were informed by much different ideals. This is partly what informed my own speculative vision, a communist-type society where many things are standardized and regulated by the totalitarian government. I wanted to take the opportunity to picture myself in my parents shoes, and their extracurricular desires and needs within this type of system.

Because many of us have only been exposed to a capitalist-type system, it’s hard to break our speculative visions away from ‘responses to capitalism,’ but this opens a new non-linear axis on which to study speculative visions.

This ties back to the idea of personal utopias based on variables affecting the individual person. Just using the Soviet union as a jumping off point, it’s not hard to imagine the variety of micro-utopian futures influenced by factors of varying importance such as religion, climate, culture, diet,and of course politics + economy.  Countries like North Korea are an enigmatic minority in today’s capitalist dominated society, so the micro-utopias of its inhabitants on the very personal level will be vastly different than ones we would proposed out of the United States. This is a topic that I have found to be continually interesting, and plan on pursuing a greater understanding of the world’s cultures through their hopes, wants and needs facilitated through their personal utopian visions.

Reading Response 6 / Sarah Fay

Reading Response 6:
Speculative Design, or… (Just) Design?

Dunne and Raby’s dissection of the different facets of speculative design was clarifying. It provided an insightful conversation when paired with the Tonkinwise article. It seemed utopic for Dunne and Raby to state that limits on design depend on what people believe is viable. What if someone believes that nothing is unviable; does this make their speculative design theory unlimited? Another large point of speculative design is that it makes viable and unviable solutions/ possibilities “tangible and available for consideration.” Speculative design versus “regular”/commercial design are often separated on the basis of the inaccurate belief that commercial design is made up of the instrumental technical task of styling. Tonkinwise claims that what designers make become the new futures that we inhabit. This coincides with Dunne and Raby’s explanation that there are multiple realities; in fact a new reality for every living person. Multiple realities = multiple, everchanging futures. Speculative design would be creating utopias for all of these differing realities. Speculative design is for providing complicated pleasures and enriching our mentality. Speculative design should make people speculate; it should make people wonder what lies beyond their first thought and immediate vision.

Diving further into the notion of design fiction vs design future, it was grounding to read that Tonkinwise perceives that people eat, clean, sleep, commute, and love all in very similar ways as they did 100 years ago. Designing futures is the introduction of what could be, it makes people wonder about what is really probable. “…design fictions describe scenarios in which the design innovation is no longer innovative, but merely a habitual part of everyday practices. “ Design Fiction becomes so regulated that it provides the opportunity for viewers and designers to decide if it’s how they would potentially like to live. Design fictions are also usually “brief but vivid”, while design futures are usually verging more on fantasy and utopia.

I read the interview with James Bridle on if technology is creating a new dark age. He touches on design futures by explaining that design is experimentation to help learn and gain understanding of the systems at play. James Bridle also has an extremist view on design, but I don’t disagree with it. In specific regards to climate change, but could be applied to most worldly topics, he says that it’s important to make things horrific so that people can’t stop thinking of them. This is a form of speculative design that could most impact the public. This could also be regarded as a form of scare tactics, but based in pure facts. Making design as factual as possible may be the most effective way to communicate certain horrors of the world. I resonated with how Bridle touched on the dangers of romanticizing the past, and how that’s a side effect of our narrow view of history. This ties back into Tonkinwise’s powerful critique on how it is repugnant if futures are designed in a fashion of whitewashing. “It is morally repugnant that the worst things white people can imagine happening to them in some dystopian future are conditions they already impose on non-white people.”  

Reading Response 6 | Adriana Noritz

After years of being taught traditional product design practices and seeing those practices play out in corporate settings during co-op, I lost some hope in what my role in design could be and the role design could play in my life and others’. But reading Dunne and Raby’s Speculative Everything has truly influenced my perspective on design and its potential to do good. It reminded me of the ways in which design can inspire change by connecting to humans and encouraging emotional reactions. Dunne and Raby say in the closing statements of Speculative Everything, “The project’s value is not what it achieves or does but what it is and how it makes people feel, especially if it encourages people to question, in an imaginative, troubling, and thoughtful way, everydayness and how things could be different.” This is where they see speculative design thriving, in providing alternative possibilities to what is known, allowing humans to feel a sense of wonder about our future. It’s true that designers have a responsibility to keep in mind not what we are designing for, but rather who we are designing for. Empathy should the driving voice in all design, otherwise we lose sight of what matters. I believe we must hold all creatives accountable for the work they are putting into the world, there is a time and place for everything, but work that is routed in self-promotion or in profit should be criticized accordingly.

On another note, Cameron Tonkinwise’s piece “Just Design” takes this criticism too far. I agree with him that we should expect a level of professionalism and depth from designers, but not all designs are meant to achieve all the methods he lists (Future, Fiction, Speculate, Criticize, Provoke, Discourse, Interrogate, Probe, Play). Tonkinwise’s voice gets more and more arrogant throughout the piece and makes me wonder who put him on this designer-god complex. Designers can’t fix everything, but what we can do is attempt to influence the masses by making work that is compelling and relatable. This can happen in collaboration with other fields of creativity like the sciences, literature and art. Tonkinwise opens his manifesto with a rather brash statement, “If it is in gallery, it is art. If it is in a gallery, it is circumscribed and so impotent.” Just because something is in a gallery does not deem it useless, rather should be seen as a means of archiving thoughtful expression with the potential of receiving the attention it deserves. Hopes and dreams of the future need to be vocalized before any progress is made. What must shift is not the reality itself, but our relationship to reality. People need to know that it is possible to imagine different ways of living, and so it may start small and vague, it may live in a gallery or museum, or in a sketchbook not yet shared, but at least someone is questioning our reality and fighting for the good of humans. There is hope in that.

Reading Response 6

I loved how in Speculative Everything, the author describes how art does not merely reflect the world at the current moment, but it also serves as a way to live out possible futures that may or may not come about. He goes on to question whether design can do this as well and proceeds to enter into a discussion about micro-utopias, which really grasped my attention. His exploration of people creating micro-worlds around fetishes, cult-like fears, or political views feels strangely realistic. At face-value, the idea of divided mini-nations seems unhealthy or even concerning, but it seems a logical route to take when a group of people have beliefs that few others share or find acceptable. These people feel strongly enough that their belief must be practiced whether society agree or not, so they create their micro-utopias to practice in peace.

The power of micro-utopias is that they show the world what can be and opens the horizon to possibilities the masses couldn’t fathom. Like the Fluxus art movement, micro-utopias are embedded in the notion of “do-it-yourself” possibilities and exploring what arises when the “consumer” or the average Joe becomes the designer. Rather than letting one designer craft a shiny, polished utopia, he/she creates one that serves his/her needs and that, often times, turns out a little messy. According to Stephen Duncombe, an associate professor at NYU’s Gallatin School in the department of Media, Culture and Communications, micro-utopias are meant to:

1. Inspire others by demonstrating another world is possible;

2. Critique the existing dynamics of our current society; 

3. Generate new ideas for models for organizing society;

4. Orient towards a shared direction;

5. Motivate other toward collective and collaborative action.

Based on the article published on, my understanding is that micro-utopias may be a critical way to help America transition out of the capitalist structure that is currently failing us. I believe we need to start envisioning extreme and even messy futures rather than writing them off as illogical. Instead, we need to ask how could this become a reality? What would be the benefits and the downfalls? Who would find this future appealing? In addition, as mentioned in James Bridle on why technology is creating a new dark age, how will our romanticizing of the past prevent us from fully letting loose to create unthinkable micro-utopias? Holding on to our notions and ideas of the past (especially if they are ill-informed) will only taint our future predictions with false ideals and unrealistic realities. 

Though I love observing designers devising futures, my favorite way to observe possible futures is through what Tonkinwise calls “Fictioners doing design.” Under this category, one finds authors like Ray Bradbury or Arthur C. Clarke. It’s intriguing to see how futuristic books and films often influence designs purposed for far into the future. A company I have been longing to intern for and have even applied to called Final Frontier Design was featured in one of my favorite podcasts (I Need More Space) and the CEO was asked whether he references sci-fi films to dictate his suit designs. He claimed that they do reference them from time to time, though often times they aren’t very functional, but they pose ideas that may not otherwise be thought of by a technically-minded designer. I think that designers can certainly benefit from looking at those who aren’t “designers” and see how they see where the future is going and why.