“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: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thought-experiment/.