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One of the many very enjoyable and inspiring talks I attended at SXSWi was on Design Fiction. Here’s how it was billed. Design fiction is an approac...

As with many of the better panels, the title and description didn’t do it justice. I was expecting something much more practical and useful but instead it was entertaining, insightful and inspirational and left me thinking about how we can move away from the slightly lifeless and linear persona and scenario based approach we do a lot of (albeit still hugely useful).

This panel was the first time I’d heard of the concept of design fiction. Design fiction is about taking something embryonic and realising it in a (slightly) less embryonic and ethereal way. It’s about telling stories in a way that helps us speculate about what an item or thing would look like and what it’s impacts might be if it did indeed exist in our world.

Consider the Esper Machine in Blade Runner. Deckard zooms in to a photo and navigates through it like he was stood in the room itself.

This is a vivid way of portraying something without having to build it, worry about how or why it might work and test to see if this is something that we might want and need in our life. I suspect that without the Esper Machine we would have had no Google Streetview.

It doesn’t need to necessarily happen in film, you could simply tell a story in prose. You can even use worlds that other people have already created and extend those worlds yourself.

Fiction seems to free us from the usual design constraints and allows us to be more playful and ultimately (hopefully) arrive at something exciting. It reminds me of the way the fashion world works – catwalk shows tend to have outfits that are overly ostentatious or far-fetched. They’re not necessarily intended for the high street but they inspire more pragmatic concepts that people actually may buy and wear without feeling like a tit.

Sascha Pohflepp brought to life what the US would have been like if Carter had defeated Reagan in the 1980 presidential elections and directed the federal budget into ecological concerns and sustainability instead of space and the arms race. Through illustrations and short films he brought to life a story of our alternative past, monorails, decentralised power consumption through the stimulation and harnessing of lightning.

The Golden Institute documentation from Sascha Pohflepp on Vimeo.

Sascha covers the entire thing on his blog here.

If this is of interest, have a listen to the whole podcast from SXSW.

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Mike Laurie

Mike Laurie

Mike plans digital things, mostly services, usually quite sociable ones. He lives in South East London with his wife and 3 kids. Despite working for 10 years with brands such as BlackBerry, Nestlé, Channel4, Sky and Cancer Research, Mike still hasn't managed to work out what it is he really wants to be when he grows up.
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