researchers and to the general public.
In particular, design fiction excels
at arguing for or against a potential
technological future by couching its
insight within persuasive narrative
structures. We frequently see this
within science fiction, but there have
also been some interesting uses of
fictional frames to argue for (and
against) possible futures for the
HCI community, most notably in
Connor Linehan and Ben Kirman’s
paper “CHI and the Future Robot
Enslavement of Humankind: A
Finally, it can provide inspiration
and motivation for design by exploring
possible design requirements within
a fictional scenario before attempting
physical prototyping. Consider the
output of a recent MIT Media Lab
course, “Science Fiction to Science
Fabrication,” taught by Sophia
Brueckner and Dan Novy, where the
students developed prototypes derived
from readings of canonical science
The unifying thread of these threeapproaches to design fiction is a deepengagement with the narratologicalaspects of the process. These aren’tsimply scenarios or personas: Theyare stories. As a researcher whose workdeals with narrative directly, I havelearned that the formal propertiesof a story (its structure, world, andcharacters) are important, but thatthey are only half of the equation.
The interpretation of a reader orviewer—what we might call the userexperience—is equally important.
Good design fictions incorporate the
elements of good storytelling alongside
an understanding of how readers
interpret and understand narratives
to create compelling (and believable)
fictional worlds around an imagined
technology. As we continue to find
new uses for design fiction, we need
to retain that engagement with story,
lest we lose the thing that makes this
approach so uniquely compelling.
1. Bosch, T. and Sterling, B. Sci-Fi writerBruce Sterling explains the intriguing newconcept of design fiction. The Slate Group,2012; http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/03/02/bruce_sterling_
2. Kirby, D. The future is now: Diegeticprototypes and the role of popular filmsin generating real-world technologicaldevelopment. Social Studies of Science 40,(2010), 41–70.
Theresa Jean Tanenbaum is an assistantprofessor at the University of California, Irvinein the Department of Informatics. She isfinishing her Ph.D. at the School of InteractiveArts + Technology at Simon Fraser University.Her research explores narrative in digitalgames, design fiction, steampunk, and makerand DIY practice.→
Bruce Sterling coined the term “design fiction” in 2005, but definitions of and approaches to this concept differ within the HCI community.
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