Combining the conventions of narrative storytelling with design prototyping is an emerging area of study. The practice is known as design fiction, and the resulting stories, create compelling speculations of near and distant futures made more believable, and therefore more provocative, through realistic prototypes. These scenarios can bring cultural legibility to representations of the future and thereby provoke discussion and debate, challenge conventional thinking, and encourage individual foresight and participation into the implications of today's decision-making.
With the expanding definition of design beyond the archetypal products, spaces, or communications into things such as service design and strategic thinking, design fiction presents itself as a promising form of design research, in a construct with different rules and possibilities, to experiment with the impact of technology and design on society, government, culture, and individuals.
The focus of this thesis is explored through historical applications of design and narrative, a survey of current trends in the practice of design fiction, and through a project whereby the author/designer becomes a reflective practitioner to create a story that portrays a speculative future heavily influenced by technological change and enhanced with visual prototypes.
The project portion of the thesis necessitated that the author become immersed in a narrative construct based on research into trending technological advancements and to surround this world with human interaction inside a speculative ethnography. These virtual worlds and their “diegetic prototypes” (Kirby 2010) were subsequently visualized using computer generated models and rendered imagery to impart a sense of realism to depict tangible artifacts, tactile surfaces, and atmospheric detail. The story and visualization were combined using the distinctive meta-language of sequential art as in a graphic novel to enable the reader to linger and examine the unfolding narrative and the subtlety with which design and culture interact.
Using computer graphics (CG) visualization in a graphic novel is only one form of creating a legible future scenario. That which distinguishes design fiction from a conventional science fiction graphic novel, film, or other creative effort is the designer's focus on the prototypes and the subsequent examination of the implications that these prototypes present within the realm of human interaction. Therefore, the narrative emphasis does not revolve around the prototype, but rather how society has folded them into everyday life for better or for worse. It becomes both an exercise for designers and a catalyst to provoke thinking and discussion among readers, participants, or observers. How will future technologies or social changes influence design? How will the resulting design affect human behavior? The practice of design fiction becomes a promising method for designers to become thought leaders, practitioners, and facilitators in envisioning the future. There are applications of design education that better equip designers for combining design and narrative as well as the fields of foresight and futurist studies as a means to stimulate critical thinking, generating debate and individual participation toward shaping the techno-social future.
“The ability to project ourselves into future worlds is a powerful tool for asking why this world is the way it is and how we can make it better” (Finn).