Intersections, conjunctions, and differences between

Design Fiction and Design Futures

Whilst I see myself as a practitioner and doer; my futures projects have resulted in a series of pedagogical outputs like frameworks and thought processes. In light of the frameworks I made for speaking and teaching engagements in the latter half of 2021; it’s time to journal some of my streams of consciousness.

Designed Artefacts that belong in alternate universes rather than our own. Think phasers from Star Trek, or the Voight-Kampff test apparatus from Blade Runner. Read more.

A strategic and creative process that involves forecasting through design methods and outputs.

Here are the eponymous intersections, conjunctions, and differences between Design Fiction and Design Futures:

Design Fiction vs. Design Futures, by Viraj Joshi.

Let’s use examples from my ongoing weekly cartoon, “Eliza — The Ghost in Every Machine.” to dive deeper and see how fictional interactions and situations can be used to inspire design future outputs.

Eliza — The Ghost in Every Machine 32; after Peter Steiner’s classic New Yorker cartoon.

This fictional depiction of an AI saying that it could pass off as a human in the metaverse aims to frame an unforeseen metaverse problem. An opportunity finding design futures attitude could use this as a springboard for coming up with product and service ideas in the metaverse.

Eliza — The Ghost in Every Machine 10

In this cartoon, I’ve taken the opportunity to critique big-tech’s use of our data and how we have no control or agency over what happens to it once it’s given out. Whilst this is only a critical approach; one can see how it can constructively inspire policy and regulations, and also products and services.

Eliza — The Ghost in Every Machine 24

One of the fundamental laws of strategic forecasting is that the future cannot be predicted. Detailed descriptions of the future always become works of fiction. Forecasting however is done based on grounded empirical evidence, trends, and their extrapolation.

Eliza — The Ghost in Every Machine is updated weekly on my website and instagram.

Design Futures and Fiction are similar in these aspects:

Futures Through Fiction

In a 5 week Design Futures course that I was asked to lead for 2nd year Design Management students at MIT-ID in India; I took the approach of asking students to come up with fictional outputs based on trends and evidence. This allowed the students to think beyond what’s possible, without the restrictions, rules, and inhibitions of our physical world.

The key question I asked to students in the Design Fiction feedback session was, “What aspects of our current world does your fiction critique?”

Later, the students were asked to propose a product / service situated in our world, based on elements of their fictional one.

For Design Futures, I then took the chance to ask “Which aspects of your fiction output did you leave behind, and which ones could you carry to our world, and why?”

This approach of thinking of fictions before futures helped the students open up towards alternatives.

Recommendations for World-building

With examples from Postcards from the Future, a globally crowdsourced design fiction project.

In the world of Library of Artificial Intelligence Authors that I co-produced with Oscar Salguero, it is commonplace for AI to write fiction and non-fiction books. They might even be cheaper than those written by people.

Library of Artificial Intelligence Authors by Oscar Salguero and Viraj Joshi.

Situating people in a world with curious rules is a great way to create personal conflict for interesting fiction. People would always have the same motivations and needs, and they’d carry on with their lives despite, with, and around all the rules that the world has imposed on them.

This piece titled Going Underground for the Free Use of Internet, produced with Daniele Tatasciore shows artefacts from a contraband internet cafe in a world where people are prohibited from personal internet services. They’d still want to do anything anyone does on the internet, won’t they?

A striking piece of fiction always draws parallels to our lives as they are now, and invokes shared experiences. Extrapolating evidence (news, observations, trends, etc.) from the world around us is a great way to create a sense of strange familiarity in the otherness.

In Trans-Arctic Rail Ticket, we see an inconspicuous train ticket. Close observation reveals it going across the arctic in a future where polar ice has melted allowing for trains to run across the northernmost parts of our planet.

Trans-Arctic Rail Ticket by Viraj Joshi

Fellow nerds Marie-Louise Juul Søndergaard and Trieuvy Luu for being a constructive soundboard for mental sparring of all things speculative. Prof. Harshit Desai of MIT-ID for asking me to host a design futures course with his masters students and trusting me with my tutoring experiments.

Eliza — The Ghost in Every Machine

Postcards from the Future

MIT-ID DM Design Futures Lectures

Designer, Technologist, Futurist • • Currently: Fjord London. MA–Royal College of Art, MSc–Imperial College, London.