Week 18 – Speculative Critical Design (SCD)

Speculative design and design fiction are two new areas of design that are focused on the future and place themselves at the starting point of that design for the future. Most of our experience and knowledge of this area comes through film and television particularly in the genre of science fiction, speculative design goes on to challenge the very role and use of objects and systems in our lives. It’s important have a social and critcal critique of where we stand and to have a say in how we want to shape our future.


Figure 1 – Teddy Bear Bloodbag Radio (Dunne and Raby, 2009)

Critical design was promoted by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, to use design to speculate about the social, political and cultural implications of everyday objects producing work to question rather than reinforce ideas about those objects an example being their Teddy Bear bloodbag radio from 2009. Design historian Victor Margolin states that both dystopian and utopian visions of the future can be found as far back at the 1820’s.

What If? is the key question that forms the foundation to a speculative design project, questioning change and differences in the context of the future.

This is best visualised in Nesta’s Jess Bland version of what’s called the ‘Futures Cone’


Figure 2 – Futures Cone (Nesta.org.uk, 2016)

It has four key elements where design can place itself amongst the outcomes from this cone.

Possible Futures – What might happen in the future.
Plausible Futures – what could happen in the future.
Probable Futures – What is likely to happen in the future.
Preferable Futures – What we want to happen in the future.

The key is to create projects that have value in the realm of designing for the future. The project will serve more as a discussion if successful about whether there is a desire to see something like this form part of our future. There are also two key markets where projects can reside in terms of appeal, that is to a mainstream market and also to a more niche design field. An interesting example is the Soil Cards project being developed by Science Practice.


Figure 3 – Soil Cards (Science-practice.com, 2017)

Design fiction tends to fall into the realm of thinking more outside the box and how these new ideas may impact on our habits and lifestyles, often being presented as a dystopian or utopian society depending on how this technology may serve to open our possibilites or equally might restrict and take away from our freedom and quality of life. The former gives speculative design this ‘shock factor’ as it’s described when showing how good future design may infact have negative consequences to the action of it’s creation. One of the best examples is shown in the video below by Superflux.

Uninvited Guests from Superflux on Vimeo.

Figure 4 – Uninvited Guests (Superflux via Vimeo, 2015)

It is also stated in the article how a political preference or agenda can be the driving force being a specualtive design project, to the benefit of some but maybe not all, this can open up quite a debate quite quickly should the design be very divisive in terms of it’s merits. Good speculative design seems to balance the following three key traits:

Plausible Idea + Out of the box thinking + a surprise element = speculative design. (Gandhi, 2017)

An interesting point made is that the way the world has developed at different rates in different places and we all currently stand at different positions along the spectrum, that some ideas that could be dystopian to some, may be closer to or actually be the reality to others now for decades. The conclusion is that a lot of SCD can be shallow and selfish in it’s design. For example do we really need the granted beautifully imagined musical instruments by Benoit Challand and Simon Duhame.


Figure 5 – Imagined musical instruments (designboom | architecture & design magazine, 2016)

One critisism of this area of design is that it deals with the problems of the few rather than the concensus or the many, this area has been formed to deal with the problems of the interlectual and the middle classes who can afford the time and resources to explore such questions but many around the planet, this area of design just doesn’t relate to them in the slightest and they have far more pressing problems, real problems to deal with in the here and now. They highlight the story of Jean Charles de Menezes.


Figure 6 – Jean Charles de Menezes memorial after being shot by police in London 2005 after mistaking him for one of the London bombers. (the Guardian, 2017)

They went on further to say that a lot of speculative design ignores real basic problems we face in current society of race, gender and class and creates in a way that is purely fictional because it is so far removed from the realities of this world, in retort that also links into the heavy political drivers that form the foundations to these SCD projects.


Figure 7 – Student Winner: Whereabouts, by Jacob Brancasi and Betsy Kalven (Core77, 2014)

The final conclusions were that for the generally critical article on the subject matter, there was a place for it in design, it does have it’s merits and the ability to reflect on the present and shape the future in a better direction is something that design should be encouraged to do. An example shown above with the Whereabouts project which created three wearables to help develop a better awareness of the world around them.

The ideal solution might be to tap in the very near future and resolve some of the key issues around todays society rather than to speculative wonderful creations for a very select part of society a bit further removed from modern society, at least for a great number of our planet’s population.


Core77. (2014). Core77 Design Awards 2014: The Best Speculative Designs of the Year – Core77. [online] Available at: http://www.core77.com/posts/27475/core77-design-awards-2014-the-best-speculative-designs-of-the-year-27475 [Accessed 1 May 2017].

designboom | architecture & design magazine. (2016). benoit challand + simon duhamel envision a surreal set of imagined musical instruments. [online] Available at: http://www.designboom.com/art/bloom-maestro-benoit-challand-simon-duhame-digital-instruments-03-08-2016/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2009). Dunne & Raby. [online] Dunneandraby.co.uk. Available at: http://www.dunneandraby.co.uk/content/projects/512/0 [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Laranjo, F. (2015). Critical Everything | Modes of Criticism. [online] Modes of Criticism. Available at: http://modesofcriticism.org/critical-everything/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Nesta.org.uk. (2016). Speculative design: A design niche or a new tool for government innovation? | Nesta. [online] Available at: http://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/speculative-design-design-niche-or-new-tool-government-innovation [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Prado, L. and Oliviera, P. (2014). Questioning the “critical” in Speculative & Critical Design. [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/a-parede/questioning-the-critical-in-speculative-critical-design-5a355cac2ca4 [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Science-practice.com. (2017). Home | Science Practice. [online] Available at: http://www.science-practice.com/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Superflux. (2017). Superflux – Translating Future Uncertainty into Present Day Choices.. [online] Available at: http://superflux.in/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

the Guardian. (2017). UK police shootings fail to inspire confidence | Letters. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/feb/14/uk-police-shootings-fail-to-inspire-confidence [Accessed 1 May 2017].


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