A tiny lego piece is placed on a lego board.
Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Building future worlds through design fiction

A case study of worldbuilding using design fiction films

In my master’s thesis I submitted back in 2014, I explored the emerging creative practice called design fiction for the first time and questioned how design fiction artifacts can be used to spark and facilitate discussions about the future. With that purpose, I set up a roundtable and invited four fellow students from our programme to co-analyze a speculative short film. In this article, I summarize my findings.

The workshop

5 people sitting around a table.

The film and the technology

Several professors from Nordic institutions including our own gathered in the University of Southern Denmark’s Kolding campus, for a co-theatre experiment to explore the potential of improvised theatre activities and embodied interaction in a workshop setting. I oversaw recording the experiment and turning it into a sharable film by editing and adding sound effects to create the illusion that the design props in the video were actually working.

An illuminating device is placed on someone’s wrist by another person.
An illuminating device is placed on someone’s wrist by another person.
Professor’s knowledge is being uploaded to the device

Sense-making

After watching the film together, each participant briefly shared their initial thoughts. They were unsure about what exactly is being transferred from the retiring professor, as all they can learn about the technology relied on the dialogs and visual cues in the film. Is it just the information related to his job, or is it more than that? This sparked further speculations about privacy and who owns the knowledge one gains during an employment period.

Two sheets the participants filled out.

Extrapolation to other contexts

This is where it gets exciting. After sharing the pros and cons and a brief reflection, I asked the participants to think of other contexts where this technology might be applied. Within about 10 minutes, we already had several:

A context sheet featuring some hand sketches of the idea.
A context sheet featuring some hand-written text.
A context sheet featuring some hand-written text.

Design fiction as a world building tool

In the workshop, I was fascinated by how effective a design fiction film is, in terms of sparking conversations and further ideation. The film showed us a glimpse of a future where a technology that seem “almost” in the science fiction territory is a mundane part of academic life. Then, by speculating further and designing different contexts, we expanded our vision and grasp of this future.

Product Designer/Manager. Currently a “UX person” @CambPressAssess . Pancake, 80s and F1 fan. Filmmaker and football star in parallel universes.