Reimagine worlds through objects


Photo: Nasa (

The scope of interaction design is different from that of human computer interaction in that it does not merely solve a problem or optimise a specific task: it reimagines behaviour. Therefore, one of the practices that interaction design involves is the reimagining of worlds by designing fictional ones. This includes imagining a different world where people have different needs and how they would respond to those needs.

In order to be able to design for a fictional world a designer needs knowledge in social dynamics and psychology as well as in the ethical and moral issues that come with shaping behavior. This is because inducing different behaviors can affect moral principles. A designer has to foresee and respond to the political implications of imagining a different future because all futures are political. This includes worlds where we work on our touch screen bathroom mirror or live in organic houses that are genetically engineered to respond to environmental problems. This is what innovative companies do; they imagine a different way for people to interact, communicate or live.

Design fiction as a technique was presented by Gagarin this year when we convened with the prime ministers and delegations of the Nordic states, the Baltics and the United Kingdom at the Northern Future Forum 2014 in Helsinki. At the forum, Gagarin gave insights on how a design fiction approach can serve as a powerful tool for reflecting on the present.

We demonstrated how design fiction can serve a narrative function in exhibitions to help focus discussions on particular issues or values. Design fiction helps to stimulate discussion because it introduces the audience to new or unthought of scenarios. As exhibitions become more participatory there is a need to challenge the thinking of visitors to show them new or different aspects of an issue. This can be achieved by using design fiction techniques to create fictional worlds that are distinctly different from our own. Not a Utopia or a Dystopia but a Heterotopia, a place where things are different.

To create these fictional worlds and to make them more plausible to an audience, we can combine prototypes with storytelling (diegetic prototypes). The representation of these objects prompts us to question the world we inhabit, spurs us to examine those issues that concern us in greater detail and to discuss our thoughts with others. It is the implications of a different world that does the work of design fiction.

Created 26 November 2014