A thesis about design fiction

Lindley, Joseph Galen and Coulton, Paul (2018) A thesis about design fiction. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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This research began as something else. Originally, I sought to research the possible futures of cryptographic currencies, and I encountered Design Fiction for the first time when assembling a methodology for that project. I was enticed by the rhetoric around Design Fiction and the aesthetic of works describing themselves as Design Fiction. However, as I researched the concept more thoroughly it quickly became apparent that grounding an entire doctoral thesis on Design Fiction alone may be problematic due to a lack of consensus around what Design Fiction really is and how it works. Hence, my doctorate pivoted, and rather than using Design Fiction to research another topic, I elected to research Design Fiction itself. Through desk-based research into Design Fiction the thesis establishes that while there are some central notions which seem common to Design Fictions (e.g. a concern with ‘the future’, the use of ‘design’, and a flavour of unreality invoked by the term ‘fiction’) there is little consensus around how these notions should be defined, how they interact with each other, and what—in concrete terms—the nature of the practice that emerges in the space between them really is. Responding to the apparent lack of consensus the thesis explores the following questions: • What is Design Fiction? • What can Design Fiction do? • What are the best ways to achieve that? In order to explore such fundamental conundrums—and guided by Bruce Sterling’s succinct assertion that ‘the best way to understand the many difficulties of design fiction is to attempt to create one’—my responses to these questions were developed using a Research through Design methodology to inform a series of ‘material engagements’ with Design Fiction. These are articulated through a series of ‘case studies’. Each case study uses Design Fiction to explore a different technology or context. These include cryptographic currency, robotic carers, drones, and artificial intelligence. Together the studies create a portfolio of material engagements with Design Fiction that, collectively, underpin contingent responses to the research questions. The thesis concludes that Design Fiction is a type of ‘World Building’ that may be utilised in many different ways, for example as a communication tool, as an ideation aid, or as a research method. Furthermore, the underlying intentionality of any given Design Fiction must be expressed through appropriate media in order to support World Building that is sensitive to both the given domain’s attributes and the factors motivating the use of Design Fiction in the first place. While the Research through Design approach applied in this research aspires only to produce contingent and temporary answers to the research questions, those answers come together as a set of usable and accessible insights useful for unravelling, understanding, utilising Design Fiction, while fostering the practice’s ongoing maturation and adoption into its own near future.

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Thesis (PhD)
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18 Dec 2018 11:02
Last Modified:
20 Jul 2024 01:07