Defining Design Fiction

Now that Design Fiction is firmly at the core of my thesis and the undergirding of my graphic novel it is also one of my Google Alerts, along with Concept Art, Futurist, Comic Book and Graphic Novel, among others. And while it doesn’t generate quite as much buzz as these other topics I get at least one daily link of interest. The most reliable source of regular info would be Bruce Sterling’s Beyond the Beyond, Wired Blog. I think Sterling’s “design fiction” draws a wider, more inclusive circle. His features would include any focused narrative that makes a product or idea real or at least to gain in Julian Bleecker‘s words “cultural legibility”. On other sites I’ve seen project leaders, or design teams referring to the snippet stories of their UI or product concept as their “design fiction”.

Then there is David Kirby’s spin on the idea. Evolutionary geneticist and science lecturer Kirby calls these props “diegetic prototypes” (Kirby, 2010:1) and that design fiction, particularly in filmmaking,  becomes a purposeful, almost manipulative device to create acceptance of a concept or idea as some kind of future product placement.

Indeed, crafting a story around an idea, service, or product in a narrative context makes it appear more logical and coherent. In this respect most of the prevailing interpretations venn with Bleecker’s ideas of design fiction, but Bleecker’s vision seems to require a bit more than just a brief story or vignette — as does mine.  I think we would prefer more of the cultural context and a bit more drama surrounding the idea or product. As Bleecker says, (forgive me if I’ve used this quote before) “We can put the designed thing in a story and move it to the background as if it were mundane and quite ordinary — because it is, or would be. The attention is on the people and their dramatic tension, as it should be.” (Bleecker, 2009:37) Thus, design becomes that invisible collaborator with culture in making life seem as real in the future as it is real for us now. Bleecker adds, “A particularly rich context, a good story that involves people and their social practices rather than fetishizing the object and its imagined possibilities — this is what design fiction aspires to.” (Bleecker, 2009:27). I agree.

Of course, nobody’s definition is wrong and Sterling’s wider circle is a good thing. It brings more people into the conversation and more discussion on the topic. This is good.


Bleecker, Julian. 2009. Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction.

Kirby, David. 2010. The Future is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-world Technological Development. Social Studies of Science, 40/1; 41–70, February 2010.

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