Design challenges in design fiction

Part of what makes design fiction so interesting is that you have to speculate, an exercise almost unheard of in the traditional practice of design. In fact, after 30 or more years in the profession, most clients would probably concur that the designer has no right to be wrong. Market research, iterative design and prototyping, along with the rigor of the design process should eliminate ideas that don’t cut it or won’t cut it in the outside world. Design, as we know it, is a criterion-based practice. Time, money, market, manufacturing, competition, user analysis/interface, usability testing and a myriad of other forces are what shape, and ultimately mold, the final solution. It is a fact-based, reality-based endeavor. The exercise, if you will, of design fiction, forces the designer — not to abandon research — but to venture forth without the comfort of the conventional design climbing holds, or to create their own. Building design constraints for a speculative future can be approached two ways, through pulling threads of existing technologies and social trends (which seem to be becoming the same thing) or through wild unbridled fiction. The latter carries the dismissive, “Don’t ask me how, it’s just that way”, as something akin to the writer/artist’s artistic license. Hey, it’s fiction. The former blends the brain of the designer and the writer/artist and insists that he or she ground the idea, however speculative, in the roots of some plausible science or social momentum.

Hence, as I begin crafting the visual world for my graphic novel, I find myself struggling with these challenges daily. This summer, I am working on the self-imposed deadline of August 31 to have completed character designs for the eight, key cast members. Each character is posed in a relevant (though not apparent without having read the story) scene from the book. That requires not only the design of the character and the questions of what they would wear, the material, the design, and the function, but also the design of their accessories, as well as the design and construction of the set on which they are standing. The decisions seem endless, sometimes terribly frustrating and enthralling at the same time. The CG workflow, which at this level often distributed between specialists in modeling, texturing, posing, lighting, rendering etc., lies squarely on my shoulders. Since I don’t posess virtuoso proficiency in any of the above, it adds to the challenge. On the up side, I may well be a virtuoso (at something) by the time the project is completed.

I plow ahead, but I am excited to show my progress, and hopefully on, or near to the deadline.

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