graphic novel update: 14 pages

Switching gears from the scholarly side of things to the down and dirty business of cranking out panels and pages. A couple of decisions have come down as a result of my thesis review. First off, the idea of building pages out of sequence doesn’t make sense to me at this point. There was some initial discussion about building things in a non linear format, kind of like shooting a movie and knocking out one location at a time, but my sense is that when you shoot a film, the out-of-sequence shot schedule is based more on economics than anything else. If you have a location shots, it would be crazy to go cart the crew back and forth from one location to another — better to wrap one location, then move to the next. In CG, however, that set or location isn’t going anywhere, and going back to it is pretty straight forward. The biggest challenge is that you’ll forget some item of continuity after a few weeks away from, say, Kristin’s apartment. The second reason to build this in a linear fashion is so that I have the beginning of the book to show should I decide to Kickstart this or post it online. A third reason (though remote) is that I don’t finish on time (perish the thought) and at least I would have a hefty proof of concept to show. So, that’s why I’m building in sequence.

The first 14 pages have been completed, at least to the point where I can show them to some of my trusted confidants for feedback. If this schedule holds, I should be to page 40 by Mid June which will take us to the first major inciting incident and a bit beyond. So, I should be able to have at least that much by Denver Comic Con and Literary Con.

Mixed in with this will be more writing for the June presentation as well as the thesis.

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Why design fiction is design research—or should be.

Something of a continuation from my last post…

There’s no question that designers are broadening their contributions beyond the conventional practices of making things, spaces and visuals. Some “designers” are moving into the fringes where, we find more “wicked problems”, ones that involve purpose and society, economics and models for sustainability. I see design fiction as applicable to all of these as a method of design research and as a potentially important means of anticipating and planning.

There are scholars out there who write long papers and have lengthy discussions on what constitutes design research. Mostly, when I read them my head hurts but not always. I was reading a [rather old] discussion on Portigal’s site and this comment by Christopher Fahey caught my attention: “Design research doesn’t care about the economic and emotional factors going into whether or not a consumer can be compelled to buy a product, focusing only on how the product is used — which can include emotional and even economic factors. Design research is not concerned with “conversion.” Design fiction fits nicely here, but design research is big territory, so I’m sure that while the idea of designing things into the fabric of a speculative culture doesn’t meet all the criteria, in this instance it does. Because design fiction clearly exists outside of what Bleecker refers to as the “sweet-spot” of [Dubberly’s Venn diagram] the desirable, profitable, and possible, it is free to explore in the fringes of the maybe or the “what if?” These might include ideas like desirable and profitable, but not yet possible, or almost possible—possibly even just plausible [Bleecker].

There is already activity in design research that follows a similar track. “…design and design research share with engineering a fundamental interest in focusing on the world as it could be, on the imagination and realization of possible futures, as well as on the disclosure of new worlds. This implies a reflection of the contingencies of our world today, and of the practices for creating, imagining, and materializing new worlds” (Grand & Wiedmer, 2010, p2.).

“What if?”, can be an effective tool in design thinking. A simple question that erases conventional boundaries that can begin as simply as, “What if we do…?”, “What if we don’t…?”, “What if it does…?”, or “What if it doesn’t…?” can often start a journey onto innovative pathways, not always productive, but often yielding unexpected outcomes.

It could be argued that this type of thinking might find its greatest advantage beyond design, perhaps in politics, government, medicine or technology where solutions that seem, at first, universally positive, result in unexpected and unintended consequences. It seems to me that this is precisely the underpinning that we find in many science fiction narratives with dystopian futures.

In Allenby and Sarewitz’s The Techno-Human Condition, they identify an interesting characteristic that plagues designers (and the rest of us, too). We tend to see everything as a problem to be solved, when it is actually a condition to be acknowledged. The authors describe an approach that does not expect, “fundamental changes in human nature, or redemption through technology. (160)” As they mount their case, “Our problem is that we want to turn everything into a problem that can be solve, when those problems are in fact conditions…” This could include everything from climate change, to greed, spirituality, religious cultures, good, evil and their fluid interpretations. But these very characteristics of the argument they say are symptomatic of a, “world unable (and perhaps increasingly unable) to come to grips with what it does to itself. (160)”

Design fiction can contribute here, because it plays in a land of futuristic ethnography. It puts us in a different culture, (even if it’s just the culture of the next 20 minutes), and of the people mixed up in that culture. It becomes a story and gives legibility to options, examines scenarios and acknowledges conditions in the process. It can be a strong contribution, maybe even a critical step in analyzing what we make next.

 

Bib.

Allenby, Braden & Sarewitz, Daniel. The Techno-Human Condition. MIT Press, Cambridge. 2011

Grand, Simon; Wiedmer, Martin. “Design Fiction: A Method Toolbox for Design Research in a Complex World”. University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland.

 

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Design Fiction comes to Denver Literary Con

I have been honored with an invitation to present to the Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels, June 13-15, 2012. Quoting from their web site, the RMCCGN, “is a new literary conference devoted solely to the scholarly study and teaching of the sequential arts. What sets this conference apart from others is its unique mission to combine an educational classroom initiative with the benefits of theoretical and critical discourse. RMCCGN is being held in conjunction with the newly emerging Denver Comic Con at the top-rated Colorado Convention Center, June 15-17 2012.” Also presenting are Charles Hatfield and keynote speaker Scott McCloud, among others.

I suppose that my talk will have to address what design fiction, graphic novels, sci-fi, and CG has to do with anything. I anticipate setting the stage with the expanding role of the designer and the unique aspects of design thinking. Then I will have to situate this idea of design fiction. Here, (though I have recently discovered a great masters thesis from Jonathan Resnick that provides the best overview of the flavors of design fiction that I have seen to date), I will be focusing on my alignment with the thinking of Bleecker and Sterling on the subject. As Bleecker states (2011),  “… we furnish the fictional spaces of tomorrow with objects and ideas that at the same time chronicle the contradictions, inconsistencies, flaws and frailties of the everyday [offering] a distanced view from which to survey the consequences of various social, environmental and technological scenarios.”

 

Of course, as these things go, my thesis, hence the paper submitted to RMCCGN, is a bit of a hybrid on this idea. My project deals with some deliberate mixing of narrative construction, together with a process of design research, and some “making things” at least as far as visual prototypes are concerned.

Some key points to the project: (If you’ve read the blog in the past, you’ll see some evolution here.)

■ step 1 is creating the fiction. Using a type of design research that pulls on threads of technology, conditions and wildcards, the process of constructing the science fiction quickly cascades into a host of new questions and possible ramifications. The story builds from there.

■ design fiction weaves itself into the mix because through it, idea-objects gain knowledge mass and a sense of credibility. [Bleecker]. They become diegetic prototypes [Kirby]; invisible collaborators with culture in making life seem as real in the future as it is real for us now.

■ the graphic novel tells the story in a visual sense forcing prototypes into the visual realm. Design fiction then encourages us to look at how the thing is used, how it blends into the everyday, how it affects or changes the user, the society, the culture. Plus, unlike a film, it provides the opportunity to linger and study what you’re seeing.

■ the choice of CG for visualization likewise insists on “building” these props, giving them form, material and function.

Overall, the project is an examination of the interdependency of things. This is an important consideration for designers and decision-makers poised on the precipice of invasive human enhancement, technological replication, genetic engineering, etcetera, and etcetera. We need to be playing with scenarios. Our inability to anticipate or fathom the interdependencies of innovation, humanity, and the “unintended” are at the core center of a, “world unable (and perhaps increasingly unable) to come to grips with what it does to itself.(Allenby & Sarewitz, 2011, 160)”

Bib.

Bleecker, Julian. http://nearfuturelaboratory.com/2011/10/26/thrilling-wonder-stories-london-edition/) 26 October, 11

Allenby, Braden & Sarewitz, Daniel. The Techno-Human Condition. MIT Press, Cambridge. 2011

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

 

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