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)”


Bleecker, Julian. 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.


Bookmark and Share

2 thoughts on “Design Fiction comes to Denver Literary Con”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.