Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and Fiction


In a brilliant post about Learning and Debunking (How to Peek over your wall) today from Ikigai, we can choose to build up our walls, peer over them or pull them down as a result of maybe observing, interacting with others, reading, asking questions – all the usual learning suspects. He refers to the Joe Hyams story where Bruce Lee explains that he needs to empty his cup – which is a very simple but profound metaphor for not just learning but learning through interaction with another human being or beings.

As my journey currently continues both with martial arts and with online collaboration, I would like to find ways of helping other people to feel comfortable in different types of  interactions. In the past I have not been shy about blasting my opinions all over the place (still doing it now with this blog) and I can see things that I have said where my cup has been full and what wonderful experiences I missed out on as a result. If only I had taken more time to be receptive to what some other people were saying – to explore the world as they see it and really honestly try to apply back to my own – well my life is less beautiful in those areas as a result, but there’s still time. Creative thinking can be hard but a wonderful spring of ideas can emerge.

Julian Bleecker of Near Future Laboratory wrote this wonderful essay earlier this year:

“I think of design as a kind of creative, imaginative authoring practice — a way of describing and materializing ideas that are still looking for the right place to live. A designed object can connect an idea to its expression as a made, crafted, instantiated object. These are like props or conversation pieces that help speculate, reflect and imagine, even without words. They are things around which discussions happen, even with only one other person, and that help us to imagine other kinds of worlds and experiences. These are material objects that have a form, certainly. But they become real before themselves, because they could never exist outside of an imagined use context, however mundane or vernacular that imagined context of social practices might be. Designed objects tell stories, even by themselves.” (1)

We often talk as if we have formed our opinions – the time for thought has now passed and so our opinions are now static – I think this, I’ve decided this, I believe this…but especially in this century, our opinions can once again shake off the milliseconds of dust they have acquired and sprint forward into new directions. We may not know which directions but does that really matter?

“Rather than concerning ourselves only with the conclusions of design fiction, lets look where it happens, in the entanglements before things are worked out and given a gloss. Before the end is the messy middle bits, when things seem as though they’ll never get finished. The conclusion — the finish — almost always hides the struggle for completion. The end results of evolving an idea into a material form are only the final punctuation to a longer muddle in which ideas and their object-proxies struggle to express themselves against other inconsonant ideas and object-proxies.” (2)

As per previous metaphors post, metaphors provide some kind of bridge between what we think we know and what we can imagine. It allows us to learn, if we choose to meet others to explore the winding paths and bump into the overhanging branches that we miss in our initial conversations, as we continue along our journeys. If we are open and receptive to the ideas and opinions of others, it can be very illuminating.

“We need our metaphors — they provide anchors for thought and reflection and motivation for creating new things. Design fiction is a way to work on and refine these object-ideas, particularly as we consider them to be important transition points towards new, more habitable kinds social worlds.”(3)

1,2,3 Bleecker J, (2009), Design-fiction-a-short-essay-on-design-science-fact-and-fiction, Near Future Laboratory, available at:


    • Your post is wonderful, I wish that more people could be that honest and fearless – If I could, I would like to give a copy of it in everybody involved in learning ! I totally forgot to include listening as a way of learning in the list. Your post really made me stop in a wonderful way, I had taken part in a discussion about a topic which I care about and as a result my emotions can get out of control so when somebody mentions something that I disagree with or I feel that they have used a tone or style that I don’t think is helpful, I may feel like the odd yell / kihap !

      But I had to stop and think that perhaps it is just my perspective, perhaps this is friendly disagreement – like old friends over a coffee where you don’t think about the language, style and you can discuss these topics in an animated, healthy way. Online this is harder because so many people can see things differently based on their context. I also had to stop and think about the content – what assumptions was I bringing that had made me view their points in that way and how could I explore it in a more open way before responding.

      I absolutely love Julian Bleecker’s essay, his perspectives on science in general are fascinating. I can’t remember if it was Einstein who said that imagination is more important than knowledge ?

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