One Monday morning in late October, just after daylight savings, stars aligned for a fabulous seminar. A small but curios group of scholars, researches and practitioners where gathered to listen and discuss the speculative inquiry of design research and the fabulous topic of design fiction. (http://designresearch.no/projects/design-research-mediation/news?post_id=3940)
The seminar was kicked of and conducted by design researcher Andrew Morrison. By involving the audience, they themselves performed the introduction to the topics using the Prompter Pro app. All done to different degrees of success, and thereby letting the technology itself raise the issue on design speculations and criticism. An approach that also leads to the question; what does it mean to speculate together?
Einar Sneve Martinussen reflecting on urban imaginaries, form and phenomena gave the first talk. He reflected and compared different contemporary interaction designs from various science fiction phenomena´s in films, cartoons and literature. He especially focused on the gritty but epic visions of Jean Giraud. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Giraud)
Tau Ulv Lenskiold presented his project, Urban Animals and Us. The talk started with Jean-Marc Cóté´searly depictions of Visions of the Year 2000, from1899. (http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/france-in-the-year-2000-1899-1910/). Tau then spanned the speculative design futures through the seventies and nineties up to the Corner Convenience project from 2012. (https://vimeo.com/92325970). Tau then presented Urban Animals and Us, a speculative co-design project involving design interaction between frail senior citizens and wild urban animals.
Synne Skjulstad presented her talk, Fashion Forward, a look from the present into the future and back again. An intriguing perspective on how science fiction films are influencing the fashion industry, and where fashion moves forward to fashion films. An emerging trend where both irony and conservatism are used to present the natural movement of clothes. (https://vimeo.com/58933055)
Laura Watts presented Pixels and Pencils, improvising methods for writing futures. A poetic narrative, where she presented the marine renewable energy research, conducted in the Orkney Islands. (http://alienenergy.dk/ ) Laura claims that the innovative research initiative is to be considered as an equivalent to the Apollo space program. She masterfully tells the story of data, birds and the unknown.
Next was Stahl Stenslie presenting Body Bio-Fictives, a slightly different approach and perspective on what happens to the body. In fiction, audiences have been accustomed to the concept of the cyborg, from Fritz Lang´s Metropolis to Terminator. However with the emergence of digital biology, we are starting to see new constellations of the cyborg. In these new constellations we are witnessing a fast pasted evolution of genetically modified organics, digital bio-printing to Humanity + and the enhanced human (http://humanityplus.org/).
Last speaker at the seminar was Jeremie McGowan´s talk on Precedents, a possible history of design fiction from Banham to the baroque. Through his speak, he explored the roles of the designer, and the possible new directions for design fiction. He claims that there exists a lack of precedents in critical design understanding, and that now it is all about repetition. Jeremie emphasizes the work of Rayner Bahnam and his influence on design research and draws a line back to the Wunderkammer found in renaissance Europe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabinet_of_curiosities). A place where real objects are together with fictional objects to be speculated upon.
In depth: Urban Imaginaries by Einar Sneve Martinussen
In Einars´ talk he framed the topic around design, urban fictions and speculations, a spectacle on popular culture and interaction design. Today in popcorn blockbusters, interaction design have become more dominant and visual and not forgetting borderline intense. Which Einar so elegantly points out, relates to the latest plugin for After Effects. Concept interaction design has already become a separate branch with its own design hero’s such as Ash Thorp (http://www.ashthorp.com/ ) and Bradley Munkowitz, or Gmunk also known as (http://gmunk.com/).
But there are other design heroes outside the commercial Hollywood industry, such as French writer, artist and cartoonist Jean Giraud (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Giraud). Giraud, also known as Maebius, has contributed with important and pinnacle work as a designer and storyboard artist for Alien, Fifth Element and the Abyss. Giraud contributes with a different approach to design fiction; his style is grittier but still epic. He brings in the urban life and space into the story with great detail.
Further Einar presents one of Giraud´s design contributions, the Luc Besson movie Fifth Element from 1997. With an incredible budget it brings a new interpretation of how a space opera can be envisioned and presented. A silly movie with more design that was actually needed. Giraud designed the cramp compartment we see in the opening of the movie. His design is utilitarian and compact, with no room for excess or luxury. Maybe only the cat flap can be seen as a differentiator that stands out, both from a humanitarian perspective and as a familiar object the audience can relate to.
To maintain credibility it is important for an audience to recognize and relate certain objects or elements, even in hyper futuristic movies. George Lucas told his concept designers to always implement objects that are recognizable for the audience. Though no man alive has ever seen a hyper drive eon motor, we believe it when we see it in a movie. The reason is simple; we recognize the valve, the pipes and the blinking lights on a panel, because we have seen it before. The same goes for clothing designs as described in this article from Fastcompany. “McQuarrie sketched Vader with a billowing cape and a sinister-looking breathing apparatus. Costume designer John Mollo took it from there, fusing elements of various real-life uniforms associated with war and evil. To design Vader’s infamous black helmet, Mollo looked to the black, shiny headgear Nazis wore during WWII. He then added a gas mask, a motorcycle suit, black leather boots, and a monk’s cloak found in the Middle Ages department of a costume warehouse. Darth Vader’s helmet isn’t the only German army reference in the films: his army of Stormtroopers are named after specialist German soldiers in World War I.” (http://www.fastcodesign.com/3042202/weird-facts-behind-6-famous-star-wars-costumes)
Returning to Einar, he goes on to describe the story behind the design fiction in Riddley Scotts dystopia in Bladerunner from 1982. Here the work of Syd Mead had a strong visual appearance in a large-scale gritty smog environment, again the design depicts familiar objects that creates atmosphere.
Further Einar points out the work of J G Ballard, “a grumpy” author, that focus on the motorway and the masculinity in car chases, especially the Jaguar. Though paradoxically the design of the Jaguar can also be seen as feminine. Cars in like with boats, tend to have female names and descriptions. (http://www.glossophilia.org/?p=1411) Another reflection on road rage from the 60´s and 70´s, can also be related to the lack of air condition in automobiles and the condition of thermal stress (http://www.jstor.org/stable/40965843?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents). A reflection that could be perceived as boring which removes the aspect of fiction in the storytelling. However it can contribute with a alternative speculation to why Ballard is a grumpy man.
In his talk Einar reflects on our current technological state where the “future has arrived” and we are surrounded by connectivity. In popular culture this fact is starting to show, interaction is presented through activities, not zoomed in close ups of interface designs and gestures, or as JG Ballard so eloquently puts it: “The future is boring.”