Democratising and Anticipating Everyday Futures Through Critical Design: A Review of Exemplars

S.C. (Lenneke) Kuijer (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

This article explores design’s relation with the future by analysing a collection of exemplars from design fiction and speculative design for their potential to democratise and anticipate visions of future everyday life in design. Future visions – both implicit and explicit ones – have a realising power of their own. This is especially true for design, the products of which co-shape the lives of millions of users. Rather than calling for a “better” future vision however, this paper draws on research from the social sciences and futures studies to argue for the importance of diversifying and enriching visions of future everyday life within design. Critical design is well equipped to contribute to this objective because it questions the status quo and is relatable and actionable for designers. The paper reviews exemplars from critical design for their potential to democratise and anticipate future everyday life.

To analyse their ways of engaging with future everyday life, the exemplars are positioned in the future cone model of probable, possible and preferred futures. Through this positioning, a distinction emerged between two forms of critical future engagement: alternative fictions and extrapolative fictions. Alternative fictions are explicitly positioned outside of generally expected futures, while extrapolative fictions are explicitly positioned within them. Both have their own strengths and limitations for democratising and anticipating future everyday life.

Alternative fictions enrol actors as “future people” and create scenes to depict future contexts, but can also include deployments in present day contexts to explore alternative human-artefact relations. Alternative fictions tend to be accompanied by alternative design practices. Extrapolative fictions do not include deployments and rarely propose alternative design practices, but they can play an important role in highlighting the underexposed risks of mainstream design pursuits.

Critical design can and should play a role in democratising and anticipating future everyday life. Alternative and extrapolative fictions can complement each other in this pursuit. Extrapolative fictions question the status quo from within and use the power of design to highlight underexposed aspects of expected futures. Alternative fictions question the status quo from without and use the power of design to creatively generate different objects that can be used to flesh out alternative ways of living and their related context. Further research is needed into how critical fictions are best integrated into mainstream design practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-177
JournalTemes de Disseny
Volume36
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2020

Keywords

  • future everyday life
  • smart home
  • design fiction
  • speculative design
  • anticipation
  • democratization

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