Handwaving as a form of Design Academia, and the future

I found 75% of these readings to be demonstrations of extreme hand-waviness, as opposed to what I imagine to be useful thinking about Design Fiction or anything else. I feel this has often been a challenge for people trying to be design academics, people used to thinking informally, to then use some pretense of formality to create arguments to support their whim on what design means this week. I see this a bit like the widely published analysts views on what Apple, or any other company will do next that plague news sites and devastate economies. They are almost always first confident, then wrong, and finally unapologetic when found out.

I know how hard it can be to change this mindset (I’ve failed a PhD qualifying exam in an Engineering program because I was unwilling to answer questions with justifiable conviction (luckily I learnt my lesson by the second chance I had to take the exam, and passed)). But, for design to become the all important key to the future, as many people connected to this field seem to think it will, I really think we need a form of design academia, and design fiction, that can have confidence, in the formal, statistical sense.

Designers have some sort of responsibility to society. Flirting with fictional futures and poorly considered arguments fails to support that.

That said, 25% of the readings seem to be a step in the right direction. Science Fiction Prototypes seem to offer a subtle way to evaluate extreme ideas and might accidentally introduce a way to discuss confidence in design fictions. The challenge remains that the more distant a fiction from fact is, the more abstract and uncertain we can be about our impression of it, relative to our knowledge of the current state. By knowing more of the past and current, we can know more of the future (especially with properties of temporally coherent constructs, like human behavior), but no matter how much we know, the option space of possible futures gets unmanageably large sufficiently quickly that we can’t call what we do progress, and what remains from a design perspective, is just the loosest of sketches, or briefest of briefs.

To do design fiction properly, we need a way to wave our hands that means something concrete, about something abstract and multiplicious.


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