About John Mars

Tangible Interaction Designer @ CMU


Blah blah blah workshops teamwork ideas synergy. Boring. What is the value in creating new speculative literature when the world is already rife with it? Nothing is new; everything is just a reshuffle and evolution of old. I like crowdsourcing. I like making.

The only thing I found convincing, human, about the scenarios outlined in The Power of 8 was the youth-hackery of rain-filled clouds. Everything else seemed like the academic, utopian dreams of architects, artists, and someone who reads the news. Maybe a pedestrian future is your future — it sure isn’t mine.

So, how do individual identities not get affected by collaboration? Should they? Why must my future world be invaded by the worlds of others? And, from the website, why does technology need to be humanized?


what would it take to make a movie of Bladerunner’s imaginative power, set in a positive future?” He paused for a second and said he thought it’d be very difficult, that catharsis is so important to people, and people are so terrified of the future, that you’d need some completely new vision of what the future will look like to even set the scene for a new narrative… and that is obviously no mean feat.

Is there such thing as a positive future? In cinema, futures usually are portrayed as dystopian, but they’re always filmed from the lens of the protagonist; a movie without an antagonist is boring. Real life without an antagonist is boring.

Utopia is a place that exists only in children’s movies and in religion. It doesn’t exist now and it hasn’t existed in the past, so it’s hard (if not impossible) to imagine it in the future. I don’t think we’re terrified of the future — I for one welcome our robot overlords — I think we’re unable to remove our minds from the past and present. Speculative design says it’s looking forward, but it’s really just looking around. Crowdsourced SD even more so. Very rarely does a piece truly move us beyond what we are now. And when it does happen, we’re too busy looking at the other stuff to notice.


I’m conflicted. I really, really like the practice of design fiction / speculative design, but I dislike the attempts of social and political disruptions that seem to go along with it. I don’t want to engage in discussions of possible/probable/preferable outcomes and ethics and responsibility. I don’t have an innate desire to stick it to The Man. I just want to make the future.

I took a modern art history course in my fourth year of undergrad, and I left each lecture annoyed and angry. The selfishness that went along with the selfless pursuit of new forms of art disgusted me. The single-minded vigilantist search to expose “the truth”, and the disregard of consequence for the holders of that truth when exposed, made me disappointed in that subculture of humanity. I feel a little bad saying it, but I’m beginning to feel the same way about the heroes of this hacker movement.

Counterpoints to the manifesto

0. What is your definition of an engineer? I attended the Oliver/Vasiliev lecture yesterday, and what I saw wasn’t the work of what I would consider engineers, it was the work of artists whose media is code.

1. What happens of the need to study and expose the inner workings of a technology proves to be more of a threat than letting it be? Aligning yourselves with the Anonymous/Assanges/Snowdens of the world will surely backfire someday. Secrets are kept for a reason — very rarely is that reason to spite you or humanity.

2. What the heck is techno-political literacy?

3. Ah. Now I see what an engineer is: the foil of the designer. We work to make the confluence of technology and humanity seamless — you work to make humanity paranoid of all that is new.

4. You’re being too optimistic. A person’s ability to foresee the future is dependent on their own desires and experience. Pure logic-based decision making that results in an objective universal truth just isn’t going to happen when people are involved. Two people that design the same technology will see envision different (perhaps even contradicting) influences and effects, and adjust accordingly.

5. Okay. I kind of buy that.

6. Alright.

7. The Critical Engineer is obviously an artist. That’s what artists do.

8. Strategies, ideas, and agendas should be explored, analyzed, and possibly used to inform the future. They should not be adopted, re-purposed, or deployed without due diligence.

9. The writer/architect/chemist notes that written word/structure/physics expands into social and psychological realms, regulating behavior between people and the machines they interact with. By understanding this, the writer/architect/chemist seeks to reconstruct user-constraints and social action through means of literary/archeological/mathematical excavation.

10. If the Critical Engineer considers it most desirable to destroy/exploit the work of others to achieve exposure, I don’t think the Critical Engineer and I are going to be friends.


I feel like a broken record, but why all the theory? Why must a design be justified by “intellectual resources”? Shouldn’t something well-designed be able to stand on its own? Do we really need more regimes and boundaries and guidelines to follow? These inception-style abstractions of design methods are starting to get on my nerves. Designers that are really artists that practice design fiction by using critical theory in support of critical design? Seriously?

— EDIT: reading Dunne & Raby’s definition of Critical Design is a little more enlightening, but I’m still not convinced. The club of Speculative design / design fiction, is already pretty niche — what’s the point of defining a subculture within it? Or is it the other way around — is design fiction a subset of Critical Design?

As an aside, I have a fundamental problem with this paragraph from Bardzell:

“Critical theory offers little insight about how to make things. Critical theory is a verbal tradition, whose outcomes are new theories, critiques, and insights almost universally expressed in words. Design, on the other hand, is an embodied making tradition, where both processes and outcomes happen with and through design materials.”

Words absolutely are materials, especially in our computer age. Where does design fiction fall in terms of both prose and code?


Is speculative design only meaningful when it has an audience?

There’s a renaissance of space expedition entertainment that’s been picking up pace in the last few years: Battlestar Galactica, Halo, EVE, Wall-E, Avatar, Mass Effect, District 9, Moon, Elysium, Europa Report, After Earth, Apollo 18, Oblivion, Kerbal, Gravity, Civilization: Beyond Earth, Ender’s Game, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, Jupiter Ascending — not to mention the resurgence of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who, and real-life developments from SpaceX, NASA, and Planetary Resources. Cinema has a fantastic way of engaging with an audience, allowing them to, as Brian David Johnson would put it, “accept the imagined future as real, plausible, and acceptable”. What strikes me about *most* of these movies is that the futures they present actually seem plausible — they are modern Space Opera; there’s not a whole lot of Asimovian SciFi going on in popular science fiction.

Humanity, I think, is yearning for a new age of exploration. We *want* change. We don’t need to resort to tropes of death, dismemberment, the uncanny, and anchors of reality in order to “elicit audience engagement”. The desire and willingness to accept design fiction and design futures into the milieu is not something we need to instigate — it’s already here.