Design Fictions

January 10, 2017

Design fiction is a method that can be used to explore the emotional interaction with a speculative device. Medical ubiquitous personal health devices are an area in which understanding of spatial and emotional contexts becomes a vital part of the design process. In this setting, design fiction was introduced as a method for provoking discussion and reflection on future impact that such devices could have.

The objective here was to create a number of design fictions in a 2-3 hour workshop. Our central aim was to stimulate a more ‘wholistic’ view of the personal and social impact. The workshop was centered on the design of personal medical devices one aspect of which was the affective response to the information which the device is generating. We wanted to accelerate the process of creating the design fictions in a workshop context. This would maximize the time during co-creation to critique and reflect upon the design fictions produced.

To this end we gave each group a 20 sided dice and asked them to create a framework for their design fiction. The framework consisted of 5 characteristics.
• The Character descriptor (Mentally unstable, kleptomaniac, Fast talking…).
• Profession (paleontologist, Romance novelist, mountaineer, magician…).
• A Distinguishing characteristic (Gambling addict, From a land time forgot, On a mission from god)
• Gender (male, female, neutral..)
• A setting (Heidelberg, Last city you were in, Cruise ship, airplane…)

To this we added a second ‘rolling’ which was a selection of one of ten aspects.
• Health condition (Diabetes, Dementia, Asthma…)
• Time period (today, near future 1-5 years, far future…)
• Precipitous event (Technology fails, Internet collapse, AI revolt…)

Participants were then given two hours to write their design fictions in groups. Moderators were on hand to assist in the process and facilitate the writing. Writing continued into the lunch break period. On return to the workshop participants were encouraged to read out their work and begin the process of reflecting upon it. Finally participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire and help feed back on the process and create insight into the evaluation of the method.


By Filipe Barata, Mitra Baratchi and Simon Holland

Raymond posed in front of the mirror and tightened the belt on his very loose trousers. He was really proud of his slim figure. He glanced at his watch and saw that his blood pressure remained healthy and that his cholesterol readout was still excellent. He casually swatted an insect.

How different things had been just five years ago. He gazed at photo of himself opening the 2015 ‘From Akhenaten To Tutankhamen’ exhibition when he had been bursting out of these very same trousers and had looked almost spherical.

Back in the day, there had not been so many social penalties for being fat. He remembered back to his first serious effort to lose weight. In 2016, the crowd-sourced phone app for estimating calories from pictures had been amusing, but the estimates had been wildly inaccurate. The people employed by the Mechanical Turk system really weren’t very good at estimating the calorific value of foods. If only the calorie estimation app had worked better, maybe he would hot have started bringing up more old statues and sarcophagi from the basement in his job at the museum in order to get more exercise. If only he had looked more closely at the strange insect eggs he had disturbed in Akhenaten’s old sarcophagus.

He remembered how happy he had been when he had bought the greatly improved, if more expensive calorie estimation app which had used specially screened Mechanical Turk workers subject to mystery shopper spot testing – that had been so much more accurate. The improved calorie estimations had been really very high quality. He used his high voltage insect zapper to vaporise a buzzing insect had been annoyingly fluttering against his skin.

The only trouble with the improved calorie app had been that while it would tell him very accurately not to eat any more cheesecake, he had simply ignored it. The cheesecake had tasted so good. The app had not had any way to enforce its suggestions. If only you could still get cheesecake these days, he mused. He stopped to swat a small swarm of insects away from his chair.

He remembered the shock when the Men in Black had come to see him that day in 2018. Evidently the government had finally tracked the origin of the growing insect plague down to his museum after they realised that the ancient Egyptian pests had been extinct for some three thousand years, and after checking all the other all the museums specialising in ancient Egyptian artefacts, finally they had found him and the ancient insect eggs that he had inadvertently disturbed. He paced around the room, crushing dozens of insects with his feet.

He had got a big shock from the visit of the Men in Black, which had triggered rather a lot of comfort eating on his part. He had felt so guilty at inflicting this plague on the world accidentally due in part to his obsession with his obesity, so had been determined to lose weight at this point, even if no one could do very much about the insects.

He remembered his next brilliant idea to buy a cheap exercise watch to try to help him lose some of that guilt-associated weight. It was all he could afford on his museum curator’s salary, but it had not worked very effectively. He sprayed insecticide at a cloud of insects flying around the dim light bulb.

So, he had been very happy when the financial coercion exercise wearable had been announced.

He had happily picked up his free wearable. If only, he had reflected at the time, he could balance his weight and exercise goals over the six-month contract period, then the snazzy attractive multi-functional watch would cost him nothing. Bit if he ever took it off or failed to miss balancing his activity and calorie goals, he would owe the company 1000 euros. However, before the watch had made much on an impact on his weight, it had been a big shock for everyone in the country when the government had announced that healthcare for the most common operations was no longer available for obese people. That had really worried him due to his heart condition.

However, all this had shrunk into insignificance after the great global shock, when global warming had really hit in 2019 and the crop harvests had failed. The only thing available to eat in large quantities had been insects. He absent-mindedly took a bite from his Locust Burger.

He neurotically took his ration card out of hid wallet. Already he had used up his entre food ration for the week, apart from insects-based products.

Crunching his way over insect carapaces down the corridor away from the mirror, he remembered it was time for his squash club appointment. He distractedly swiped swarms of insect out of the air with his squash club. The insect diet was not pleasant, but was healthy, so that obesity was rare these days.
Civilisation was in ruins, but his body mass index was excellent. The museum curator whistled a merry reconstructed ancient Egyptian melody as he skipped through the clouds of insects off to the squash club.


The story of how Bob the Barbarian got his new phone

Carl Olsson & Britta Schulte

When Lisa saw the ad, she felt it sounded perfect:

“Smart phones came out a while ago now, and the paradigm shift is finally here! FruitCo are now releasing the UsefulPhone, or uPhone as they popularly are being called. This name also captures that the uPhone adapts to the individual user’s needs, stripping away all the fluff that never gets used to truly help YOU!

By keeping track of what users actually press – regardless what application or feature they are using – as well as by listening for key swearwords and positive voice pitches during use, uPhone has an advanced algorithm for dynamically adapting the user interface by REDUCING which features are offered. Additionally, uPhone is connected with stress metering and automated calling to emergency contacts. Coupled with indoor as well as outdoor navigation, uPhone compares individual user behavior with what other users in the present context are doing, to give suggestions for appropriate actions to the user.”

The ad showed Lisa how happy uPhone users made their way around an airport, getting prompted to pick up their tax-free goods, being led to the shortest coffee line and the closest free seat, and of course getting navigated to the right gate where the uPhone automatically displays the boarding pass as passengers board their plane. The ad also told her that the uPhone pre-emptively gets in touch with the airport and gate personnel to alert them that people living with disabilities, or those travelling with small children, may need assistance as well as pre-boarding.

Lisa was anxious for her father Bob to come and visit the family to see his newborn granddaughter Gritty. But the trip seemed too far for her father, who had been diagnosed with dementia a while ago and needed some help from time to time. Lisa felt convinced that the uPhone would support her father and the idea of how it would become more and more useful over time, rather than becoming more and more filled with useless stuff. Seeing the uPhone, she knew it would be perfect and went onto, the massive online shop and had the phone delivered to her father. Wrapped nicely with a little note, saying: “Gritty and me are waiting for you! Hope this will help you on the trip!”

At least, this was how Bob imagined it to be. “Whatever am I going to do with this?“ he thought when unpacking the phone. “Still, when Lisa thinks it will help, I am sure it will help!“ he thinks and gives the device a try. “This is actually quite nice“, he reflects when the device helps him to book the tickets for the flight and reminds him to book tickets for the bus transfer in one go. “Lisa, good you called …“ he says when the phone makes an automatic phone call to Lisa after his stress levels had gone up. “Phew“ he sighs when he notices that all his important documents are in the uPhone and he does not have to run around the flat to try to find them.

He thinks back to earlier flights when people had to turn of their devices and is about to switch it off, when the phone reminds him that he can leave it on. It is at this time he notices an angry flashing light in the corider of the uPhone, and while he tries to remember what it means, the phone switches off as the battery just died. All the help he needed, all the help he got at the airport has drained the battery meant that he forgot to charging it! There had been 72 notifications, 72 things he wanted to look into later, 72 things that may have been important and many may still be important when he lands and has to make his way to Lisa’s house. He was the one convincing her that she could stay home with the kid and that he would find the way with the help of the uPhone. 72 notifications… He starts wondering why he can so easily remember this number, but not Lisa’s address? How could he not notice the one that reminded him to charge the phone in time? Damn.

Now that Bob cannot use his uPhone, he spends some time looking up at others on the plane. He does not like what he sees and would have loved to press the button that calls Lisa easily.
What worries Bob so much, is that he is the only one not busily using his uPhone. Pondering his background as retired barbarian hero, with an axe over his shoulder and the wind in his hair, Bob mutters: “Am I the barbarian here because I come from a profession that is now lost, or is it the world that has doomed itself by turning everyone into simpletons that do whatever their uPhones tell them to? I do suffer from dementia, after all, so it’s probably only me who is confused.”


Passenger of his body
Rhys Williams, Joao Bentes, Iyubanit Rodríguez, Theodoros Georgiou

Jared Marks opened up his digital wallet and looked at the paltry amount of credits he received for his latest performance. He may be the King, but he certainly wasn’t paid like one. He didn’t care though – this was infinitely better than his mundane desk job he did before ‘the accident.’

He reviewed his performance in his head from the past evening and noticed his beckoning hip sway during “love me tender” wasn’t quite doing it for the audience. This was the third performance in a row, where his movement’s just didn’t cut it. Maybe it was time for an updated “Presley pack”- after all this one was 3 years old now and he couldn’t afford to lose more work to that fucker Chandler Myers and work was already hard to come by in Heidelberg.

He tore the house apart looking for his download wire “this is what you get for being an early adopter”- his bone grafted prosthetic limbs had been unsupported for at least 6 years now and there was no money left from the settlement to get new limbs.

“Ah there it is”- he blew the dust out of the port and connected himself to the “mainframe.” As he connected, the emptiness he had from being blind was rapidly replaced with a bustling digital marketplace… “they can solve blindness in the digital world, but they still can’t give me a working one in the real world.” He looked around and spotted the ‘body shop’ where he bought the last Elvis motion “it’s been so long, I dread to think how much this will cost”…. “….okay so classic rock n’ roll… Shakin stephens…. Buddy Holly….. AHA- Elvis Presley, perfect”. “This pack looks great, the creator has a 10/10 rating for realism.”

Jared walked over the ‘counter’ and passed over the floating blue download pack… “that will be 30 credit’s please”… instantaneously Jared’s wallet opened and the download initiated… “Sorry sir, there appears to be a problem- let me try to initiate that again” the shop clerk said… Jared was defensive- there’s definitely enough credit there- I have at least 35 type C credits!!” The clerk looked confused “…Sir, I’m afraid we haven’t accepted type C credits for at least 4 years- have you not upgraded your ****LIFE PACK****- these credit’s can’t be used here as wired interfacing has not been supported since the XYZ security event.” Jared’s face was purple with rage, he stormed out of the shop and the market place collapsed around him as he pulled the cable out of the connection port. “For fucks sake- I’m stuck, what do I do now.” After throwing the wire across the room, a look of defeat slowly morphed into a mischievous grin “…if they won’t take my money, I know how I can get that pack”. He frantically rummaged in his office and found a small black box with a worn outline of the words Torr. He connected the box to the mainframe and once again the world around him morphed into a digital market place, however this time, the crisp government approved advertisements were replaced by scantily clad women and guns images. He walked towards a suspicious shop, and asked for the latest Elvis Motion pack… to this the clerk laughed “breaking at least 20 international laws, all for a dumb motion pack? I see crazy everyday, but that’s just dumb.” Jared stared through him, he didn’t care, he wanted this- he needed this, it wasn’t just about the download anymore.

Just like that the download started and in an instant he was done “time to get out of here..” Jared thought to himself.


Jared had gotten well into the swing of his set- ‘ain’t nothing but a hounddog’ was up next and that’s always a crowd pleaser! This new pack was amazing, had never seen the crowd go so wild and his moves were like the King himself was in the room.

As he sung the first line he stopped moving… “that’s strange” Jared thought, “I know this routine”… but his limbs were frozen. The crowd starred awkwardly as the soundtrack went silent.

Suddenly, the sounds of the real world disappeared and a similar Torr style world took it’s place, but there was no market place, just darkness with glowing red text that assembled around him. “You have been chosen to carry out a mission on behalf of the holy order of the g0d” “We now have full control of your body, resistance is futile, rebellion will not be tolerated” “Deviation’s from the righteous path will result in immediate user deletion and destruction of your *** REAL WORLD **** form”. Jared was terrified, as he felt himself start to move throughout the real world… “What is happening… why is there screaming….”


Patrick McAllister, Claire Martin, Dmitri Katz

Erick couldn’t write code for shit as he hadn’t slept in days. It wasn’t that he was sitting on emails that could lead to the collapse of the government, or that he had hacked top secret servers. It was that he was sure that they were going to kill him when he went to sleep.

He liked having an artificial pancreas, he really did. Before he got it he wasn’t very good at managing his diabetes, he never had been. When he was hacking code all night it got even worse, all that Red Bull and coffee and after a couple of weeks he always ended up in hospital with ketoacidosis. He then got the artificial pancreas and it all changed. Now he was free to sit up all night, eat and drink all he wanted without a worry. Now that Erick has the artificial pancreas, he can do whatever the hell he wants.

One night, Erick happened upon across some login credentials to access secure systems. Erick had then realised he had unauthorised access to a server and saw something’s he was not supposed to see. Now he was sure they would come after him. Now he could not sleep and his insomnia came back stronger than ever. He then immediately remembered reading a story about how a user’s insulin pump signal could be hacked using the cloud, due to no authentication. He then started to believe that they could kill him using this method. His paranoia increased anxiety.

He had to get away, somewhere that no one could hack his insulin pump system. Where ever he went, they could follow him and get him. He had to get away. Somewhere far from ‘the cloud’. It wasn’t easy but Erick managed to forge a new identity to get sent up to International Space Station posing as an assistant engineer to help with software upgrades.

Up in the ISS, it was going well. He was sleeping. No one could track him. He felt self. Everyone on the ISS felt that he was hard at work however little did they know he was working hard on overriding his artificial pancreas to be in total control using quantum computing proof encryption. No one could interfere with the system after that. And just then the battery died.

He was freaking out. ‘God damn proprietary batteries’ shouted Erick. There was no way around it. He was going to have to ask for help. No battery, no insulin, no Erick. He had to ask for help. Everyone would find out that he is not who he said he was. They’ll find out that he is a fraud. He needed a power source, new battery (which he knew they wont have) or a power converter to connect to the insulin pump. Erick went to Jane, a senior engineer ‘Jane I need help”. “What’s wrong?” Jane replies. “I need one of these batteries”. Erick shows Jane the battery’ Jane is not familiar with this battery type. Jane does some research and contacts mission control. It was revealed that the battery was for an insulin pump. ‘Who is this guy?”, says Jane to herself. It took a while for mission control to figure it out who this this individual was, but they did. Jane approaches Erick and says ‘I think I have a solution to your problem, hand me your pump for a minute’. It only took a while for the seizures to begin after Jane emptied the vial into his body.


Reem Albaghli, Rahul Krishnan Pathinarupothi, Rohan Banerjee

Sarkar was waiting in queue as he was about to approach the homeland security check at JFK. He looked out the window and it was heavily snowing. The queue was long and he could see lot of people due to the holiday season; the year 2050 was approaching in two days.

He was in a hurry to get home to India to visit his critically ill grandmother. He started feeling uneasy and was wondering if it was his chronic heart disease or just anxious about his grandmom’s health.

A gentle voice told him, “your heart rate variability is high and I feel that you are under some stress, but I don’t see any immediate threat. Shall I suggest to sit down for 5 minutes and do some breathing exercise.” The personnel at the security said, “Aren’t you P C Sardar IV, the famous magician who caused the statue of liberty to disappear last new year eve!!? Please come this way”. Sarkar noticed that he was being pointed out to the diplomatic counter for his security check. That made him feel a little uneasy.

He tried to work on his breathing again as his headpiece started to repeat, “Please try to relax – life’s not worth it!!”. He followed the procedures required as he was preparing to enter the scanning zone that was labelled “RF Security Zone”. As he walked past, a life size hologram showed his 3D rotating silhouette. A lady’s voice on the speaker was saying “Security Alert!! Unauthorized device implanted on passenger”. He looked at the hologram and it showed two blinking red spots – below his left collar bone and next to the ear. The officer approached Sarkar to enquire about the implanted devices. Sarkar started explaining that he has atrial fibrillation and these devices help him track and manage his condition by providing audio-visual feedback. The security officer apologized saying, “I am sorry, but these are not approved by the homeland security to be carried in a flight. I will have to ask you to place your finger here for e-verification.”

The officer was pointing to the blinking areas on his 3D silhouette. As he did so the lady’s voice on the speaker said, “authorization denied”. The medical certificate issued by his cardiologist was not recognized by the homeland security. Sarkar thought it must be because it was issued in India. He started to be nervous since he knew about the possible consequences. His earpiece started saying, “Please lie down. You are about to collapse. I issued a call signal to the airport paramedics!”. Suddenly, his head started to roll, feel light and he was finding it difficult to articulate his thoughts. He tried to explain his condition to the officer, instead he found himself grabbing on to the officer as he was about to fall on the ground. The paramedics who got the SOS from his implanted device rushed to the spot. They glanced at their smart defibrillator device, which was showing Sarkar’s heart rate readings from the last 24 hours. The defib device automatically set the voltage needed to give the shock according to his transmitted readings.

As the paramedics were pulling open his shirt, to their surprise, plastic flowers and confetti popped out everywhere. A hologram appeared “Welcome 2050!!”