Speculative by Design: criticism and fiction.

“…many oppressive relations result not from people having mistaken ideological beliefs, but from living in material circumstances that provide no alternative.” (Levy-Bryant. Onto-cartography, An ontology of machines and media. Edinburgh University Press. 2007)

When we talk about critical design, we mostly refer to a design method that improves products through a carefully chosen political and ethical attitude. On the other hand, speculative design as a form of critical resistance is concerned with making alternative structures of circumstances in daily life visible, aiming to create radical change. The difference between these two design methods lays in the vision on what design can do: improving products by reflection or offering an alternative perspective on societal issues. The latter vision implies that speculative design must be able to change the existing perception of what is considered ‘normal’ by large groups of people. Hence, creating a political element within design that goes beyond moral arguments in the vein of designing with ‘good intentions’. So how do we assess the political element of the outcome within the speculative design method when we talk about the quality of design?

Only by investigating a societal problem that is worked through over a longer period of time, in a constant loop between experience, interaction and insights from technology (as a product or service), does a measurable political evidence arise. As a result, not the designer but the influence of technology in the domain of social relations, will have to be able to offer new perspectives on political issues. Hence, speculative design needs to be approached from the technology consumed in the contemporary capitalist economy rather than the design process or the designer as creator. And because we can only see in retrospect whether there was a change, the historical origin of design will have to answer the question whether design contributed to a critical resistance during the process of societal change. The question remains whether the method of speculative design can claim its right to change.