Speculative design, design, art

A series of blog posts created in the "design methodologies" module at ZHdK, teached by Dr. Joëlle Bitton.

What is Speculative Design and how is it different from art? Is it just a playground for testing silly ideas or is there something profound about it? Why should you want to occupy yourself with Speculative Design?

Speculative Design - as the name already tells - speculates about possible futures based on a design proposal. Accordingly, it’s not just about fantasising or building up a dream world. As Auger (2012) explained:

“If a speculative design proposal strays too far into the future to present clearly implausible concepts or describes a completely alien technological habitat, the audience will fail to relate to the proposal, resulting in a lack of engagement or connection. In effect a design speculation requires a ‘perceptual bridge’ between the audience and the concept.”

Speculative Design therefore is about critically questioning the current state of the art, without completely losing the connection to reality in order to give people something more elaborated to reflect upon. Hence the strength of Speculative Design lies in its ability to balance between familiarity/reality and fiction.

“Any experience that challenges a preconception will at first appear odd, but here the detail and finish of the artefacts, combined with the short explanations describing their functions and modes of interaction, entices the audience into exploring the concept further.“ (Auger, 2012)

What we are talking about obviously is more than just a playground for testing silly ideas. It’s a space for designers to reflect, provoke, question, imagine and innovate.

”One of the key advantages of speculative design is that there is no intention to bring the product to market. This means that critical responses are of equal value to positive ones. The negative aspect of this approach is that the designer is liable to receive accusations of fraudster and the project being labelled a hoax.” (Auger, 2012)

In a world where ideas and concepts only remain interesting when they meet commercial interests, a playground like Speculative Design is not only crucial to open new doors, but also to discover them in the first place.


Auger, James. 2012. “Speculative design: The products that technology could become”. In Why Robot? Speculative Design, the domestication of technology and the considered future. PhD Thesis. RCA, London.

Campbell, Jim. 2000. “Delusions of Dialogue: Control and Choice in Interactive Art”. In Leonardo. 33:2. 133-136.

Dunne, Anthony and Raby, F. 2001. Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects. August / Birkhäuser.

Edmond, Ernest A. 2014. “Human Computer Interaction, Art and Experience”.  In Candy, Linda & Ferguson, S. (eds.). Interactive Experience in the Digital Age. Evaluating New Art Practice. Springer.

Tsaknaki, Vasiliki & Fernaeus, Y. 2016. “Expanding on Wabi-Sabi as a Design Resource in HCI”. In Proceedings of CHI ‘16.

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