Design Fiction – Combining Our Strengths

Design Fiction is a way of exploring possibilities latent in the contemporary status quo, showing how hidden potentialities could become actualized and what the consequences might be. Because it is design, there is a projection of a particular set of desires expressed consciously as a vision shaping future action. Because it is fiction, there must be room for the free play of the imagination and the formation of an aesthetic judgment as to whether the parts relate to the whole in a pleasing manner.

Contemporary developments in nanotechnology provide fertile ground for design fiction. Substances that appear one way on the macro scale behave very differently on the molecular level represented by the nano scale. Human beings have only begun to tap into the potential of the hidden properties of some fairly common minerals such as graphite. A single layer of graphite carbon molecules is called graphene, and it can fold on itself to form carbon nanotubes, which conduct electricity very well and have a high tensile strength. What can we do with a discovery like this? What kinds of designs do these heretofore hidden potentialities suggest? How can we appropriately express a vision of the future influenced by these discoveries? How might various trends in nanotechnology be integrated with human life and culture in a way that satisfies both the desire for novelty and the desire for ritual?

In contemporary culture, fashion magazines introduce novelty while also reinforcing standards of appearance and behavior. People buy fashion magazines to get ideas about how to express themselves appropriately through their dress and grooming. For a design fiction project on nanotechnology, a fashion magazine of the future would provide multiple opportunities to display physical and cultural artifacts that might emerge and reshape the conditions in which people live, work and play.

Lauren Langley, Don Fernandez and I combined our strengths in graphic design, journalism and humanities scholarship to produce a fictional fashion magazine for the year 2040 entitled “TechStyle.” The premise for this magazine is that in the future novel technology will be just as important to fashion as the signature work of designers is now. Thus articles, advertisements and fashion spreads will contain references to the technology as well as the aesthetic value and excitement of novelty in the presentation of beautiful people to emulate and beautiful clothing and other items to purchase.

We made an initial presentation of our ideas on November 3. In this presentation we used a number of images of clothing that seemed futuristic, made reference to several articles on nanotechnology as it applied to textiles, and posed several questions that might be topics for articles showing how nanotechnology has changed society in some way.

Two students from Lisa Yaszek’s Science Fiction class wrote critiques of our project. One expressed concern that there might not be enough explanation of products in an advertisement, for example. She also thought that the proposed delivery of drugs through microneedles sewn into clothing suggested something like a Brave New World society in which conformity is enforced basically by using drugs to destroy individual passions. The other student thought that “futuristic” looking clothing might not be realistic enough, that people would not be wearing bubbles on their heads. She also suggested that the idea of changing fashions only every five years or so was not realistic; instead people would probably always like to see something new each season.

We presented three designs to the class on November 15. The first was a fashion spread of Luli Fama swimwear with cooling or color changing nanotechnology in the fabrics. The second was an article on how it is still important to observe rules of good grooming even though nanofabrics are now self-cleaning. The third was an advertisement for the Autonomobile with color-changing nanopaint as a standard feature. The PowerPoint presentation may be viewed here.

Techstyle_Presentation2

We decided to limit our scope to a spring/summer issue in response to the student critiques, and pledged to handle microneedles with care. As one student predicted, it was difficult to convey all that one had found through research in an advertisement. The advertisement for the Autonomobile was generally well-received because of the “Global Swarming” slogan at the beginning. But the ad also raised questions about how well the images were anchored, particularly the image of the top of the car in the lower right of the page. Student critiques of our second presentation included this question as well as the comment that all the models are Caucasian and that it would be nice to see other influences for global fashion in the magazine. There was also a concern expressed that some attention should be given to public policy as it relates to nanotechnology, especially the risks certain nanotech products might pose to public health.

Many meetings and much research later, we presented a magazine that had a front and back cover, an editor’s letter, an advertisement for a nanotech hair coloring system, the Luli Fama swimwear spread, an article about “V-couriers,” a spread of fashion accessories, a feature on a fashion week event, advertisements for perfume, an electronic device designed by another group in the class, and designer jewelry that delivers medication through microneedles, the article about manners, advertisements for cosmetics and a sports clothing line designed by other students in the class, an article discussing global manifestations of beauty emerging from worldwide distribution of microneedle vaccines, an improved Autonomobile ad, and the back page featuring L’eggs pantyhose enhanced with nano-features.

View the finished product here.

Lauren, Don and I each brought different skill sets to the production of this magazine. Lauren has been a practicing graphic designer and artist for several years, Don has been a journalist and a Georgia Tech communications professional for several years, and I have done extensive research in the history of philosophy for my Ph.D. dissertation and other projects. We often worked as a group to select images either for inspiration or for inclusion with an ad or article. We discussed ideas for products, which I spent considerable hours developing conceptually by researching relevant nanotechnologies and extrapolating how they might be applied. We interviewed experts on fashion design, semiconductors, and microneedles to gain a more authoritative understanding of some of the developments on the horizon in nanotechnology, especially as it might relate to fashion. Because Lauren has the most experience in layout and graphics, we deferred to her judgment on how to present materials visually. Don’s enthusiasm provided a lot of energy to produce something beyond what any of us had initially envisioned, and he persisted in drawing out more developed phraseologies to describe our products.   

Nervous energy ran high the day we were preparing our final presentation.  I found that maintaining a low-key presence facilitated productivity and enabled me to see a creative way to express the value of the work I contributed to the project.   The next morning I described my role as a “new product evangelist,” bringing together product developers and advertisers to spread the word about the new products that ultimately appeared in the magazine.  This provided a convenient narrative device that both helped the flow of our presentation and  kept it  within the time limits.

In addition to interviewing experts, we looked at many articles on the internet to learn about nanotechnology developments. We also studied fashion magazines for content genre development. Below is a selected list of works consulted:

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