Module 1, Week 12

Week 12 : Workshop challenge – Speculative Design

This week has got me thinking about how speculative design can be used to transform our futures and to look at what we might be missing today that could affect the way we live.

I recently have a Zoom debate with my family – one member mentioned that this virus could have been stopped if we all had tracking devices or some form of technology that check our health on a daily basis.

Of course this sort of idea creates some major ethical issues which would have to be acknowledged before anything like this could be created… But then, upon further research I found a company called Biohax – 4000 people in Sweden have happily had a Biohax implant inserted into their hand which allows them to make contactless payments, swipe to access their subway / transport systems, unlock their phones. All in the swipe of a hand.

If people are so willing to have this inserted into their hands just for the ease of not getting out a card to pay or entering in a password, are we moving towards a society that is more accepting of these dystopian, ‘Black Mirror’-esque ideas and concepts?

And how does Graphic Design have a part to play in all of this? Did that group in Sweden just accept to having an implant before reading information on it? Did they look at the size and shape of the design? Did they consider the phone app that it links to and the ease of use? Does a logo for biotechnology help make people feel more secure in what they’re choosing?

Of course – all of the above does apply. This whole module has been a lesson in why Designers are relevant in this global world and how the work we produce has a subconscious effect on the consumer.

So, looking ahead to the current crisis we find ourselves in – where a virus has spread across the world, causing pain and grief to millions, crippling economies and sending countries into lockdown. Looking at Dunne and Raby’s work; taking current social / economic issues and finding a futuristic, often controversial technological solution, can we apply this to our current day crisis?

A speculative design project from two students at Goldsmiths University, looked into the future of the NHS. They considered the implications of the possibly future of the NHS being bought out by Amazon, creating AmazonCare – a new program being tested in London. This is so ironic considering recent news that Amazon might be asked to deliver tests for Coronavirus – potentially just an idea in the pipeline but it’s just showing how much our trust and faith in technology has developed over the years.

The rest of this project will consider the questions and thought processes these students put into this work – they had to navigate ethical issues, moral ambiguities and used design as a research method. It’s inspired me to use imagination, storytelling and a combination of exaggerated speculation & consideration of our uncertain futures in the design and research of this project.


In order to create or even consider something as huge and invasive as this I needed to talk to the people around me and get human responses to the ideas put forwards.

My sister, aged 30 and fit&healthy – she used a number of digital exercise tracking devices – Garmins, Fitbits, Strava App and more. Having used these technologies she recognises that having the data to hand of speed, heart rate etc is hugely valuable to improving health. She mentioned that if she was to ever consider an implantable technology, it’d have to have all the above included alongside internal health checks. She mentioned that she also uses the Covid19 tracking app to input her symptoms daily – if there was a way of this being taken automatically without needing to take any time out of the day it’d really help with analysing the data of people around us for future virus crises.

My mum, aged 59, was mostly focused on how she could be convinced to have an implant. I know she would rely on trustworthy, comforting data and information. Recognising this, the data and app used in conjunction with the implant would have to be user friendly and not overloaded with technical and scientific language.

My fiance, aged 34, would consider this in an instant – he’s studying Computer Science and Technology so has an awareness of the increase in demand for implant technologies. He mentioned it’d have to include optional tracking and the data sharing aspects would need to be carefully considered. As a gamer, he also mentioned how it’d be an interesting side note to look at how the gaming industry are looking into future technologies for further “realism” within games. Personally, this is taking away from the original meaning behind this microchip/implant but is huge in considering the multitude of options available behind this technology.

Friend, aged 26, she wouldn’t necessarily be against the idea of an implant, but she’d need to know how it would affect her data history and how much would be shared. She also questioned if, using the app, you could turn off different settings – so only allow the implant to access the parts of her life she had given permission for.

This research has given me some food for thought when considering how design affects consumers decisions. Something so intrusive, personal and data driven really needs to be put across in a careful and considered manner.

Final Piece

Speculative design is all about opening up our imaginations and using a topic to open up debates and discussions. As supported by Dunne and Raby, these “wicked problems” can be used to inspire, innovate and “redefine our relationship to reality”. My initial reasoning for choosing a speculative and futuristic design was to take a topic I find fascinating and develop it in direct response to the current social and economic crisis. The purpose of this week’s task, to me, was to go beyond our dreams, to expand the limits of our imaginations and go beyond the real – create something we’re passionate about. Now, of course, in one week there is no way I could explore such a huge topic and create a product ready to go, but using the ideas of the design we can explore and address the ethical, moral and economic consequences of such a design.

The product I have looked to develop is a microchip suitable for humans – a topic already widely discussed and designed. There are a large amount of companies already stretching the boundaries of the moral and ethical issues behind topics such as this. This product has been speculatively designed on many occasions and is currently being implemented on a small scale in Sweden. However, in enhancing the ability this tech has, we can begin to really address the possibilities that are available to us and how we can utilise this in future designs. This idea, to me, came as a direct response to a current crisis – if we had been able to track accurately the spread of this virus, could we have prevented the crashing of multiple economies? The repercussions of this crisis we have yet to realise but early predictions aren’t looking good – should we use our imagination and designs to help realise a future that won’t be so terribly affected by a killer we can’t see?

Using my own research I realised that just having a chip that tracked a potential virus (which may only come around once every 10 years), people need to get more from it to even consider such implant technology. Wearable technology is a huge industry currently, however, research has shown the vast majority of wearable technology isn’t worn on a day to day basis and is easily lost. The lack of day to day data for this tech means the results aren’t as accurate as they can be. The need for multiple wearable techs now means if one wants to check heart rates accurately, track distance and check for symptoms of a virus they’d have to have multiple apps and multiple wearables. This isn’t a streamlined option in this day and age.

Using science, technology and design we can help economic and social issues and open so many more doors to possibilities. For example, Drip Dry Shirts came about as a response to a time where technology was on the cusp of a huge upwards curve, designers created some of the most exciting and experimental pieces of their time. Looking at this and the future of graphic design, we have a responsibility to continue creating exciting and innovative pieces of work.

As designers, we want to help the world become a better place, so why not explore the speculative and futuristic possibilities and designs to help this? It may be beyond our abilities in terms of tech or ethics but where would we get to if we didn’t push these boundaries? Science Fiction is seen so often today in films, media and more – this was explored by Poyner in Creative Review which helped me realise the influence digital fictional technology has on today’s society but it’s still so difficult to produce innovative and fresh ideas in this field now. We need to be constantly readdressing our speculative designs and we need people to want to push the boundaries. Or else we will find ourselves in a world which no longer innovates or creates – despite the ethical issues raised, we should still continue to innovate. Without pushing these boundaries are we going to improve the world we live in? After all – it’s only speculative, right?

Powered by the substantial effects of current issues, why should we hold back on our imaginations and creations?

Bibliography and Further Reading:

Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2013). Speculative Everything. MIT Press.

Roberts, L., (2005) Drip Dry Shirts: The Evolution of the Graphic Designer. London: AVA Publishing.


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