Using Design Fiction to Teach New and Emerging Technologies in England: A New World Is Created around the Design, Showing a Previously Unimagined Possibility in a World That Existed Only in the Designer's Mind's Eye, a Place Unseen by Others

By Hardy, Alison | Technology and Engineering Teacher, December 2018 | Go to article overview

Using Design Fiction to Teach New and Emerging Technologies in England: A New World Is Created around the Design, Showing a Previously Unimagined Possibility in a World That Existed Only in the Designer's Mind's Eye, a Place Unseen by Others


Hardy, Alison, Technology and Engineering Teacher


Design and Technology Education in England

Design and technology (D&T) is taught in most primary (5-11 year old children) and secondary schools (11-16 year olds) in England. Seen by some as a relatively new subject (White, 2011), some of its origins lie in craft tradition and domestic skills. This is partly reflected in classroom activities where children design and make, usually in response to a design brief or context. In the latest iteration of the curriculum (Department of Education, 2013) children are expected to learn about and use the full range of materials (such as electronics, metal, plastic, textiles, and wood) in design-and-make projects. However, the English D&T curriculum does emphasise the importance of teaching children about technological developments (Department of Education, 2013) so they can understand them, use them in their design work, and critique them (Barlex, Givens, & Steeg, 2015). This brings its own challenges, as some new and emerging technologies are not available in the classroom for children to handle, explore, and design and make with. Design fiction is a teaching strategy that D&T teachers could use to overcome this perceived barrier to designing with new technologies. Instead of the fall-back position of a "theory" lesson, this article explores how design fiction could be the answer.

Another Theory Lesson?

Often, theory lessons are used to teach students about materials and technologies. The lessons are usually decoupled from a design context because the (understandable) focus is on students learning and retaining the facts so they can pass their exams. But this is not the only (or best) way students learn, and it is known that in D&T students learn about materials and technologies so they can make informed decisions about their designs and judgements about other designers' work.

The topic of new and emerging technologies is exciting, current, and introduces students to new ideas they may not have considered before. It would be too easy to teach this topic as a theory lesson, only passing on information. Another approach is to use debates to explore the ethical and economic implications of, say, autonomous vehicles and robotics.

Teaching students about new and emerging technologies does not have to be another decontextualised theory lesson, By using design fiction, teachers can contextualise the facts about how new and emerging technologies might feature in a future world in which the students can visualise and understand. It involves them designing without the limitations of making a functioning product, as well as talking about the ethics and implications of new technologies. But first--what is design fiction?

What is Design Fiction?

Stories are created when new objects and systems are designed. The story evolves from the germ of the idea, when the idea exists only in the designer's mind's eye. As the design develops, so does the story, and both take on a more tangible form, culminating in a physical object or system that can be handled and tested. Users interact with the prototype, imagining how the design may change the way they live. As they do this, they create a story, and the story helps to visualize the design's potential, its limitations, and leads to new developments. A new world is created around the design, showing a previously unimagined possibility in a world that existed only in the designer's mind's eye, a place unseen by others. Design fiction takes this role-play a step further, and the story is part of the designing process. Design fiction uses fictional stories as a starting point to imagine design futures. Julian Bleeker (2009) from the New Future Laboratory was one of the first to formalise the term in his publication Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and Fiction:

Design fiction is a way of exploring different approaches to making things, probing the material conclusions of your imagination, removing the usual constraints when designing for massive market . …

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Using Design Fiction to Teach New and Emerging Technologies in England: A New World Is Created around the Design, Showing a Previously Unimagined Possibility in a World That Existed Only in the Designer's Mind's Eye, a Place Unseen by Others
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