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From Field Research to Design Fiction: From Clarifying the Present, to Designing the Future
This activity uses a “design fiction” approach to engage students with ways to extend product life cycles and help them develop design-thinking skills.


By: Nicolas Nova (Geneva University of Art and Design/HEAD – Genève, HES–SO)

Session type: Multiple sessions, Graduate level, Small size


  • Design fiction

  • Futures thinking


Introduction to the teaching example:

The goal of this activity is for students to acquire skills such as field research, observing the environment, and using what they have learned to create hypothetical futures.


The activity begins with a general context and a problem statement about the growing significance of mobile phone maintenance practices (independent shops, repair cafés, hackerspaces, etc.) and how to endorse them in the near future. This helps to summarize for students some kind of change that is currently taking place in society. Students have one week to conduct observations and interviews to gain a deeper understanding of the issue and discover possible signs of change. Students are also urged to read the news, other study initiatives, and materials in archives and other libraries.


These findings are then used in a subsequent stage to address the issue in each of its facets, taking into consideration the way people use and discuss devices, their actions, gestures, and bodily interactions, the materiality of those technologies, and of course the associated energy consumption, which is frequently hidden. This assists to draw attention to disagreements, conflicts, issues, emotive viewpoints, and so on.


The final stage involves using the information the students have gathered to create props, or fictitious objects that suggest future events, using a technique called Design Fiction (Bleecker et al 2022). Students swiftly create concrete manifestations, such as false packaging, photomontage, fictitious advertisements, etc., by brainstorming how their findings can result in new services or social situations in the future. The emphasis in this second week is on demonstrating how improvements may materialize soon. Students create a video, incorporating storyboarding, filming, and editing. The purpose of the video is to demonstrate the actual use of the services that they had in mind as well as any potential negative effects (solving some issues, fostering new frictions, etc.). In order to emphasize the advantages and disadvantages of the scenarios they envisioned, students are instructed to apply irony in their projects. 


Students must assess the reasonableness of their suggested solution in the third step. Students are required to operate within these constraints, acknowledging that resources are not always plentiful and that sometimes one must make do with what one has. For example, they are invited to assess if the concepts they imagined are likely, appropriate, or ridiculous in relation to concerns with energy use, environmental effects, or societal consequences.

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