Based on a true story

(plaster mock-up of the 1953 Ford Thunderbird)

I spent the last couple of days in LA plotting and scheming. There’s some good stuff on the horizon, but a discussion around design fiction has got me thinking. (Some of you may have switched off already as I mentioned that particular couplet, such is the fickle world in which we operate. I was at Art Center in Pasadena on Tuesday night and mention of the New Aesthetic by Brooklyn Brown drew eye rolls from the audience – how quickly we get bored, sheesh)

In one particular project, a debate about delivering pure fact or fiction struck a chord. We have become a little obsessed with putting work in fact or fiction pots, but in truth most work sits in the overlap. If we look to literature or the movies, some element of every narrative needs to be easily identifiable by the audience. In order to make the story more effective the fiction needs a factual hook. Similarly, design fiction projects are nearly always based on existing paradigms with tweaks, they are a known reality with a fictional twist.

As a counter, I would argue that ‘real design’ also uses fictional hooks to make the reality more compelling or desirable. How many of you have actually had 10 hours of battery life from your iPad? How many products actually didn’t ship on the date promised? How many things don’t work exactly like they did in the promo video? (This resonates strongly with some of my Kickstarter work, about which there will be more in future)

When dealing with design for the future this mix might prove unsettling. Certain things are known, certain things might soon be known, other things might not be known, and some things we might never know. Mistakes in the balance of these elements, or not preparing the audience correctly can lead to embarrassment or misunderstanding.

As a proposal, couldn’t we take a tip from Hollywood?

‘Based on a true story’ is a fantastic catch-all phrase which works wonders. We know that the story has elements of truth, but we’re happy with the creators adding embellishment and plot points to build a more compelling case. Critically we’re never quite sure exactly what is new or has been changed, and we’re happy with that. A careful mix of fact and fiction can yield some of the best results, we should get more comfortable with that.