Service design fiction

Using design fiction for a critical discourse about future experiences.
When reading about automation, algorithms, robotics and artificial intelligence one could get the impression that we glorify and praise these new high-tech evolutions and, whilst doing so, forget to discuss the human side. It’s time to take a deeper look, see how these developments can shape our lives, and design for their future service scenarios.

This is easier said than done. There are many things that need to be considered when designing for the “user”. For one, there’s the issue of context and relevance – just because a technology is available, doesn’t mean everyone wants to embrace it. We tend to forget what kind of impact these technologies might have for different kinds of people and societies around the world. Then there’s the many questions that arise from not only cultural differences, but generational shifts and future habits that we can’t possibly predict.

As service designers, regarding future service scenarios, we probably need to question our everyday practice: How can we improve, design and create meaningful present and future services through fictional but “tangible” prototypes? How can we make future services visible and comprehensible for future audiences using physical prototyping? How can we create services supporting the human side of emerging technologies in the near future?

In reverse, what does this mean for our work within user research and service design? How can we enrich and correlate current user research by applying fictional methods and tools to research to shape the future?

So many questions, so let's find some answers

Enter design fiction... Design fiction is a theoretical approach to explore and critique future scenarios through design and storytelling. It originates from speculative and critical design. All these disciplines intend to spark critical dialogues about the human side of technology and highlight the social/ethical/cultural meaning of future scenarios.

For future scenarios and when anticipating things, we to use diegetic prototyping. It comes from an area where you do not prove your idea as a physical object, but tell the story around it. You just create a story that somehow gives the users the feeling that it is kind of scenario is probable and possible.

Christian zöllner, Founder and Art Director at The Constitute said at a recent IXDS Pre-Work Talk

The so called "diegetic prototypes" play an immense role in fictional designs. Especially their "performative character" is considered important when using film as a diegetic prototype. This way designers can illustrate emerging technologies within a social landscape. 1

These kind of prototypes contain one or more emerging technologies, literally pictured in a materialized shape. 2 The artefacts appear very tangible and concrete. Therefore, they attempt to provoke controversial dialogues among the audiences. Instead of simply glorifying all the technical possibilities by showing realistic application scenarios, they rather stimulate critical thoughts in a constructive way by using narratives as the framework for technology.

Closely related to – if not originated from – the genre of Science Fiction 3, diegetic prototypes contextualize technology within a social compass by literally being realized or narrated in a very lifelike way. These prototypes can showcase seemingly utopian ideas, which might not (yet) exist in our world. Contrary to science fiction movies, diegetic prototyping illustrates a near future scenario, which the recipient can rather identify with. 

User research

When it comes to user research and service design, one of the most powerful tools we use in design processes are user quotes. By using them in our research and design processes, we refer to user needs in order to constantly represent the human side of the design. So what if we create "fictional future quotes" to highlight a possible user need? Is it possible to illustrate and illuminate the human side of future technology through hypothetical statements? How might a "fictional future quote" be experienced?

Let’s try some examples


»I use a service that recycles my data I don’t need any longer and transforms them into clean and purified water for those who have no access to it.«

»I bought a machine that helps me to reconstruct my childhood in VR.«

»My car turned against me. It has a virus I can’t control; it is dangerous to be transported with it or that it moves around in traffic. Since all is connected it can easily spread infections. So is there an authority or service that could help me to remove and fight this virus?«

 »I have multiple digital nationalities (diginalities), so I have therefore full rights as a citizen of all these countries.«

Did they made you think?

Did they initiate some fruitful thoughts with you? How do you feel now? 

If yes, this is exactly what these fictional quotes aimed for. They should lay a foundation for critical thoughts and a further controversial discourse.

But if we think a bit further, we could possibly also create “diegetic service prototypes”. Is it therefore possible to turn these implications into constructive evolutions of possible future services? We could try to prototype fictional services in order to constantly get feedback. And to shape future services and push the field of service design a bit further towards tomorrow.

Service design fiction should raise a fruitful dialogue and debate about how we want to envision and also actively shape future experiences for our society of tomorrow. So join us and let’s try, iterate and innovate with service design fiction!


1 IXDS Pre Work Talk about Design Fiction / Rachel Uwa and Christian Zöllner

The Future is Now by David Kirby, 2010 / Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-world Technological Development​

Science Fiction


The 3 laws of robotics by Sir Isaac Asimov

Design Fiction as a service design approach by Gert Pasman

Real humans/Äkta människor, Swedish science fiction/drama series, 2012

Black mirror, British speculative fiction/science fiction series, 2011