PhD: Science Fiction Prototypes as Design Outcomes of Research

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Event Details:

Reflective Conversations The Opponent & Proponent      –       The Thesis                            .

Thesis Details:

The thesis discusses how experience design findings from emerging technology research were used to construct design artifacts in the form of  Science-Fiction Prototypes (future-oriented science-fiction short stories). As evidence, the dissertation introduced four case studies and three science fiction prototypes’ which offered a well-founded innovative leap into the future.

Defence Collage

The case studies investigated how to encourage people to employ Internet of Things technologies in a do-it-yourself fashion. By the means of design-oriented research, the cases aimed at solving important societal challenges: finding means to react to demographic challenges, discovering meaningful activities for the well-being of the aged and people with severe paralysis, and encouraging social innovation of enthusiastic amateur designers.

By way of reflective design outcomes, the dissertation presented science fiction short stories as research-oriented design artifacts. The science fiction stories leaned firmly on the Science Fiction Prototyping (SFP) method introduced by Intel’s futurist, B. D. Johnson (2011). The dissertation demonstrated the application of the method to the design discipline, and considered how it could be used as a radical, reflecting design approach. The dissertation implied that SFPs, as design artifacts, have the potential to contribute more than self-governing science fiction literature or customary science fact outcomes (academic publications and proof-of-concept prototypes). The particularities of the dissertation’s Science Fiction Prototypes related to the manner by how they engaged experience design findings profoundly to the process, and how they illustrated aesthetic, positive experiences – the latter recently being identified as a quality that has been severely neglected by the literature genre of science fiction.

As part of the PhD Defense activities, there was a supporting public lecture ‘Science Fiction Prototypes & Technological Singularity‘ together with a public screening of Doug Wolens’, ‘The Singularity – Will we survive our Technology’ documentary film.

Opponents Reflection:

“This PhD defence was truly like no other I have encountered. The main differences were not related to the academic formalities but rather to the creative nature of the candidate and her research! Perhaps, had I been more observant, I might have picked up early clues of what creative adventures lay ahead, such as, one of the design artifacts in the PhD thesis being about a woman called Alice who was planning a high-tech ‘Wonderhome’!  Another clue would have been in the invitation to the defence, which had imagery that was suspiciously reminiscent of Lewis Carol’s imaginative tale of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (and pictures of Alice that had uncanny similarities to the candidate!). As if that was not enough, on the day of the PhD Defense, we all descended down into a high-tech rabbit-hole in the form of a door and stairs that led down to a large cavernous room, with blackened walls and a somewhat surreal atmosphere; the defense was taking place in a fully functioning theatre, with dazzling lighting and projections (as the pictures above suggest). In this rabbit-hole there were discussions of wondrous ideas that emerged from over three years of researching into experience design. To finish this dreamlike day we were all taken for a post-defense celebration where, in addition to the pleasing food and company, we were treated to the inspiring tale of  “A Doctoral Candidate’s Adventures Through The Looking Glass”, which presented a very humorous account of the candidate’s PhD journey, where all the main protagonists assumed a character in the story. Then, as in Lewis Carol’s original masterpiece, we all awoke back in our own realities, but somehow not the same, rather influenced by the magical experience that was Tiina Kymalainen’s defense of her PhD; ‘Science Fiction Prototypes as Design Outcome of Research’” Congratulations to Tiina for such a memorable thesis, defense and day!

Note:  The candidates use of Fantasy (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’) to offer humorous reflections about her PhD journey opens an interesting debate concerning the differences between Fantasy and  Science Fiction. In general terms, both Science Fiction and Fantasy explore realities other than our own, which can be used to discover what really matters to people. Some people seek to distinguish these genres by arguing that Science Fiction explores what is possible while Fantasy explores what is impossible. Of course, determining what is ‘possible’ is somewhat subjective and, as both can contain science, the boundaries can be blurred. Perhaps the most succinct definition was offered by Robert J Sawyer who stated “there’s discontinuity between our reality and fantasy; there’s continuity between our reality and science fiction“.  For SFP, whatever the label, we are simply concerned about using imagination to discover new ideas and what really matters to people.