Design fiction: A proven innovation practice
How AI is revolutionizing the world—and how you can be ready for it
Does your current lifestyle look anything like it did when you were a child? Or even 10 years ago? We’re willing to bet not. Not only has technology continued to evolve, but the pace of innovation is also faster than ever. The Internet has only been around for 30 years, and smartphones barely half that. And yet, we can’t imagine what society and the economy would be without them. (We can barely picture our own lives from before!)
The rapid pace of technological development poses no small challenge for business, but it is also a challenge rich with opportunity…as long as companies are proactive!
When things move so quickly, the most successful organizations are those that can anticipate future market needs and expectations. Google predicted the explosive growth of the Internet and launched a search engine that was more efficient than any before it and any that would later try to copy it. Apple anticipated the mobile revolution. Now, we can access hundreds of thousands of apps on our iPhone, many of which meet needs we never could have imagined when the device was first launched.
Do you want your company to be this successful? Then you need to learn more about Design Fiction, a proven practice rooted in speculative thinking.
What is Design Fiction and how does it drive creativity?
First popularized in 2009 by artist and researcher Johann Bleeker, Design Fiction is a technique that involves imagining possible futures (and their consequences) by looking at weak signals that already exist today.
Businesses can leverage Design Fiction by answering the following questions:
- Can we pinpoint a social phenomenon, a technology or an idea that could transform the market in ten years, i.e., a weak signal?
- What would the world look like if this transformation actually happened?
- What new needs would it create?
- How could our company adapt or overhaul its service offering to meet these new needs?
- How can our company do things differently to prepare for the resulting social changes?
The Design Fiction process is a speculative tool that helps those involved project themselves into the future.
It culminates in the creation of one or several prototypes whose viability in the previously envisioned market must be analyzed.
These prototypes can take many forms: paper mock-ups, computer apps, videos, role-playing games, etc. The important thing is to be able to determine which factors will make the solution successful in this hypothetical market, including its desired features, its interface and how likely it is to be embraced by the public.
How AI shapes our modern-day society
For example, picture a future in which artificial intelligence (AI) technology is present in all sectors of society.
While AI encompasses a vast field that dates back to the 1950s, its most popular application today is machine learning. So much so that the terms “AI” and “machine learning” have become virtually synonymous. Developing an AI solution is a 3-step process:
- An organization collects a large amount of data
- A machine learning algorithm identifies patterns in the data to create a model
- This model then suggests which decisions to make in situations it has not yet seen
AI is already extremely prevalent in our lives. Search engines, spam filters, Netflix’s recommendation system and even how to arrange products on supermarket shelves are based on this technology.
Companies have also harnessed AI for all sorts of tasks. HR departments use it to sort through job applications and to train staff. Amazon leverages AI to optimize distribution centre operations. In the financial industry, AI detects credit card fraud attempts. Québec companies are developing custom AI solutions for in-home health care, to make supply chains more resilient and even to clean up social media.
But AI adoption requires a significant amount of time and effort, both when it comes to gathering a critical mass of data and figuring out how best to leverage it. For example, organizations can let AI handle certain simple low-stakes tasks, like spam filtering, without any human oversight. However, it’s generally a better idea to use AI as a decision-making tool that complements human expertise, e.g., when making a medical diagnosis.
Design Fiction meets AI
Given how quickly AI solutions have been deployed in the last 10 years, the trend will likely continue going forward. But how? That’s where Design Fiction comes in. Companies can use it to anticipate the potential and pitfalls of AI. For example:
- Companies gather customer data in order to create models of everyone they come into contact with. How can AI be used to fine-tune these personas to better anticipate customer needs and streamline interactions between them and IT support services?
- AI is already being applied to massive amounts of data in order to analyze user experiences in real time when they interact with certain products, like websites. If we synthesized these experiences into a visual map of the major sources of frustration, how could we improve the products?
- AI will likely eliminate some jobs, create others and profoundly change the nature of many workers’ roles. What will this mean for your company’s staffing needs? How can we use AI to address labour shortages? For example, can AI fill in for missing (human) staff and therefore improve the other employees’ working conditions?
- Natural language models, which analyze billions of words, are used to develop translation and automatic text generation tools. This same concept is now being applied to automatic image generation. What business opportunities could these technologies create?
- What other emerging AI applications could disrupt the market like smartphones, the Internet and PCs did?
TALSOM helps your business implement and leverage Design Fiction
Design Fiction’s creative process is centred around empathy. We envision possible futures not only to predict what might happen, but also to understand how these changes could impact people’s lives. Organizations that adopt Design Fiction are able to evaluate these hypothetical futures from every angle before they even begin to come up with solutions.
Design Fiction has a number of advantages. By thoroughly testing a prototype against the full spectrum of possible outcomes, companies can cost effectively evaluate an idea and minimize the risk of commercial failure. Even the mere act of imagining different futures can spur creativity and foster teamwork. In short: Design Fiction can make businesses more innovative.
That said, it can be difficult to lead a Design Fiction project without the proper experience. At TALSOM, we have the right experts to guide you throughout the process. Our Design Fiction and Design Thinking methods have proven successful in tackling even the most challenging organizational issues.
Its step-by-step approach and suggested tools will equip you to put the design thinking method into practice right away.