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Design Fictions: Revenge of The Real – The Functions of Speculation

Future Epidemiologies, Ethical Responses, Public Health
A Studio Sessions Series

Speaker: Benjamin Bratton

Date: Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Time: 1:00 P.M. – 3:00 P.M.

Space is limited!
Please register by August 30th @

Viral contagion is dangerous, but with COVID-19 the risk is not just individual. It is a collective risk, one that affects the enmeshed whole in which each of us lives. An epidemiological view of society might shift our sense of subjectivity away from private individuation and toward public transmissibility, away from personal experience and toward responsibilities couched in the underlying biological and chemical realities that bind us. Coronavirus has produced the largest experiment in comparative governance we are likely to see in our lifetimes. Rather than thinking about normals to return to, it might be best to interpret the pandemic as exposing “pre-existing conditions” of society and governance, revealing underlying beliefs and infrastructures that enable some nations to contain the virus while others continue to watch rising death tolls. 

A lecture on Design Fictions and Public Health will share various projects from architecture, speculative design, and technological governance that address this epidemiological view of society. We will then use foursquare scenario planning methods to develop design fictions of planetary futures shaped by this condition. Frameworks including trophic cascades, resilient automation, strategic essentialism, handshake protocols, new masks, sensing as testing, renaming surveillance and greener newer deals will bring forward insights about the various possible outcomes for this public health emergency.


Benjamin H. Bratton’s work spans Philosophy, Art, Design and Computer Science. He is Professor of Visual Arts and Director of the Center for Design and Geopolitics at UCSD. He is Program Director of The New Normal programme at Strelka Institute of Media, Architecture and Design in Moscow. 


Design Fictions are a critical design tool for thinking otherwise about the past, present and future. Sci-fi author Bruce Sterling says that design fictions “suspend disbelief about change.” Constructing fictional narratives in various media (from films to texts, from data graphics to powerpoints, from prototypes to maps) helps designers think through complex phenomena and explore how various systems might interact. Design fictions shape design paths by investigating and inspiring possible worlds. 

This series of studio sessions will use design fiction methods to consider ethical responses for epidemiological futures. It invites participation from those who want to learn about design fictions and/ or those interested in exploring outcomes of the current pandemic.

This workshop series is open all, with first priority given to Design Lab members and students in the Speculative Design and Visual Arts program. No previous experience with Design Fictions or epidemiology studies is required. 

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