Case Study: From A to B: Hands-on Speculative Design

July 14, 2020

“Critical & Speculative Design” course experience from IDC Herzliya’s Human-Computer Interaction MA program.

“Critical & Speculative Design” is an introduction course to Speculative Design from both HCI and artistic perspectives, taught by Dana Gordon. It unfolds the history, approach, and process of speculative design [1, 4]: critical design [3, 4, 5], design research, research through design [6], design fiction [2, 7], and interrogative design [8, 9]. These design approaches can assist technology designers to better study and understand how technology influences our society and culture. We examine classic projects [10, 11, 12], theories, and approaches in this field, and provide students with tools to apply such methods in their own projects. The starting point theme for discussion was Food, which offers a wide range of related threads, leading each project down a unique path.

Multidisciplinary Challenges

This group of students have diverse professional and academic backgrounds, ranging from social studies such as degrees in psychology and history, to engineering and computer science related positions in the industry, to design practices such as architecture and industrial design. Due to the diversity in knowledge, we were challenged to familiarise everyone with general practices of design and the creative processes. In addition, we focused on creating a mindset that encourages students with much experience in the industry to question existing systems and assumptions; as the title suggests, our main challenge is to shift perceptions from affirmative to critical design, from “problem solving” to “problem finding” [3].

Debate-inducing Methods

In order to apply the critical approach in our classroom and unfold deep discussions we aim to practice a hands-on approach. Once students share their creative production – we have a concrete stimulation that generates discussion.

Personally-meaningful Issues

We encouraged students to focus on issues that they are personally passionate about in their projects. This results in a wide range of interests, opinions and approaches. Students began their Speculative Design process by researching a topic of their choice, crossed with the context of Food, our current theme.

Collage as Visual Stimulus

In groups of 2-3, students created visual collages as a tool for visual and speculative stimulus. We find the technique of collage extremely helpful in our context: it is relatively quick, supports spontaneous creativity, liberates visual thinking (especially for those who prefer to avoid it), and can fuel speculative, imaginary compositions. But most of all, by its “cut-and-paste” nature, this medium depicts and invites the ideal hybrid – the improbable mash-up of real and unreal, of the scientific and the fictional.

Video Storytelling

The students created short videos to present their concrete yet speculative concepts. Using their own diegetic prototypes, this storytelling approach provided an alternative display of the social narrative.

One proposal, Exposeia, demonstrates a pervasive indicator by invading private smartphones, to expose local soil contamination data. The application provides an intriguing sonic clue that stimulates public interest. This imaginative design proposes a disruptive experience to question our access to information or the ways it could be distributed.

Exposia by Adi Frug & Adi Gilad

FitAF, another proposal, explores the medium of Snapchat AR filters in relation to our personal food consumption. It questions the boundaries of privacy in a society that willingly overshares information and the possible impact of social media by introducing cameras and social media into the intimate spaces of the dinner table and our bodies. As a working Snapchat filter, FitAF circulates in social media and invites users to ask if it is possible to choose privacy.

FitAF by Avia Fuchs & Yael Vangelder

The videos portrayed scenarios of the diegetic prototypes and exposed the students’ questions and interrogation, allowing the class to further imagine and discuss the proposed designs and contexts.

Results and Reflection on the Process

We learned that moving from theoretical research to creating concrete design in any form, supports students in diving into a passionate and meaningful conversation. Developing speculative narratives around the design proposals provided new perspectives and depth to the debate of our own use of new technologies – this was an important insight for professionals in the industry of innovation. In addition, open public presentations around these designed deliverables are valuable to generate further discussions, observe and explore multiple positions. Students benefit from sharing this “stage” as they are exposed to the different perspectives of their classmates and experts that joined us for critique, feedback, and debate. Potsdam Interaction Design professor Myriel Milicevic, Paris-based researcher Dr. Jean-Baptiste Labrune, ZHdK Interaction Design professor and researcher Dr. Joëlle Bitton, and University of Salamanca researcher Dr. Denisa Kera, joined for the students’ presentations and offered invaluable insights. Following these discussions, students realized that Speculative Design is not only an approach but an active community of practitioners ranging from theory in academia to applied professionals in the industry.


  1. Auger, J. (2013). Speculative design: crafting the speculation. Digital Creativity, 24(1), 11-35.
  2. Bleecker, J. (2009) Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. Near Future Laboratory, 29.
  3. Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2009). a/b, A Manifesto.
  4. Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT Press [preface]
  5. Dunne, A. (1999/2005). Hertzian Tales: Electronic Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design. MIT Press
  6. Gaver, W., Boucher, A., Pennington, S., and Walker, B. (2004). Cultural Probes and the value of uncertainty. Interactions, Volume XI.5, pp. 53-56.
  7. Sterling, B. (2009) Design fiction. Interactions. 16(3), 20-24.
  8. ​Wodiczko, K. (1999). Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects and Interviews. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  9. Interrogative Design Workshop by Wodiczko, http://web.mit.edu/idw/
  10. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg https://www.daisyginsberg.com/
  11. Anab Jain & Jon Ardern / Superflux https://superflux.in/
  12. Michael Burton & Michiko Nitta http://burtonnitta.co.uk/index.html

Dana Gordon is an Architect, Interaction Designer and professor at IDC Herzliya. Her works expose hidden social angles in design, using speculative and critical approaches. She earned a Masters at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea and a B.Arch degree at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. Dana was also a researcher at Wodiczko’s Interrogative Design Group at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS). Her projects were exhibited at various design centers and collections such as Victoria and Albert museum, Droog Design, Harvard GSD and Science Gallery Dublin.

Netta Ofer is a researcher with a background in media studies, human-computer interaction (HCI), and interaction design from the Media Innovation Lab (milab) at IDC Herzliya. Her papers have been published in top HCI venues (CHI, IDC). She earned her B.A. in Interactive Communications from IDC Herzliya and is looking forward to pursuing her masters in the upcoming year.

(Special thanks to our students, guests, and the milab!)

*The course was offered to students of IDC Herzliya’s Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) M.A. program, during the spring semester 2020.

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