Case Study: From Fiction to Action — Design in a state of exception

July 14, 2020

Classroom project experience from the University of Art and Design Burg Giebichenstein in Halle.

In a present that is characterized by crisis perception, media hysteria, social injustice and an extreme imbalance of prosperity, designers are also forced to keep up. This project for/by students aimed for the exploration of creative and designerly dimensions of revolution, civil disobedience, insurrection and resilience in the form of comprehensible and mostly applicable scenarios and product prototypes. 


In a starting exercise we developed a rebellious card game based on Near Future Laboratory’s Design Fiction Product Design Work Kit. There are three categories – action, attribute, object – filled with revolutionary, techy and everyday terms. Combining one card from every category will generate a new idea/micro brief/design prompt.

We continued with an intense research phase – studying the means and aesthetics of protest and social movements alongside art and design pieces related to the topic. For example Artúr van Balen and his project on inflatable, soft scaled paving stones, which can be thrown between demonstrators and the police during demonstrations and create humorous confusion, or the exhibition catalogue “Disobedient Objects” from the V&A Museum in 2015. It shows the aesthetic qualities of objects in resilient contexts: self-protection signs in the look of books or shields equipped with large-scale photographs, DIY gas masks and aesthetic-functional appropriation strategies. 

The students analyzed historical and present strategies of civil rebellion and extrapolated them into certain futures. Using narrative and Speculative Design methodologies the group developed new perspectives on what design can be and in which fields it may extend.

The different projects involve an individual and therefore very personal approach to the exceptional state, which was interpreted independently by the students. They deal with forms of future collective disobedience, criticism of conventional biological reproduction, mass surveillance, the question of embodiment of nationalism in consumer products as well as spatial representation of public security. 

Tools and Techniques

The students used a range of different tools fitting their respective concepts. Digital tools like 3D printing, Arduino wiring and programming, Rhino/Grasshopper, laser cutting and a CNC-portal machine used for foil welding, as well as “regular” techniques such as metal welding, sewing, woodworking and upholstering. 

Student Projects

The Laurin camouflage coat by Jan-Arne Gruner offers a precisely formulated and functioning counter-position to the monitoring concepts that was being developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for the Südkreuz station in Berlin at the time of this course. The oversized design of the garment and the contradiction between analogue-human visibility and digital-machine invisibility actively question the conditions for total surveillance.

For his Riot Suit that is supposed to protect protesters from police violence, Tony Beyer combined easily available materials with current technologies proposing that protesters use open workshops and makerspaces to organize, prepare and improve their equipment.

In Lukas Keller’s speculative scenario hackers and coders empowered their community for the resistance  in a modern surveillance state. Inaudible Rebellion is a participation device for a resistance movement. It communicates physical presence with ultrasound. If there are other members of the resistance in reach it receives tones and transforms them into light vibrations. This very limited communication is diffuse and bypasses the radar of surveillance. It gives a sense for the movement’s spread and power and a telepresent physical support to its members.

Judith Faßbender’s Unmasking the Interface is a participatory database collecting moments of subliminal guidance in interfaces. The database reclaims agency for users as an instrument for forensic analysis of behavioural influences. Unmasking the interface aims to contribute to the vocabulary and evidence needed to open a discussion – negotiating a code of conduct for the use of behavioural science as a tool.


We conducted this project in the summer term 2017 – to the background noise of the G20 summit in Hamburg, a big protest of neo-Nazis in Halle (+ counter protests), the global rise of right-wing politics and increasing use of smart surveillance systems. The project outcomes reflect these events and how we and the students pictured a future state of exception. From Fiction to Action was presented at the Burg’s annual show in 2017 and featured in Form magazine N° 273 – Designing Protest.

Christian Zöllner is coming from a product design background and is constantly moving towards interaction design, design research and design teaching. He worked in design studios in Paris and Vienna and has taught at the Rietveld Academy Amsterdam, Muthesius Kunsthochschule Kiel and HUST Wuhan in China. At the Design department of University of the Arts in Berlin he hosted projects on experimental product development for more than six years. 2014 he was invited guest professor for Design Fictions at the University of Art and Design Burg Giebichenstein in Halle where he has held a tenure track professorship for experimental design since 2018. Christian’s main fields of expertise are future foresight, experimental design strategies, design fiction and speculative art practices.

Amelie Goldfuß is a designer focused on Speculative Design, design fiction, robots and AI. She uses cross-disciplinary approaches to address topics like human-machine relationships or gender in tech. She is also a teacher at Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle (Saale), Co-Founder of Moving Target Collective and part of Code Girls Leipzig.

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