Oleg Šuran: Design is speculative as an investigation during your work process

February 4, 2019

A chat with SpeculativeEdu team member and Speculative Design practitioner, Oleg Šuran by Petra Bertalanič and Sara Božanić (ITD).

Photo by Darko Škrobonja

Oleg Šuran is an associate and teaching assistant of visual communications and interaction design at the Arts Academy, University of Split. He also freelances. Oleg is a renowned and award-winning Croatian interaction design practitioner. In 2013-14, he was member of UrbanIxD, Coordination Action project for the European Commission under the Future and Emerging Technologies programme, which focussed on the design of urban interactions.

What do visual communication, interaction, and speculative design have in common?

Communication. And that nobody really cares about it – except the design community. 😀

The way I’ve experienced it, it’s not about what is in common between these fields and instruments, but rather how they feed into each other; e.g. interaction design can do little without visual communication design, and both can do less without the use of Speculative Design1.

If you want to see some examples of how these three fit (or mix), see works by Ted Hunt. There you can see examples of how to use graphic design knowledge to communicate not-so-everyday and abstract ideas, and make them seem “normal” (everyday, familiar); and the other way around.

Sense of Time, Ted Hunt. Taken from senseoftime.info.

What does Speculative Design mean to you?

It’s a fun way of “thinking outside the design box” – of giving you a nice offset. It can feed into your bigger everyday projects. It’s an excellent exercise while you’re a student, that’s for sure, but after one’s studies, it mostly becomes either “art” or just an attitude or mode of investigation or ”research” during your project development. It can also make you question what and why you’re designing, as in “what good will come out of this?”.

When you tell someone (in the “real world”) that something is a speculative design piece (or design fiction), you’ll mostly get something along the lines of “Ah, so people wanting to do sci-fi but who don’t have any writing talent” 😀 I love that remark 😀

How can Speculative Design help better understand the future?

I’m not sure it can… It can help you prepare in a sense that once a certain future arrives, one can say “Huh, I remember somebody talking about this…”

It can also help in – this might happen if the stars align, and this is how to cope or steer away from it – manner. And that’s, in most cases, the intention of speculative design practitioners; but it falls on deaf ears.

Bringing good design (like real good design, not status symbol commodities) to the people is not an easy job, as snobbish as it may sound.… But it’s not just up to the designers to help people better understand the future – it’s parenting, education… society as a whole, in its entirety. It hardly makes any sense to do a nice, well-thought-out project, and to show it to hundreds of thousands of people, if they have no interest in the first place, or no capacity for understanding, or no tools for reading into the project, does it? On the other hand, even if someone reads it as intended, then what?

Life After Disaster (with Ivica Mitrović), interakcije.net.

But isn’t design always speculative?

I have no idea. Probably not. In an (extremely) broad sense, it is, as in each proposal is a “what if” scenario. But not really 😀 You’re not speculating about the possibilities of a bakery when designing the price tags. I mean, one does think about different scenarios and possibilities in the process, but, usually, it rarely extends past the sketchbook (or file). In the end, you design a price tag, not some possible future scenario of the baker’s price tags. And those are the bulk of the design jobs.

To wrap up, design is speculative as an investigation during your work process, by all means – but as a final result, not so much.

Can Speculative Design make our future better?

As much as the next thing, unless it is institutionalised and taken seriously. Even then, the question remains – would it be better – or, more interesting – better for whom?

Design can make our futures better. But is it Speculative Design? I don’t know. One can hope that this new approach (as is often presented) can solve most of humanity’s problems, but that’s not likely. Not by far. It can steer some people into the “right” direction, people who do have an impact, perhaps. So I’d say it might make our future better if the seeds are sown widely.

There’s a lot of criticism towards Speculative Design for being too colonial, and I can see why, but isn’t culture always that way? And design, even more so, since it is part of propaganda, a big part.

It all comes down to the people. There’s nothing more to it. If people want petrol, they’ll have petrol no matter the cost :/ I’m driving a diesel (not often though), even if it’s bad for the environment, so who am I to say what would make a better future 😀 O.K., electric or hydrogen cars for sure, but I can neither build one, nor can I afford one. (Notice me not mentioning public transport.)

There is a notion, and it’s one I strongly agree with, that Speculative Design (and similar stuff) is just a way of probing the future as to find the one(s) preferable to all2.

What role will speculative designers have in the future?

I’m not sure Speculative Design will become a design field in it’s own right. It’ll end up either as a footnote in some of the more obscure design history books, or (preferably) as an attitude, or perhaps even a method, if we want to really push it.

So quite bleak, yes… 🙂

Name one of your favourite Speculative Design Projects and why you like it so much?

I like the poetics of Tuur Van Balens “early” works, the mixed feel of Auger’s works, and the makers’ approach of Martin Skelly.

Life Support, Cohen Van Balen. Taken from cohenvanbalen.com.

Revital & Tuur make you rethink everyday objects (see the Life Support project, and The Immortal project). Auger/Lizeau make use of sure-to-come tech to talk about some quite intimate topics (see Afterlife, Smell+, and Happylife), and Skelly makes objects (or rather tools) that are a bit off (but still seem very everyday and outdatedly useful), stuff that actually does work, and works well (see Reflector and Postcard Player).

Ah – Dash N’ Dem do stuff that are as fun as they are educational (see Imagine Being a World Leader, Dr Zorbas, and other)!

In your opinion, what do you think the future brings?

Hardship and misery, as always… What I mean by that is – old age 😉


  1. If one subscripes to the idea of design as a driver for change. 

  2. An impossible task if you ask me… which you do. 🙂  

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