The relational ecosystems of Speculative Design (update)

May 1, 2019

Salvatore Iaconesi continues to collect data from social networks, in order to understand how actions of the SpeculativeEdu project were having effects that reached beyond our closest relational circles.

Regarding the first aspect, as we described in the previous article, the idea of maintaining a continuous observatory is a very interesting one, as it allows us to observe things as they evolve. Different types of subjects communicate at different times of the year, or only on special occasions such as events, fairs, project outcomes or student graduations. For this reason, the possibility to monitor public communication gives us the opportunity to better understand trends, audiences, and communicative subjects; to identify hubs of different types; and to gain insights about the public strategies of different types of organisations such as schools, universities, professionals, design firms, and so on.

As for the second aspect, monitoring the specific communication formats of the SpeculativeEdu project (for example starting from the #SpeculativeEdu and #FutureFriends hashtag) over time allowed us to see what was changing around the project, what other subjects beyond the project partners were interacting with our content, and to gain some understanding of the relations and interactions that were forming around ourselves.


The timeline of social media for Speculative Design.

During the period from October 13th 2018 to April 24th 2019, 1211 online subjects expressed themselves on Twitter about Speculative Design practices, as identified through a collection of monitored hashtags (the principal ones are: #SpeculativeDesign, #DesignFiction, and #NearFutureDesign), achieving a reach of around 3 million views (estimated by taking 1% of the sum of the followers for each subject, taking into account that not every follower sees every post).

This corresponds to a communication phenomenon which is not large, but which definitely suggests a meaningful niche. To make a comparison, communication about gin micro-distilleries in the EU, measured in a similar way, brings forth around 10 thousand active subjects with a total reach of around 72 million.


Some of the many profile images of Speculative Design.

The subjects engaged in the conversations are very different from one another. We have people from large design firms with hundreds of thousands of followers, to consultants and professionals, to micro design studios and single students, with only a few dozen followers.

The language considerations made in the previous article are basically confirmed: English is the “lingua franca” for these topics, meaning that most of the messages are written in this language not only because the writers are English speakers, but also to address international communities. French follows just behind English (and this is connected to the success of Design Fiction and Speculative Design in France during this period). Then German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Japanese and Polish are next, completing the vast majority of the ecosystem.


The topics of the conversations around Speculative Design. You can see a larger image HERE.

The image above shows the principal topics for discussion of the public conversations that were collected. Compared to the ones in the previous article, they are many more, but the largest circles remained constant. Each circle in the image is a topic, its diameter proportional to how many times it appeared in the conversations.

As we can see, all the big blocks are still in place. The different ways of referring to Speculative Design/Design Fiction/Critical Design and others are still the principal elements, together with major events and practices, such as workshops. Then come the ethical aspects, and the focuses on the technological objects that can be imagined through speculative methods, which the majority of the subjects identify as Internet of Things (thus confirming the highly technological focus of the vast majority of Speculative Design approaches).

But this time the big circles are surrounded by a much wider variety of smaller ones, representing topics for discussion that have entered the radar, and which represent both smaller topics for discussion as well as ones that are quickly becoming trendy.

Among these are all of the indications about Friends, which refer to the SpeculativeEdu event in Maribor, “Future Friends”.

Then comes an interesting new entry, which is a vertical focus that addresses the ways in which Speculative Design can support museums in engaging publics (museum engagement).

Right after this are the focuses on data (i.e. how it can be connected to speculation) and on Service Design (how Speculative and Service Design can work together).

One interesting focus that came up is the one on Open Law, that is the use of open technologies in support of legal systems, as a series of French initiatives explored how Design Fiction could support exploring future scenarios (for example in using Open Badges in Legal Design processes).

Then, in sparser order and quantities, other focuses showed up: concerning food, energy, work, environment and climate, robots, and about the various regions of the world (for example to explore the future of Africa).


The communities of Speculative Design (you can see a larger version HERE).

The network visualisation in the previous image shows the relational ecosystem corresponding to the conversations around Speculative Design and related topics. As in the last article, each node in the network is a subject (an online account), its size proportional to its degree in the network (the number of connections it has). Different nodes are connected to each other as they interact (for example by retweeting or mentioning). The colour shows “communities”, intended as sets of nodes that have been grouped together because they often or systematically interact with each other.

A first direct comparison with the analogous image in the previous article immediately shows that there are many more nodes and connections.

This happens for two principal reasons.

The first is that time has passed and, thus, different subjects have had more time and opportunities to discuss these themes and to interact with each other.

The second is that the #SpeculativeEdu hashtag is included in the data collection. For this reason, when the project has mentioned other subjects in the Speculative Design ecosystem (for example on the occasion of the many interviews and articles that it has published), interactions and relations have been created that were not there before. On top of that, these new relations had their own autonomous lives (for example with subjects sharing the interviews, and mentioning other subjects to get them to read). All of these actions and reactions have created, as of today, around 230 new connections which, when added with their second orders (the connections of the connections that were triggered), amounts to a little less than 40 thousand, involving around 6 thousand subjects.

This is a very interesting result, because it means that around 6 thousand subjects have been stimulated and engaged in matters of Speculative Design – enough that they shared the content, acknowledged a mention, or mentioned someone else, turning the SpeculativeEdu project (and the content and interviews it published) into a sort of relational bridge that interconnects different subjects.

Conclusions and next steps

In the next steps of the project we will investigate these numbers and modalities for interactions even further, trying to understand the ways in which it is possible to show these results (and tools) to the Speculative Design communities, to get them even more involved and to promote the creation of new collaborations and exchanges around Speculative Design.

All the data and visualisations will be included in the online repository that will be set up soon, so stay tuned!

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