Material Speculation: Actual Artifacts for Critical Inquiry

Ron Wakkary, William Odom, Sabrina Hauser, Garnet Hertz, Henry Lin


Speculative and fictional approaches have long been implemented in human-computer interaction and design techniques through scenarios, prototypes, forecasting, and envisionments. Recently, speculative and critical design approaches have reflectively explored and questioned possible, and preferable futures in HCI research. We propose a complementary concept – material speculation – that utilizes actual and situated design artifacts in the everyday as a site of critical inquiry. We see the literary theory of possible worlds and the related concept of the counterfactual as informative to this work. We present five examples of interaction design artifacts that can be viewed as material speculations. We conclude with a discussion of characteristics of material speculations and their implications for future design-oriented research.


Material Speculation; Speculative Design; Design Fiction; Critical Inquiry

Full Text:



Agre, P.E. 1997. Toward a critical technical practice: lessons learned in trying to reform AI. In Bridging the Great Divide: Social Science, Technical Systems, and Cooperative Work, Bowker, G. et al. (eds). Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, 131-157.

Auger, J. Speculative design: crafting the speculation. Digital Creativity, 24, 1 (2013), 11-35.

Bardzell, J. and Bardzell, S. A great and troubling beauty: cognitive speculation and ubiquitous computing. Personal and ubiquitous computing, 18, 4 (2014), 779-794.

Bardzell, J. and Bardzell, S. What is "critical" about critical design? In Proc. CHI 2013, ACM Press (2013), 3297-3306.

Bardzell, S., Bardzell, J., Forlizzi, J., Zimmerman, J. and Antanitis, J. Critical design and critical theory: the challenge of designing for provocation. In Proc. DIS 2012, ACM Press (2012), 288-297.

Baird, D. Thing Knowledge: A Philosophy of Scientific Instruments. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 2004.

Barthes, R. and Howard, R. S/Z: An Essay. Hill and Wang, New York, NY, 1975.

Bell, G., and Dourish, P. Yesterday’s tomorrows: notes on ubiquitous computing’s dominant vision. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 11, 2 (2007), 133-143.

Bleecker, J. Design fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. 2009. Retrieved June 16, 2015 from fiction-a-short-essay-on-design-science-fact-and-fiction/

Blythe, M. Research through design fiction: narrative in real and imaginary abstracts. In Proc. CHI 2014, ACM Press (2014), 703-712.

Bogost, I. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2012.

Bowers, J. The Logic of Annotated Portfolios: Communicating the Value of ‘Research Through Design.’ In Proc. DIS 2012, ACM Press (2012), 68–77.

Brown, N., B. Rappert, and A. Webster (eds). Contested Futures: a sociology of prospective techno- science. Ashgate, Surrey, UK, 2000.

Carroll J. M. 1997. Scenario-based design. In Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction. Helander M., Landauer T.K., and Prabhu P. (eds). Elsevier, Amsterdam, NL, 383-406

Cooper, A. The inmates are running the asylum. Macmillan Publishing Company Inc., Indianapolis, IN, 1999.

DiSalvo, C. Adversarial Design. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012.

Dourish, P., and Bell, G. Resistance is futile: reading science fiction alongside ubiquitous

computing. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 18, 4 (2014), 769-778.

Dunne, A., and Raby, F. Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2013.

Dunne, A., and Raby, F. Design noir: The secret life of electronic objects. Springer Press, New York, NY, 2001.

Dunne, A. Hertzian tales: Electronic products, aesthetic experience, and critical design. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999.

Eco, U. and Robey, D. The Open Work. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1989.

Eco, Umberto. The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 1984.

Gaver, W., Blythe, M., Boucher, A., Jarvis, N., Bowers, J., and Wright, P. The prayer companion: openness and specificity, materiality and spirituality. In Proc. CHI 2010, ACM Press (2010), 2055-2064.

Gaver, B., and Martin, H. Alternatives: exploring information appliances through conceptual design proposals. In Proc. CHI 2000, ACM Press (2000), 209- 216.

Hallnäs, L. and Redström, J. Slow Technology – Designing for Reflection. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 5, 3 (2001), 201–212.

Helmes, J., Taylor, A.S., Cao, X., Höök, K., Schmitt, P., and Villar, N. Rudiments 1, 2 & 3: design speculations on autonomy. In Proc. TEI 2011, ACM Press (2011), 145-152.

Hertz, G. Critical Making: Manifestos. Telharmonium, Hollywood, CA, 2012.

Hobye, M., and Löwgren, J. Touching a stranger: Designing for engaging experience in embodied interaction. International Journal of Design, 5, 3 (2011), 31-48.

Kirby, D. The Future Is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-World Technological Development. Social Studies of Science 40, 1 (2010), 41-70.

Koskinen, I., Zimmerman, J., Binder, T., Redstrom, J., & Wensveen, S. Design research through practice: From the lab, field, and showroom. Elsevier, Amsterdam, NL, 2011.

Kripke, S.A. Semantical Considerations on Modal Logic. Acta Philosophica Fennica 16, 1963 (1963), 83– 94.

Lewis, D. Truth in fiction. American Philosophical Quarterly, 15, 1 (1978), 37-46.

Lewis, D. K. On the plurality of worlds. Blackwell, Oxford, UK, 1986.

Menzel, C., Possible Worlds. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Zalta, E. (ed.), 2015. Retrieved June 16, 2015 from le-worlds/

Murray, J. H. Hamlet on the holodeck: The future of narrative in cyberspace. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1997.

Odom, W. T., Sellen, A. J., Banks, R., Kirk, D. S., Regan, T., Selby, M., Forlizzi, J., and Zimmerman, J. Designing for slowness, anticipation and re-visitation: a long term field study of the photobox. In Proc. CHI 2014, ACM Press (2014), 1961-1970.

Odom, W. T. and Wakkary, R., Intersecting with Unaware Objects. In Proc. C&C 2015, ACM Press (2015), in press

Pavel, T. Possible Worlds in Literary Semantics. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 34, 2, (1975), 165–76.

Pierce J., and Paulos, E. Making multiple uses of the obscura 1C digital camera: reflecting on the design, production, packaging and distribution of a counterfunctional device. In Proc. CHI 2015, ACM Press (2014), 2103-2112.

Pierce, J., and Paulos, E. Counterfunctional things: exploring possibilities in designing digital limitations. In Proc. CHI 2014, ACM Press (2014), 375-384.

Ratto, M. Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life. The Information Society: An International Journal, 27, 4, (2011), 252- 260.

Reeves, S. Envisioning ubiquitous computing. In Proc. CHI 2012, ACM Press (2012), 1573-1582.

Retzinger, J. P. Speculative visions and imaginary meals. Cultural Studies 22, 3–4, (2008), 369–390.

Ronen, R. Possible worlds in literary theory (Vol. 7). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1994.

Ryan, M.-L. The Modal Structure of Narrative Universes. Poetics Today 6, 4, (1985), 717–56.

Ryan, M.-L. Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence and Narrative Theory. University of Indiana Press, Bloomington, IN, 1991.

Ryan, M.-L. Possible-Worlds Theory. In Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. Herman, D et al (eds). Routledge, London, UK, 2010, 446–450.

Ryan, M.-L. Possible Worlds. In the living handbook of narratology. Hühn, Peter et al. (eds.), 2012. Retrieved June 16, 2015 from http://www.lhn.uni-

Sengers, P., and Gaver, B. Staying open to interpretation: engaging multiple meanings in design and evaluation. In Proc. DIS 2006, ACM Press (2006), 99-108.

Sengers, P., Boehner, K., David, S., and Kaye, J. J. Reflective design. In Proc. CC 2005, ACM Press (2005), ACM Press, 49-58.

Stolterman, E. and Wiberg, M. Concept-Driven Interaction Design Research. Human-Computer Interaction 25, 2 (2010), 95–118.

Sturken, M., Thomas, D., And Ball-Rokeach, S. Technological Visions: Hopes and Fears That Shape New Technologies. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA, 2004.

Tanenbaum, J., Tanenbaum, K., and Wakkary, R. Steampunk as design fiction. In Proc. CHI 2012, ACM Press (2012), 1583-1592.

Wakkary, R., Desjardins, A., Hauser, S. Unselfconcious Interaction: A Conceptual Construct. Interacting with Computers, (2015), (in press).

Wakkary, R., Desjardins, A., Hauser, S., and Maestri, L. A sustainable design fiction: Green practices. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction 20, 4, (2013). Article No. 23



  • There are currently no refbacks.
This website uses cookies to allow us to see how the site is used. The cookies cannot identify you or any content at your own computer.

ISSN-nummer: 2445-7221

Hosted by the State and University Library and Aarhus University Library