Speculative design, design, art

What is speculative design? Is it designing unconsciously or designing conjectureusely? Do I still need to do user research or can I do just whatever I feel like? And is it just about future utopian products?
The short answer – no it's not.

The beauty of speculative design lies in the lack of boundaries. Or as James Auger tells in his book "Speculative design: The products that technology could become":

"[...] remove the constraints of the commercial sector that define normative design processes to create a space for thinking, questioning and dreaming." – James Auger

Speculative design

Elliott Montgomery locates speculative design somewhere in the middle between art and design. I like this position, or the graphic in general, because it somehow puts an end to the never ending discussion if design is art or vis a versa. Both live together hand in hand.
Elliott Montgomery, Design Researcher, Strategist, Educator

Due to the fact that speculative design does not intend to bring a product to the market, we can be comfortably lay down the restriction of the real world and go crazy. The resulting ideas do less lean on existing ideas, patterns or standards of society and can therefore be more innovative, unseen and provoking. So it's definitely a good eye catcher.

How to speculate

A good entry point for speculative design is provided by Dunne & Raby in their book "Speculative Everything". The A/B Manifesto. It lists terms for A – the "normal design" and it lists terms for B - speculative design:


What does digital art mean for HCI?

Both worlds want to engage a user / audience and provide them a good experience and feeling. To achieve this Brigid Costello has developed 13 categories, called "the pleasure framework", to analyse play or pleasure:

The pleasure framework

  • Creation – ability to create something
  • Exploration – ability to explore object
  • Discovery – discover something in the work / object or figuring something out
  • Difficulty – the pleasure to develop a skill to use the object
  • Competition – trying to accomplish a goal
  • Danger – probably a bit of adrenaline?
  • Captivation – feeling of beeing controlled
  • Sensation – feeling physical action (touch, etc.)
  • Sympathy – sharing emotions or physical feeling with someone
  • Simulation – pleasure from getting a copy of something in the real world
  • Fantasy – perceiving a fantastical creation
  • Camaraderie – developing a friendship
  • Subversion – pleasure of breaking rules


Wabi-Sabi stands for: "nothing lasts", "nothing is finished" and "nothing is perfect".
Wabi can be compared to simplification and Sabi stands for the time.

Designing interactions with wabi-sabi

  1. Design for long-term interaction through conscious use of impermanent materials and media.
  2. Approach perfection through explicitly unfinished designs
  3. Engage with the richness of interactive expressions by embracing limitations in current technology


Auger, James. 2012. “Speculative design: The products that technology could become”. In Why Robot? Speculative Design, the domestication of technology and the considered future. PhD Thesis. RCA, London.

Campbell, Jim. 2000. “Delusions of Dialogue: Control and Choice in Interactive Art”. In Leonardo. 33:2. 133-136.

Dunne, Anthony and Raby, F. 2001. Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects. August / Birkhäuser.

Edmond, Ernest A. 2014. “Human Computer Interaction, Art and Experience”. In Candy, Linda & Ferguson, S. (eds.). Interactive Experience in the Digital Age. Evaluating New Art Practice. Springer.

Tsaknaki, Vasiliki & Fernaeus, Y. 2016. “Expanding on Wabi-Sabi as a Design Resource in HCI”. In Proceedings of CHI ‘16.