Our future relationship with technology, or the relationship technology has with us. 

This trailer for the Ridley Scottfilm Prometheus features conversations with David8, an android produced to support humans in the future. In this trailer David8 answers questions that explorer the relationship he has with humans. 

The tone of the film suggests that there may be sinister or troubling aspects to this relationship. 

The Tyranny of Assistive Technology

This entertaining film by Superflux explores the potential implications of decisions made now on our futures. Superflux uses speculative design to “explore the uncertainties of everyday life and emerging technology in a new light”(http://www.nesta.org.uk/)

Titled ‘Uninvited Guests’, this film shows a possible conflict between the good intentions behind assistive technologies and the emotional needs of the individual.

User Serviceable Parts Inside

serviceable label

All to often users are excluded from engaging with the repair and maintenance of their own products as they are advised not to do so by the manuals and labelling on products. I have even come across examples of manuals supplied with children’s bicycles that advise the owners not to undertake any maintenance or adjustments.

printer access

This proposal could apply to many different products that encase their inner workings within a concealing body. The design principle that supports this concept encourages the development of products that allow easy and safe access to the inner workings and allow users to conduct regular servicing and maintenance.

printer sketches
concept development sketches

In this case, users can carefully apply oil to the roller bearings and are able to replace the drive belt once it becomes stretched of worn. Printers are an interesting subject as domestic users frequently replace ink cartridges which requires a level of access to the interior of the product.




Digital products do not generally lay their operation open to the eye in the same way that mechanical products can. This can make it almost impossible for the untrained amateur to understand how a device works, what may be wrong with it and how one should go about maintaining it. The proliferation of screen based interfaces should lead to the opportunity for products to ‘tell us what is wrong’ with them, but this can be problematic when screens freeze or software crashes.

These Digital Scopes are based on commonly recognised medical instruments that are used in diagnosis, but also for the ‘check-up’. These devices plug into the various ports of digital products and offer the user both diagnostic information and advice on maintenance procedures that would help improve the performance of the device.

diagnostic scopes

This concept aims to demystify the product and empower users to take ownership of the maintenance of their digital devices. Responding to the finding that there is often a need (or perceived need) for specialist knowledge to enable effective maintenance, these scopes reflect the necessity for products to provide a clear indication to users that maintenance is necessary.


The majority of items, identified in the Maintenance Survey results, that users associated with the meed for regular maintenance were mechanical in nature. Alongside this, users identified the need for specialist knowledge and specialist facilities as the primary reasons for deferring some or all of the maintenance to someone else.

If it is desirable to encourage users/owners to engage with the active maintenance of their possessions, finding a way to remove the barriers presented by the need for this knowledge and equipment could help to facilitate greater participation.

The concept of modular design has been known for a long time and is ofter recognised as a feature of system furniture design, but has been applied in many fields. Interestingly, modularity is highlighted as a key principle in the NASA design of maintenance guide that is applied to Spacecraft Design.


Modular design is practiced in the automotive industry, but only in the way in which components can be shared across a range of vehicles. As stated on the Modular Motor concept board, the Nexcel system under development by Castrol shows the way in which previously complex maintenance procedures can be democratised through design development.

As Castrol predominately deal with oil products, it is likely that the development of this system will be limited to the sector that they operate in. However, this principle has the potential to be applied across many other maintenance procedures and many other product categories beyond the automotive sector.

modular sketch
early concept sketch

Speculative Design Concepts

As a punctuation in this research, a small number of Speculative Design Concepts have been generated that are intended to articulate key issues identified from the work done to date.

These concepts are intentionally presented as a set of archetypes in an etherial washed out grey to emphasise the conceptual nature of each proposition.

Each example will be explored further, including creative development process, in further posts.

Car DialysisXRayprinter accessdiagnostic scopesmodular


Auger Loizeau: Sublime Gadgets

via Auger Loizeau: Sublime Gadgets

Further research into the work of Auger and Loizeau and also, I believe, my better understanding of the nature and purpose of Speculative or Critical Design has led me to appreciate this work. Initially I found aspects of the work of James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau impenetrable, however further research around the subject has allowed my understanding to develop. This shows how important time is in allowing an appreciation of complex work to form.

ripple counter
Sublime Gadget No.1, Auger & Loiseau (2012)

Auger and Loizeau write about the Sublime Gadgets project:

Gadgets are the most ephemeral of domestic objects. Their dazzling but fleeting existence is a consequence of two combined factors:

1: The value of a gadget is found in its novelty and ability to provide spectacle.
2: This novelty is provided by the latest technological innovations.

Arthur C. Clarke’s often quoted 3rd law describes the relationship between these points:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

It is in this magical element that the spectacle resides but as a consequence it follows that just as the illusion dies when the magician reveals his slight of hand, so the technology becomes distinguishable from magic when it becomes familiar. This normalising of technology leads to the death of the gadget.
Sublime Gadgets aims expand the lifespan of these ephemeral objects through introducing notions of the romantic sublime. This shifts the focus away from technological fetishism towards objectifying ‘pleasures of the imagination’ (Addison), the infinity of time and space (Shaftesbury), agreeable kinds of horror (Addison), randomness found in nature and the management of life and death.

This work also illustrates the many layers of ideas and theory that are encapsulated in well developed critical or speculative design concepts.

thinking concepts

A collection of ideas generated using the insight gained from the online survey and the material returned from the cultural probes field kits.

Concepts and ideas are centred around the following themes:

  • Tools
  • Design for Maintenance
  • Knowledge
  • Prompts

Each of these concepts warrants further investigation and, in some cases could form the basis of a research project in their own rite. Choosing a direction to follow up in the long term will be difficult and the criteria by which an area for further investigation is chosen need to be considered.

Having studied work by noted designers who practice speculative design, it is evident that the concepts they propose are complex and embody many layers of thinking and research. The concepts generated in the exercise above are initially shallow, whilst still being valid, and warrant further development to gain the depth seen in the work of others.

In the short term a small number of speculative design concepts will be developed to help communicate the results of this research to date.