«On Speculative Design»

Benjamin H. Bratton

Benjamin Bratton on Speculative Design, an alternative to mainstream Design that complicates the speculative models that underscore our global economy. He suggests design solutions based on longer and shorter timescales than regular product lifecycles, and geared toward »users” who may or may not be human. This text is based on a transcription of Bratton’s remarks at the launch of the Speculative Design undergraduate major at the University of California, San Diego, February 10, 2016.

Speculative Design (SD) understands itself as progressive alternative perspective to mainstream Design culture (and as an alternative to other alternatives as well).1 It knows that »Design” is not some magic way of thinking (involving stick-up notes, sharpies and colored beanbags) that just makes things better by »building trust,” »understanding the customer” or »getting a seat at the table” or similar. Design is also the means by which pathological relationships to material culture are made more efficient and more delightful, and we are worse for it. Some may even conclude that the job of Design in the 21st century is to undo (much of) the Design of 20th. It may also be to re-claim and re-launch other frustrated Modern impulses that were dry-docked by century’s end, not only designing things —widgets, withdrawn objects, manifest subjectivities, formal forms, etc.— but also designing the relations between them: systems, supply-chains, encounters, obligations, accounting protocols, and so on.