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Design Fictions: Future Epidemiologies, Ethical Responses, Public Health

Design Fictions are a critical design tool for thinking otherwise about the past, present and future. Sci-fi author Bruce Sterling says that design fictions “suspend disbelief about change." Constructing fictional narratives in various media (from films to texts, from data graphics to powerpoints, from prototypes to maps) helps designers think through complex phenomena and explore how various systems might interact. Design fictions shape design paths by investigating and inspiring possible worlds. 

Design Fictions: Future Epidemiologies, Ethical Responses, Public Health will use design fiction methods to consider ethical responses for epidemiological futures. It invites participation from those who want to learn about design fictions and/ or those interested in exploring outcomes of the current pandemic. 

Wednesdays 1:00 p.m. PDT 

Sept 2 w/ Benjamin Bratton | The Revenge of The Real: Functions for Speculation

Sept 9 w/ Pinar Yoldas | Omnipolis, Social trust, Planetary Health

Sept 16 w/ Lisa Cartwright | Health Surveillance Infodemic: Design Fiction by Numbers

Sept 23 w/ Camille Nebeker | Imagining the ethical, legal and social implications of digital contact tracing

This series is open to all, with first priority given to Design Lab members, Design students, and students in the Speculative Design and Visual Arts programs. No previous experience with Design Fictions or epidemiology is required.

Space is limited. Please complete the online form to register for some or all sessions Zoom links will be shared with registrants prior to the event.

Design Fictions is produced by The UC San Diego Design Lab Community Team in partnership with the Visual Arts Speculative Design program.


Session Details

Sept 2 w/ Benjamin Bratton
The Revenge of The Real: Functions for Speculation 

Viral contagion is dangerous, but with COVID-19 the risk is not just individual. It is a collective risk, one that affects the enmeshed whole in which each of us lives. An epidemiological view of society might shift our sense of subjectivity away from private individuation and toward public transmissibility, away from personal experience and toward responsibilities couched in the underlying biological and chemical realities that bind us. Coronavirus has produced the largest experiment in comparative governance we are likely to see in our lifetimes. Rather than thinking about normals to return to, it might be best to interpret the pandemic as exposing “pre-existing conditions” of society and governance, revealing underlying beliefs and infrastructures that enable some nations to contain the virus while others continue to watch rising death tolls.

A lecture on Design Fictions and Public Health will share various projects from architecture, speculative design, and technological governance that address this epidemiological view of society. We will then use foursquare scenario planning methods to develop design fictions of planetary futures shaped by this condition. Frameworks including trophic cascades, resilient automation, strategic essentialism, handshake protocols, new masks, sensing as testing, renaming surveillance and greener newer deals will bring forward insights about the various possible outcomes for this public health emergency.

Benjamin H. Bratton's work spans Philosophy, Art, Design and Computer Science. He is Professor of Visual Arts and Director of the Center for Design and Geopolitics at UCSD. He is Program Director of The New Normal programme at Strelka Institute of Media, Architecture and Design in Moscow.

Sept 9 w/ Pinar Yoldas 
Omnipolis, Social trust, Planetary Health

Today’s speculation is tomorrow’s reality.

We start with the realization that urban structures around us were once as speculative as moon establishment Luna in the popular sci fi series Expanse (James S. A. Corey), the North Shore towns of Arkham (H.P. Lovecraft) or the Walking Cities by Archigram. Through an analysis of environmental and urban parameters that allowed the pandemic to grow and spread to its current level, we will speculate on contagion-free environments and what this notion could look like if applied at an urban scale.

Concepts such as rewilding and omnipolis (self-sufficient, self-operating cities) by Paul Virilio will be introduced as guiding principles for establishing new urban structures and the social conditions upon which they depend on. What environments and habitats would we create if we employed the power of design to focus on “planetary health,” “public health” and “social trust” as opposed to other determining social and cultural pressures. Through discussions and hands on design assignments we will derive three different environments which could pave the way to a contagion-free living.

Pinar Yoldas is an infra-disciplinary designer/artist/researcher. Her work develops within biological sciences and digital technologies through architectural installations, kinetic sculpture, sound, video and drawing with a focus on post-humanism, eco-nihilism, anthropocene and feminist technoscience. She is an Assistant Professor of Visual Arts at UCSD.

Sept 16 w/ Lisa Cartwright
Health Surveillance Infodemic: Design Fiction by Numbers

The past few months have seen a surge in graphic design characterizing the coronavirus pandemic in terms of data, numbers, charts, and graphs. Information design scholar Joan Donovan has characterized this trend as an "Infodemic" in its own right.

This session will focus on the affordances and concerns we may have around applying the concept of design fiction to work with data in the design of pandemic information. We will consider the relationship between quantitative knowledge and narrative, and between speculative knowledge systems and fiction. We will analyze examples of pandemic data design, highlighting the sometimes hidden role of fiction and narrative as driving forces in pandemic information design. We will consider concepts including surveillance and speculative prediction. Ultimately we will focus on fiction and narrative at the interface of quantitative-qualitative pandemic systems design work. The first half of the workshop will be devoted to case studies and keywords, the second portion to data design. 

Lisa Cartwright is known for her writing about visual culture and the body in feminist science and technology studies and working at the intersections of art and medical history and critical theory. She is currently Professor of Visual Arts at UCSD with additional appointments in the Department of Communication and the graduate Science Studies Program and an affiliation with the program in Critical Gender Studies.

Sept 23 w/ Camille Nebeker 
Imagining the ethical, legal and social implications of digital contact tracing

This session will explore the digital symptom tracking and contact tracing solutions being considered for deployment in San Diego and factors that will impact adoption by various community stakeholders. States, municipalities and employers are, to varying degrees, considering how to manage and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Contact tracing is one strategy used to identify how and where the virus is spreading. It is commonly used in public health to identify and notify people who have been exposed to an infected person. Traditional contact tracing involves a workforce of trained investigators who contact people who test positive, in our case for COVID-19, to narrow down the scope of viral exposure. No doubt this surveillance process takes time and resources yet, can be very effective in mitigating the spread of disease. Digital solutions are being developed and deployed to augment and/or replace the traditional method of contact tracing.

Dr. Camille Nebeker is an Associate Professor in the School of Medicine at the UCSD. Dr. Nebeker is affiliated with the Divisions of Behavioral Medicine and Global Health in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health. Her research focuses on the design of research/bioethics educational initiatives designed for traditional and non-traditional learners with a goal of trainee’s understanding and appreciation of factors that influence the ethical and responsible conduct of research.