Reflective Paper: Speculative Design on Autonomous Vehicles
This blog is a reflective piece on an academic group project at IADT Dún Laoghaire.
Design allows us to formulate solutions that are beyond the constraints of technology, societal status quo and even beyond the constraints of the present. In speculative design, we are allowed to design for possible futures (Dunne & Raby, 2014). Designing for the future means using conventional design methods combined with future thinking to investigate current trends, called signals (Cathcart, 2019). Examples of signals are artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and virtual reality just to name a few.
Our course group chose autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving cars, are vehicles that can sense its environment and move with little or no human input (Science Foundation Ireland, n.d.). Our group hypothesised on what a driverless car meant for certain individuals, for Ireland and for Europe, on a scaled level (See Figure 1). However, we aimed for a design that was meaningful on a personal level, so we scaled down to an individual level.
Everyone in the team collaborated efficiently and had resources to spare especially in filming the narrative of our design. Sorcha acted as our project manager and made sure we were all aligned with our goal. She facilitated our meetings in a timely manner, and she even recruited members of her family for the acting and filming part of the project. Christina polished our script for our story making sure that there were no plot holes (See Figure 2). I designed the user interface (UI) for the autonomous vehicle and animated them. The overall project went very well and had a very satisfying outcome.
Our success was not without challenge though. Our group relied on video calls for clear communication but at times one of us would have poor internet connection. Animating the high-fidelity UI was also challenging as motion graphics was not a specialty of mine.
Narrating the story of the design visually is vital because speculative design is best explained through examples (Google [Google Design], 2019). While autonomous vehicles can be applauded for the benefits that they can bring, it is also important to prepare for inconvenient challenges that come with it. Autonomous vehicles can go wrong for certain individuals and such user pain points should be avoided. For example, our project empathised how a child would feel while riding an autonomous vehicle without their parents. Would they be thrilled, or would they be scared? Would a parent feel comfortable allowing their children to ride alone (See Figure 3)? You can watch the full video of our group’s design here.
Speculative design is important as it helps to bring discussions on ethics or the impact of design on environment and culture can be brought on the forefront of the design process. For example, an autonomous car traveling from Ireland to Italy must consider not just the different language in road signs but the different road orientation as well. That type of scenario needs to be considered in the design process.
Cathcart, C. (2019, July 15). Improving digital experience with Speculative Design. Medium. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://medium.com/sainsburys-digital-experience/improving-digital-experience-with-speculative-design-40556c4747f5
Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming (The MIT Press) (Illustrated ed.). The MIT Press.
Google [Google Design]. (2019, February 13). Design Is [Speculative] Futures Design Thinking — a new toolkit for preemptive design [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UB9UVHGI6AI&t=114s
Science Foundation Ireland. (n.d.). What is an Autonomous Vehicle? Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://www.sfi.ie/research-news/news/science-week-robot-car/