I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Prof. Robert Thomas’ Collaborative Design For Innovation class at Georgetown University. The curriculum is fantastic – something I could keep studying for a long time – and Robert and his class were welcoming and attentive. Afterwards, one of the students I was speaking with noted that I had listed a number of fiction – science fiction in particular – works in my annual reading list, and asked why.
At the very core of their practice, designers are clearly tasked with imagining the future state of a product or service. Herb Simon said that “The process of design is a continual cycle of generating alternatives and testing to evaluate them.” I’ve always had a fondness for speculative fiction, and it informs my ability to create and iterate solutions by training my mind to think beyond present realities and imagine different ways of doing things, big and small. When I was in graduate school at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design, Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age was required reading. One of the greatest science fiction authors, Arthur C. Clarke, was also credited with inventing a number of significant scientific breakthroughs. In much the same way, I enjoy traveling to different countries where I can experience a significant culture shock.
I highly recommend that designers read science fiction periodically. It doesn’t need to be stereotypical rockets-and-lasers stuff, either: there’s quite a bit of work being produced today that is excellent. I came across a few readings related to this that might be worth digging into for more inspiration:
Why Todays Inventors Need To Read More Science Fiction and mentioned in there is Sophia Bruekner’s class on scifi