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Design Fiction

The other day I was reading a back issue of SEED magazine, wherein they had printed some stories of Science Fiction. Not as in fiction about the future, but fiction about science (e.g. the first story features Thomas Edison). I thought … hmmm … what would Design Fiction be like? Herewith …

Night Shift

Sharon was woken by the sound of her name spoken in an unfamiliar voice. Her eyes fluttered open and focused on a rack of bronze trophies. “We’re ready in about 5 minutes,” the voice said. She unstuck her arms from the leather couch and sat up. Her partner, Chris, looked at her blearily from an armchair. “We’re getting there,” he said, and stood up.

Minutes later they were walking down a corridor of closed doors and linoleum tile. As they opened the pressroom door the throb of machines woke them up properly. Sharon’s eyes flitted, as always, past the bins of make-ready, but with less interest than usual; kittens overprinted with real-estate agents … she just wanted to go home.

As they approached the press—was it the daylight balanced light?—something strange, something glowing from the man standing there. He radiated. Do men radiate? Do pressmen radiate? She looked at his eyes—surely the same aquamarine as the cover of their piece. The very same, so unusual, it must be the light and perhaps the time of night. But there he stood, glowing and radiating. Unearthly. And something else … his shirt had a familiar texture. Again, how strange, just like the cover stock. What a coincidence, she thought. It’s like he’s wrapped up in my design piece, or reflecting little bits of it back.

He smiled, held out his hand. “Hi. Jim,” he said. His hand was warm—electric. She didn’t know what to say, but held it for a second longer than necessary. When they let go, he gestured to the sheet and stood aside. Her hand tingled.

It looked OK. Not brilliant, just OK. “Uhuh.” said Chris, and she felt him struggling to say something useful. They were here, and there was an urge to feel a need to be here. “What do you think?” Chris said to her. She looked hard at the sheet, but noticed the pressman’s—Jim’s­—hand beside it. Was that Blue 072 under his thumbnail? Why would he have ink under his thumbnail? Do they mix ink? She didn’t think so. He had absorbed more bits. He was becoming hers.

The colour on the sheet looked uneven. “Does the colour look uneven?” she said, “It looks … lighter over here to me. I don’t know.”

“Yeah it does,” said Chris. “That’s what I thought.”

“Mmmm …” Jim took the densitometer and laid it on top. “It’s reading the same. I don’t see it.”

At that moment Sharon noticed a tattoo on his arm. The design! The same artwork she had made for the back cover! How?

“Can you bring it up over here?” asked Chris.

“Well, it’s the same. That’s 072, right? Tricky colour. But it’ll dry back just fine.”

His arm moved in front of her. It was the same art, or close enough … she wanted to reach out and touch it, stop him, ask him. She leaned heavily against the table.

“Hey, are you allright?” Jim and Chris moved to catch her. She leaned into Jim; again that peculiar warmth. Vibrant.

“It must be the ink … the fumes maybe. I’m OK, I think. Just …”

Again she looked at his arm and saw the lines she had so clearly drawn herself. There, on his skin. Her colour in his eyes, another on his fingers. Like he rolled off her page. He let go of her.

“Well,” said Chris, back to the sheet, “I guess it’s OK, if you’re sure it’s even.”

“Yup.” Jim handed Chris a pen, but Sharon reached out and took it. Brushed his hand, to feel him again.

“I’ll sign off.”

“OK. We should be back on in about an hour.”

As they were leaving she looked back. Jim was looking at her, and smiled as he crossed his arms, baring the tattoo, which he touched with his fingers as though to say, “See? I know you.”

They walked back down the hall. “Jesus Christ,” said Chris, “Who do you have to be to get on press during the day, fuckin’ Ivan Chermayeff?”

“Did you see that guy’s tattoo?”

“Who, the press guy? Yeah it was a ship.”

She stopped Chris and turned him to face her, “What? No! The one on his arm! Didn’t you see it?”

“Yeah, it was a fuckin’ sailing ship, like he’s Mr. Sailor Man.”

“Chris, no! It was my artwork! From the back cover! It was mine!”

“What are you talking about? That guy, Jim, right? On his beefy right forearm?”

“It was my artwork!”

“Sharon … I dunno, it’s late, we’re tired, I think your eyes are playing tricks. And fuck, that colour better be fine or I’m going to be pissed.”

Sharon laughed nervously, uncertain now … “How about his eyes, and his shirt, did you notice?”

Chris just looked at her and shook his head. “Coffee,” he said, as they entered the waiting room.

Sharon slumped on the couch and looked around. Printed books and samples on the coffee table, a nubbly beige carpet on the floor, the silent TV. Was she just in some kind of heightened state? Would other colours and coincidences emerge from this room? But it all seemed normal. Familiar, a typical printer’s waiting room. She thought about Jim. The tattoo. It hadn’t been just a glimpse, she’d looked at it hard, close. It was hers. She tried to think … had she posted it anywhere online, and maybe he rushed out and had it tattooed? How quick, how fresh would that have to be? And of course not … she never posted things before they were done. But the files had been at the printer’s for two weeks. That had to be it. But still…. Maybe it was fake. A temporary tattoo? He saw the artwork and did some kind of photomechanical transfer…. A joke? A sign? She sighed. She remembered the feel of his hand in hers. A sign, maybe.

“Last one, Share, and then we’re outta here. Fuck. Why is it that the most important form is always on last?”

“I dunno. It’s like they do it on purpose, but I don’t know why. Is there anything in the fridge?” Muffins. She unwrapped one and crumbled it into a napkin. She could smell ink. All she could think of was Jim. Electric Jim.

*

An hour later the door opened, “We’re on.” They followed this man, a smaller man, down the corridor. They were ejected from a quiet night of boredom into pounding activity. Two presses running, another with its siren going, ready to start up, and theirs lazily idling. It whispered rhythmically, like sweeping. Jim had his back to them, leaning over the sheet. He said nothing and turned to the press as they came up.

The press sheet looked like shit.

“It looks like shit.” said Chris.

“Well, uh … I wouldn’t say ‘shit’ exactly, but it could use a little, uh …”

“What’s wrong?” The voice over her shoulder.

“Well … it’s really dull.” said Chris.

“That’s the paper.” said Jim.

“Ohhh, I don’t believe this,” said Chris. “Look, we … can we bring it up? We really need to … like maybe the cyan and the yellow, can you bring them up?”

Jim moved in and leaned on the table, “Well, it’s stochastic. There’s not a lot of room to move, but I can try.”

As he pressed buttons and took readings, Sharon looked at his hands. His thumbnail … not Blue 072. Not blue at all. Dirt. There was dirt under his thumbnail—under all his nails, actually. He turned back to the press as it started up.

Chris was fumbling in his bag. Sharon turned to look at Jim. He looked different: ordinary … and his shirt—how incredibly strange—it was a regular t-shirt! Not textured at all. He must have changed it. It was kind of dirty, but still he must have changed it. He had a bald spot she hadn’t noticed before; one of his shoelaces was untied.

A new sheet. “OK, so I brought it up through here, but I don’t want to affect that photo on the other side, but it’s brighter, see?” She did not see. She looked at Chris and could tell that he did not see, either. It looked the same. “So, is that better?” Jim asked. Chris shook his head and held out a piece of paper, a printed sheet, and said, “See this? Same paper, and the photo’s from the same shoot … we need that colour, like that.” Jim took the sheet, doubtfully, and put it beside the press sheet. “Well, ours is much cleaner, much crisper … this one looks muddy.”

“It’s not muddy, it looks rich, we need this to look rich too.”

“Yeah, but on this paper—”

“—it’s the same paper!”

“Well, in order to get that colour, we’d have to make an extra plate for the cyan.”

Jim looked at Sharon. His eyes were brown.

“Well,” she said, “Let’s do it … can we do that?”

“Well, it’ll take some time, we’d have to go back into pre-press and separate it out, make a new plate, you wouldn’t get it today. You’d probably lose your spot in the queue; might be a week.”

“Well shit,” said Chris, “This is ridiculous, we didn’t have another hit for this piece …”

“Different press, different photo … I don’t know what you did.” said Jim.

Chris and Sharon exchanged helpless glances. Sharon sighed, “They’ll freak if they don’t get this by the end of the week. I think we have to let it go.”

“Is this the best you can do?” Chris asked Jim.

“Given what we’ve got … unless you want to take it off.”

Sharon looked at Jim’s arm. The tattoo was a ship.

*

The pressroom door closed behind them and they stumbled down the muffled corridor. Mute. Into the grey light of morning.


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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 3567 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Jun.27.2007 BY marian bantjes
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
moura’s comment is:

A good example of Design Fiction by a Sci-Fi writer would be William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, about a girl with a morbid sensitivity to design (especially logos) investigating the origin of a misterious web movie for a post-national guerrilla advertising agency.

On Jun.27.2007 at 06:54 AM
adelie’s comment is:

Agreed. Pattern Recognition is a good Design Fiction book.

If you haven't read it yet, you should find the time.

On Jun.27.2007 at 07:51 AM
Sam Potts’s comment is:

See also Then We Came to the End, the new novel by Joshua Ferris about an ad agency. Great scene in which a designer "teaches" the security guard Photoshop in order to not do the work himself.

On Jun.27.2007 at 10:45 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Well, it seems to me that Steve Heller and I might've woken up on the same side of the bed yesterday — though guaranteed on opposite sides of the continent! Design Fiction?, only Steve and Steve know for sure.

On Jun.27.2007 at 03:38 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Marian, I never thought that a pressman's presence, in the wee hours of the morning no less, could be so magically enhanced.

One of my many "ideas that I will do one day, when I don't have to worry about having enough time to actually do them" was (or, well, is) taking random news stories – from "kitten found in deli's wall" or "cocaine dealer found dead" – and writing stories where I would weave how a designer would/could have been part of them. Some would be non-fiction, others fiction.

Design is full of things that can be transformed into amazing story ideas.

I might just call it 79 Short Stories on Design : )

On Jun.27.2007 at 10:17 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

Design Fiction? Marian, I present you with a passage from one of the greatest works in the English language, "Ulysses;" whose lead character, Leopold Bloom is an advertising salesman. Here, Bloom acts like our favorite client: the micro-manager.

================

The foreman, without answering, scribbled press on a corner of the sheet and made a sign to a typesetter. He handed the sheet silently over the dirty glass screen.

-- Right: thanks, Hynes said moving off.

Mr Bloom stood in his way.

-- If you want to draw the cashier is just going to lunch, he said, pointing backward with his thumb.

-- Did you? Hynes asked.

-- Mm, Mr Bloom said. Look sharp and you'll catch him.

-- Thanks, old man, Hynes said. I'll tap him too.

He hurried on eagerly towards the Freeman's Journal.

Three bob I lent him in Meagher's. Three weeks. Third hint.

We see the Canvasser at work 
Mr Bloom laid his cutting on Mr Nannetti's desk.

-- Excuse me, councillor, he said. This ad, you see. Keyes, you remember.

Mr Nannetti considered the cutting a while and nodded.

-- He wants it in for July, Mr Bloom said.

He doesn't hear it. Nannan. Iron nerves.

The foreman moved his pencil towards it.

-- But wait, Mr Bloom said. He wants it changed. Keyes, you see. He wants two keys at the top.

Hell of a racket they make. Maybe he understands what I.

The foreman turned round to hear patiently and, lifting an elbow, began to scratch slowly in the armpit of his alpaca jacket.

-- Like that, Mr Bloom said, crossing his forefingers at the top.

Let him take that in first.

Mr Bloom, glancing sideways up from the cross he had made, saw the foreman's sallow face, think he has a touch of jaundice, and beyond the obedient reels feeding in huge webs of paper. Clank it. Clank it. Miles of it unreeled. What becomes of it after? O, wrap up meat, parcels: various uses, thousand and one things.

Slipping his words deftly into the pauses of the clanking he drew swiftly on the scarred-woodwork.

House of Key(e)s 
-- Like that, see. Two crossed keys here. A circle. Then here the name Alexander Keyes, tea, wine and spirit merchant. So on.

Better not teach him his own business.

On Jun.28.2007 at 12:44 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Armin, please do! And then you can make one of those little GIFs for "Fiction" so you can post it here. I eagerly await ... especially if it includes kittens.

On Jun.28.2007 at 03:16 AM
devin mckim’s comment is:

i'd imagine it'd be something like The Fountainhead


;)

also, nice prose yall

On Jun.28.2007 at 09:03 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Odd. Nobody seems to identify the Cheese Monkeys as design fiction. Why isn't there any mention of it here? And BTW, what ever happened to the film version of Cheese?

On Jun.28.2007 at 03:35 PM
Christina W’s comment is:

jPod by Douglas Coupland is kind of funny in its office scenes - it's a little more than strange in some of its other parts. They aren't designers, strictly, they're programmers working on a video game... but the office dynamics work more or less the same as any marketing department I've ever been in. The funny things are what they do for entertainment while they're 'working'... and they accidentally get rid of one of the suits by having him shipped to China and hooked on cocaine... one of the girls has this theory that all creatives are slightly autistic, so she makes this hug machine...

On Jun.28.2007 at 03:58 PM
Kevin Hopp’s comment is:

There's plenty of fiction and movies where the protagonist and/or setting is at an ad agency, or some kind of design studio.

Kind of like your story about love and connection set at a printer's office.

You should get out and find more 'design fiction' if that's what you want to call it. It's as fun as it is empowering to watch.

On Jun.29.2007 at 07:13 PM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

Tselentis' comment:

Odd. Nobody seems to identify the Cheese Monkeys as design fiction. Why isn't there any mention of it here?

There's also Logo by Todd Rhoda. It's a good, quick and fun read. He has a new book coming out called Creative Differences. Looking forward to it.

On Jul.02.2007 at 10:19 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Newsdate: June 27, 2010

IT'S NOT DESIGN FICTION ANYMORE, BUBBA


The floating head of famed design blogger Armin Vit woke in his POD of electrode chemicals to make an announcement: henceforth, Speak Up, the design blog would now be routed directly into brain implants of media designers.

Instead of antique laptops, flesh/software and the new skin information is to be sent directly to the brain through the invention of cybernetic implants in the skull. Thes implants are naturally called LOGOS. The death of the computer machine world was imminent. We had BECOME computers' extensions just as the famed Unibomber Ted Kaczynski predicted in his manifesto....

"The industrial-technological system may survive or it may break down. If it survives, it MAY eventually achieve a low level of physical and psychological suffering, but only after passing through a long and very painful period of adjustment and only at the cost of permanently reducing human beings and many other living organisms to engineered products and mere cogs in the social machine. Furthermore, if the system survives, the consequences will be inevitable: There is no way of reforming or modifying the system so as to prevent it from depriving people of dignity and autonomy."

In the past, advertising was a method of appealing for product use, but today, advertising is enforcement not selection. Now advertising IS Life.

Mr. Vit, owner of the mega-giant Pentagrammacon, who led the design team that created the logo for the half-cyborg brain implants said, "It's the next logical step, it's how we keep up with planetwide AI (artificial intelligence). If we fall behind - like flawed humans - we'll lose everything this media-enriched civilization made. We'd be merely violent apes to the Machines. These aren't merely design units we create. They ARE identity."

Critics have described the new implants as Frankenstein-like in their conception. Since the enforcement of implimentation two weeks ago - the brain implants have sparked outrage, mockery and resistance. But "resistance", as the old classic Star Trek Borgs used to say, "is futile."

Since the unveiling of the new brain implants the chairman of Microsoft, the ever-youthful severed head pod of Steve Jobs, insisted, "We don't want implants people will love, we want implants people MUST HAVE to survive, to communicate, to obey. It sounds harsh but it's the most advanced solution to sustaining non-violent life on this planet and all the others."

In the prophetic words of the Unibomber:If you think that big government interferes in your life too much NOW, just wait till the government starts regulating the genetic constitution of your children. Such regulation will inevitably follow the introduction of genetic engineering of human beings, because the consequences of unregulated genetic engineering would be disastrous.

end of message from the future:::

On Jul.03.2007 at 10:16 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

Newsdate: June 27, 2020

IT'S NOT DESIGN FICTION ANYMORE, BUBBA


The floating head of famed design blogger Armin Vit woke in his POD of electrode chemicals to make an announcement: henceforth, Speak Up, the design blog would now be routed directly into brain implants of media designers.

Instead of antique laptops, flesh/software and the new skin information is to be sent directly to the brain through the invention of cybernetic implants in the skull. Thes implants are naturally called LOGOS. The death of the computer machine world was imminent. We had BECOME computers' extensions just as the famed Unibomber Ted Kaczynski predicted in his manifesto....

"The industrial-technological system may survive or it may break down. If it survives, it MAY eventually achieve a low level of physical and psychological suffering, but only after passing through a long and very painful period of adjustment and only at the cost of permanently reducing human beings and many other living organisms to engineered products and mere cogs in the social machine. Furthermore, if the system survives, the consequences will be inevitable: There is no way of reforming or modifying the system so as to prevent it from depriving people of dignity and autonomy."

In the past, advertising was a method of appealing for product use, but today, advertising is enforcement not selection. Now advertising IS Life.

Mr. Vit, owner of the mega-giant Pentagrammacon, who led the design team that created the logo for the half-cyborg brain implants said, "It's the next logical step, it's how we keep up with planetwide AI (artificial intelligence). If we fall behind - like flawed humans - we'll lose everything this media-enriched civilization made. We'd be merely violent apes to the Machines. These aren't merely design units we create. They ARE identity."

Critics have described the new implants as Frankenstein-like in their conception. Since the enforcement of implimentation two weeks ago - the brain implants have sparked outrage, mockery and resistance. But "resistance", as the old classic Star Trek Borgs used to say, "is futile."

Since the unveiling of the new brain implants the chairman of Microsoft, the ever-youthful severed head pod of Steve Jobs, insisted, "We don't want implants people will love, we want implants people MUST HAVE to survive, to communicate, to obey. It sounds harsh but it's the most advanced solution to sustaining non-violent life on this planet and all the others."

In the prophetic words of the Unibomber:If you think that big government interferes in your life too much NOW, just wait till the government starts regulating the genetic constitution of your children. Such regulation will inevitably follow the introduction of genetic engineering of human beings, because the consequences of unregulated genetic engineering would be disastrous.

end of message from the future:::

On Jul.03.2007 at 10:20 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Thanks for that, Pesky.

On Jul.03.2007 at 11:32 PM
A’s comment is:

Also, ex-SF writer Bruce Sterling now calls himself a "design fiction" writer.

From here: "[Sterling] said that he had stopped writing science fiction for the most part, and that he mostly wrote design fiction nowdays…'not that people really can tell the difference'."

On Jul.17.2007 at 08:04 PM
Branko Lukic, Athor’s comment is:

Here is Design Fiction Book: www.nonobjectbook.com

On Oct.04.2007 at 12:52 AM