Written by Heather Griffin

The world around us is made up of imagined realities shaped by powerful bodies who for centuries have controlled and shaped society. Religion, state, and capital are fictional constructs used to control and coerce society to the detriment of women’s rights, the environment and the commons. But if they are imagined realities, can we reimagine alternatives that dissolve hierarchical and authoritarian power structures rooted in society.

Design has an important role to play in this and has evolved as a discipline with a shift from the material to the experiential. Critical design, speculative design and design fiction are helping to set the starting point for the future.

‘Critical design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life. As opposed to affirmative design that reinforces the status quo.’ (Dunne and Raby)

Our opinions and preconceptions are based on experiences, whether we have experienced something directly or indirectly through word of mouth or the media. An experience by definition is the knowledge or mastery of an event or subject gained through involvement in or exposure to it. Many of our preconceptions – even though they may not be based on fact – can be difficult to change. It is only through alternative experiences that we question these preconceived notions and imagined realities and begin to modify our opinions and reshape our society.

As creatives, this is a challenge we need to be acutely aware of and willing to undertake in order to help shape new narratives and change the existing systems through collaboration and social dreaming. This is where the Design of Experiences will play an important role. We begin by gaining insight, knowledge and critical thinking from multiple disciplines and applying this learning to the investigation and understanding of a current issue. Designing an experience which can be performative, immersive, a simulation, a video piece or a scenario, puts forward difficult questions. Through participation, the experience will provoke debate, create empathy and allow people to look beyond their perceived realities seeing an alternative perspective.

Another layer of this practice is working with traditional institutions, applying the same process through performative politics, narration and iteration. Challenging narrow assumptions and traditional structures to instigate change from the bottom up and create culture shifts within institutions. As creatives caught up in the chaos of a disorderly world our role as the disruptor is more important than ever where design incites a new discourse to counter today’s dominant cultures.

This is the first in a series of posts as I investigate this field of research and discover the power of experience design to shape new narratives.