Have you ever heard of design fiction? WALDENLABS’ John Robb explains it this way: “Design fiction is a way for designers and artists to visually depict the future in inspiring ways. Typically, design fiction is associated with how technology will change our future.” But in my opinion he misses an important aspect of design fiction with this definition.

Robb offers examples of companies that are developing products, and have put together videos to show how those products might be used in the future. He suggested that one by Corning, “A Day Made of Glass,” is an excellent example. Check it out here:

It was made in 2011, but it still looks pretty futuristic (except in a few of the ways that women are portrayed–did you catch them? Some are subtle, others quite blatant). What struck me most forcibly however, was how old that “art form” of design fiction by companies making products really is, and how it actually misses the mark if you want to think of it as “art.”

Robb conflates corporate “design fiction” with science fiction, pointing to Star Trek‘s best-known innovations, communicators (leading to the development of cell phones), and glass computers (later realized as touchscreens). SF readers need not look far to point out other innovations first portrayed in science fiction.

Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his shipmates used an inspiring computer unlike anything the 1960s had seen before. Star Trek wasn’t created to sell computers (or cell phones), however.

But corporate design fiction is created for different reasons from those that give birth to science fiction. If you followed my October Images of Interest, you saw several examples of corporate design fiction, especially in regard to kitchenscars, and houses. They present fascinating glimpses, but they were made primarily as marketing tools, to create brand identity and to sell the companies’ products of that day, by association with their futuristic visions.

Science fiction offers a viewpoint, too, of course. Each individual science fiction writer has developed his or her own unique viewpoints (yes, often more than one). But science fiction is not primarily designed to preach, teach, or sell products.

Our wheelhouse, we must always remember, is to shine a light on new thoughts, ideas, and potential problems . . . and also always to entertain, beguile, and if possible, enrich our readers’ lives. If those technological wonders we invent in the course of doing that become real someday, well, that’s icing on the cake.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Corning via YouTube, for the “A Day Made of Glass” video, and to Subspace Communique for the photo of Mr. Spock and his computer.