Transdisciplinary Design

Micro-moments: Impact of Speculative Design

Posted on November 12, 2018 | posted by: mahas019

Sometimes I remind myself that I almost skipped that party, that I almost took a different train, that I almost spoke to that person, that I almost went to a different college, that the whim of a minute could have changed everything and everyone.

Every decision we make consciously or subconsciously has propelled us towards an entirely different universe. Sometimes we reminisce and wonder, what we would have done differently if we could go back to the past. We live in an endless loop of what could have been, analyzing and synthesizing. We arrive at an answer by collating all those multitudes of situations, yet sometimes we don’t find an answer. But we try anyway. So that if ever faced with a similar situation we could do a little better than what we did in our past. Because we are aware of the magnanimous effect those decisions and choices we make have, in these micro-moments. They hold the capability to change our entire lives.

As a child, I was always fascinated by the concept of a parallel universe. And when I came across the movie “The Butterfly Effect” I was overjoyed. It portrayed beautifully how small decisions could change our entire future. Below are few micro-moments that changed the world history. 

  • Henry Tandey was in France in 1918 fighting for the British Army when he decided to spare one young German’s life. This decision was to cost the world in ways no one could have ever imagined. Tandey was fighting to gain control of Marcoing and saw one injured German soldier trying to flee. Because he was injured Tandey could not bear to kill him so let him go. The man was Adolf Hitler.
  • In 1907, a stockbroker called Thomas Lawson wrote a book called Friday the Thirteenth, which uses the superstition of this date to cause a panic between stockbrokers on Wall Street. The book had such an effect that now the US economy loses $900 million on this day because instead of going to work, holiday, out shopping, people stay at home instead. [6]
  • In 1919, Woodrow Wilson received a letter from a young man called Ho Chi Minh who asked to meet him to discuss independence from France for Vietnam. At the time, Ho Chi Minh was quite open-minded and ready to talk, but Wilson ignored the letter which angered the young Ho Chi Minh. He went on to study Marxism, he also met Trotsky and Stalin, and became a staunch communist. Later, Vietnam did win independence from France, but the country was split into a communist north and non-communist south, with Ho Chi Minh leading the North. In the 1960’s, North Vietnamese guerrillas were attacking the south, and the USA stepped in. Something that would not have happened if Wilson had read Ho Chi Minh’s letter. [6]

I could hardly imagine writing a simple fiction book could lead to a $900 million dollar loss. Or how a simple act of kindness led to World War II. None of us could have ever predicted that a congregation is such minute events led to such a huge catastrophe. This reminds me of a quote by Steve Jobs.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward: you can only connect them looking backwards.

Let’s do a small exercise together…

For a moment, take a deep breath, close your eyes and dive into your memory palace remember your most cherished memory now ponder over the below questions.

  • What if,  that person/animal or thing that moved your heart just disappears from that memory?
  • What if, you lost a loved one that day?
  • What if, you lost your most prized possession that day?
  • What if, you were humiliated that day?

It is true, that none of these things happened. Yet, for one second if you could imagine the possibility of the above being true. Would that still be your most cherished moment? My guess, probably not.

Similarly, we all have that those moments we want to change as well

  • That one thing you wished you never said….
  • That one time you wished you showed up….
  • That one time you wished you made it………
  • That one time you wished you didn’t quit……
  • That one time you wished you took that leap of faith….

Just one or many missed opportunities. But why now?

Why do you wish to change that now?

It is not like you were oblivious to the conditions when you made the decision. You were always aware about the choices you made. Then what is it that makes you turn your head and question the decisions of your past.

  • Is it consequences?
  • Is it your dissatisfaction with the present?
  • Or is it the imagination of a better present different from the existing one?

It can one of the above reasons or all or maybe other things that I haven’t listed here. Now imagine ….

I ask you to make a decision

“ So I am thinking about this crazy idea of building something that allows everyone to visualize the results of six years into the future, so they can make the right decisions now. And you are the only person I can think off, who is innovative and creative enough help me in making this idea work. Please leave your current program, job, role..everything and join me in my start-up.”

Would you join me?…. Maybe yes or maybe no

If someone estimated statistically and told you, that I would be successful.

Would you join me?…….. A little more positive answer I am guessing.

But if I showed you, a news channel from the future which featured you and me as the CEO of an amazing company which has the highest profits.

Would you join me?…… OMG, are you still thinking?

The answer now is most likely “Yes”, in a heartbeat. But why? If I am capable of showing you a future with me, then it is highly likely I am also able to show you a future where you are not associated with me. What if …that future shows that you would be the top billionaire without me.

Would you still join me?….. Highly unlikely

Similarly, if I kept adding more crucial information that predicts your success. Your decision will change again. For example…  You will go bankrupt in 20 years on your own, but if you stayed with me you would become one of the richest people on the planet.

That micro-moment of awareness to distance yourself from being enchanted by a situation and being able to access the situation from every direction is what would have allowed you to make the right decision.

Now that I have successfully gauged you in the conversation regarding the importance of micro-moments of decision making. Let’s process to discuss how an encounter with these two small 3-minute video chip almost changed your entire future.

Did that video change your decision? Maybe… But it certainly changed the picture you painted of your future together with me in our start-up. 

Can you imagine the power that media entity as a speculation held for that micro-moment?

Speculative Design- The power it holds

Dreams are powerful. They are repositories of our desire. They can blind people to reality and provide cover for political horror. But they can also inspire us to imagine that things could be radically different than they are today, and they believe we can progress toward that imaginary world. [1]

There is a power that Speculative Design wields as a guide to make decisions. In the above extract from the book ” Speculative Everything,” the authors have introduced us to two sides of this coin where imagination can lead to innovation but blindly following these speculations could lead us to dark consequesnses. In the below paragraphs, the authors focus more deeply on the fact that Speculative design is a design tool that allows for the visualization of a parallel dimension. Yet at the same time, it does not mean these notions are unrivaled and neither does it mean that they must be turned into self-fulfilling prophecies.

Design’s inherent optimism leaves no alternative but it is becoming clear that many of the challenges we face today are unfixable and that the only way to overcome them is by changing our values, beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.[1]

Rather than giving up altogether, though, there are other possibilities for design: one is to use design as a means of speculating how things could be— speculative design. This form of design thrives on imagination and aims to open up new perspectives on what are sometimes called wicked problems, to create spaces for discussion and debate about alternative ways of being, and to inspire and encourage people’s imaginations to flow freely. Design speculations can act as a catalyst for collectively redefining our relationship to reality.[1]

Increasingly, our world is guided by speculations. In some capacity, these speculations have led us to manifest them. And complimented with statistical analysis that can be extrapolated to show the increasing possibility of the speculated situation occurring. It not only strengthens the assumptions and but also turns these into a prophecy which is manifested into a reality.

The most prominent example would be the influence of Science Fiction on the current technological advancements.

Example: Influence of Science Fiction on Science and Technology 

Hear Alastair Reynolds and Hannu Rajaniemi explain science fiction’s relevance to the modern world. [7]

Below are few examples of Science Fiction elements which have been materialized.

  • Transparent Aluminum as featured in the Star Trek universe has since become a reality as Aluminium oxynitride (ALONtm), patented in 1985. [3]
  • Tractor/Repulsor Beams have been realized as Laser-based Optical tweezers, and more recently as a pair of Bessel beams.[4] These instruments use the radiation from the laser beam to manipulate microscopic particles in what is called an “optical trap”. Fictional Tractor beams have been prominently used in the Star Wars universe and in the Star Trek universe. [3]
  • Artificial Vision/Prosthetic Eyes Visual prosthesis has been a topic of experiments since the late 20th century. Notable characters using artificial vision include all characters from the Ghost in the Shell series who use prosthetic bodies e.g. Batou’s ranger eyes, Saito’s left eye, and Motoko Kusanagi’s artificial eyes, Geordi La Forge from the Star Trek: The Next Generation series who made use of a VISOR and later; ocular implants, RoboCop from the RoboCop series, Spike Spiegel from the Cowboy Bebop anime series, and the Illusive Man from the Mass Effect series of video games.[3]
  • Tricorder The Lab-On-a-Chip Application Development-Portable Test System (LOCAD-PTS) used by astronauts on the International Space Station is designed specifically to biochemical molecules with the purpose of “identifying microbes on space station services” through use of the Gram Staining Method. Though less advanced than the fictional tricorder of the Star Trek series. The Tricorder featured in the Star Trek universe was capable of measuring almost anything, from the chemical composition of explosives to the life signs of a dying humanoid. The LOCAD-PTS does not differentiate between live and dead test material yet.[3]

In conclusion, all these examples leading up the fact that Speculative Design has the power to shape the future by influencing our ability to perceive alternate futures through its intervention is micro-moments of decision making. So as to not be blinded by these visions into parallel dimensions and turning them into a self-fulfilling prophecy, one must recognize that these are just options and they need to be carefully designed to give us insight into decision making rather than paralyzing our ability to view through multiple lenses.



  1. Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, MIT Press, 2013.
  2. Elizabeth Howell, Contributor, Parallel Universes: Theories & Evidence, May 2018
  3. Technology in scince friction, Wikipedia, October 2016,
  4.  When Science Friction inspires real technology, MIT Technology Review, April 2018,
  5. How does science fiction influence the real world?, The Economist, March 2018

  6. 8 Examples of Butterfly effect that changed the world forever, Janey Davies, May 2017,
  7. Science friction when the future is now, Nature, December 2017