Transdisciplinary Design

Diving into the Past and Speculative Embodiment: African-American Design Thinking

Posted on November 12, 2018

Diving into the Past and Speculative Embodiment:

African-American Design Thinking

Speculative Design

Courtesy of :

I am my Ancestors wildest dreams. #CreatingTheCulture

“Speculative design can flourish—providing complicated pleasure, enriching our mental lives, and broadening our minds in ways that complement other media and disciplines. It’s about meaning and culture, about adding to what life could be, challenging what it is, and providing alternatives that loosen the ties reality has on our ability to dream. Ultimately, it is a catalyst for social dreaming.” (pg 189) [1]

Contemplating this framework from African American history cracks open a possibility of how speculative design is perhaps already being embodied and practiced while also a created tool today.

I am curious of the real time Speculative Design that individuals practice. In small actions enhancing who we are and how it has started to craft new possibilities and futures and opportunities never given before. Small acts of being, resistance, and creation of the culture is creating a new future. A future we never had. How could the current embodiment and practice be instead enhanced with speculative design?  How oppressed and marginalized groups survive and sustain for future generation.

As my experience of being African American and community organizing I will reflect from this perspective. In themes in holding tight to history, progress, and small acts of resistance. History of enslaved African Americans there was an element of design and futuring with relentless strides towards making such a reality. [2] Small ways striving towards what is possible – always holding tight to being free in our souls. This spirit and continued strides towards justice continues. A future of a freed people not fully attained but also an embodied spirit and press towards opportunity.

In speculative design “It aims to be inspirational, infectious, and catalytic, zooming out and stepping back to address values and ethics. It strives to overcome the invisible wall separating dreams and imagination from everyday life, blurring distinctions between the “real” real and the “unreal” real. The former exists in the here-and-now, whereas the latter lies behind glass screens, within the pages of books, and locked in people’s imaginations.” (Pg 160)[1]

I am curious how much more history should be present into this fold. For when I think of how history and future generation drives small steps forward. What were the sources to recreate a new world and embodied action towards change – all while having limited access to resources, education, and more. A space rich of history that has made strides to overcome, resist, and strive towards a new world. Many marginalized groups I believe can add rich perspective and insight on such.

In the past- Freedom in the soul. The speculative future of Freedom is there, it is simply making the reality happen. Yet also the battle of cracking the frameworks that have left us bonded, discriminated against, and without opportunity.

The story that is often told our ancestors holding tight to the belief that we are free in our souls. Often religion also being a narrative of freedom. The Then MLK jr. I have a dream speech.[3] And many more. Many of these offer a new reality and vision of hope yet it was not yet seen.

Yet, their has also been moments of simply being that has futured possibility for African Americans. In this case yes the tool of a movie giving sight to African Americans in STEM like ” Hidden Figures”[4] – but in this case pulling stories from our past as answers to today. To give a new hope and vision of possibility. Which instead pulls from the past to create new possibility. In the speculative space I believe this is important to note for often a proper education, stories, and enrichment of marginalized groups is not supported and our stories are still emerging to give inspiration.

Yet, also in this there have been present day small acts of resistance that is creating future for African American people to not be discriminated towards. Moving towards Acts of wearing natural hair, wearing the durag, minimally or no longer Code switching, yet still leading in academic, work, and other spaces- giving room for the culture, future, and opportunity- doing both yet protecting my brother and sister from being discriminated against because of how they choose to embody elements of the culture. A logic of “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”- Audre Lorde [5]

These actions are not speculative yet simply walking and acting in life that we are free, though that is not always the case. A disregard for what is told around us to simply being and doing and working towards the future we want to see. Simply fully embracing who we are, has started to craft new possibilities and futures and opportunities never given before. Small acts of being, resistance, and creation of the culture is creating a new future. A future we never had.

Social media movements also giving a sense of embodied speculative design that creates new hope, future, and life everyday. An example of such is #BlackGirlMagic [6] that gives empowerment and #IamMyAncestorsWildestDreams [7] that keeps a grounded perspective yet gives the push to keep dreaming and pressing towards the future. There are many more – these examples being simple hashtags but each take a life of it’s own within the large community and as individuals take it on.

I am new to such thought of speculative design. Yet, I am excited to dive into more ideas of an embodied and intentional tools of speculative design currently in practice that could add to the framework of speculative Design such as listed below:

  1. Tools and Lessons of perseverance of marginalized groups
  2. Value of history and the past
  3. Affect of larger schema “American dream” vs reality
  4. Embodied acts of speculative design
  5. Activist Theory and Practices
  6. Acts of Resistance as Futuring
  7. Self-preservation as speculative design/futuring
  8. Afrofuturism


As the book mentions ,“But to do this, we need more pluralism in design, not of style but of ideology and values.” (pg9)[1] Many are still making progress for such height. It is not perfect but I hope it adds breadth. Yet in progress, I remember our Ancestors and the many heights we had to climb. Their speculative future of hope and we keep this vision going.

We are our Ancestors wildest dreams.

-Jonique Lyles


1)Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby


3)I have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr.