Design Telling and Retelling

Screen shot of a Google image search for the Japan Times website, encountered while tumbling down the research rabbit hole. 

“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” — Jean-Luc Godard

Lately, I ponder fiction (and reading a lot of it because, after all, it's summertime) and how it pertains to scholarly design writing. I devour a fiction book; a non-fiction book... maybe, but typically not to the same extent. This is not because one topic/genre is better than the other. It is, instead, how the author approaches the writing that appeals to me. 

What separates written accounts of data-driven research from storytelling? Both are retellings of facts, discoveries, data, and observations that happened in the past. “But there is another way in which ‘writing design’ brings design into being, and that is through criticism and reform” writes Grace Lees-Maffei in the introduction to her book, Writing Design: Words and Objects. She continues that writing on design happens after analysis, and “neutrality is recognized to be an unobtainable ideal.”

If design is written about after the fact, the way in which that story is told may be simply telling — or, retelling. Retelling is a new version of the story, however, it needn’t invent new facts or discoveries or observations. Between the bits of data are the words and forms we choose to communicate them. The retelling can be one that is faithful to data. 

Writing about (or with) design presents an opportunity to explore the difference between telling the design story and retelling it, perhaps even brushing shoulders with fictional literary devices. Fiction is usually frowned upon in scholarly publishing, but design fiction is a design practice aimed at possible futures. And this is the bit I presently navigate: using design fiction to retell the past.