DS 95: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2019), University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. 12th -13th September 2019

Year: 2019
Editor: Bohemia, Erik; Kovacevic, Ahmed; Buck, Lyndon; Brisco, Ross; Evans, Dorothy; Grierson, Hilary; Ion, William; Whitfield, Robert Ian
Author: Germany, Jason O'Neill; Lund, Justin
Series: E&PDE
Institution: University of Washington, United States of America
Section: Changing Innovation Landscapes 2
DOI number:
ISBN: 978-1-912254-05-7


Designers have long embraced uncertainty as a profession. Iterative approaches to problem solving and a desire to develop these alternatives into a final concepts are the underlying structure of the design process. Based on that, designers are increasingly taking on the role of future forecaster. That being said, design education is challenged to find appropriate methods to address and prepare students for a role in envisioning the future. Situated between contemporary problems and speculative ones, design fiction provides a potential platform for exploring the future. One such future experience is that of commercial space travel.

Early missions into space were large government funded initiatives that supported the efforts of a select few individuals to go into space and report back about their discoveries. Recently, there has been a surge in interest in the private space sector producing such visible players as Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin. This marks the dawn of space tourism where humans will be able to stay in space hotels, travel to the moon, and beyond. This also represents a shift towards an area of tourism that has no historic examples to drawn from and subjects tourists to environments and experiences that no designer has ever had, nor has the ability to directly reflect upon. What methods can designers use to empathize with this type of inaccessible experience?

With the pace of change accelerating at a rate not previously seen, the problem of future framing and designing for experiences that have not yet materialized is something that educators are beginning to introduce into regular design and engineering curriculum. This paper disseminates the approach to designing for this emerging future through an industry collaboration course that explored the future of commercial space travel for the year 2030. In combination with TEAGUE Aviation Studio (, the aim of this course was to have undergraduate industrial design students explore what a seven day journey around the moon would entail and then design concepts for the resulting habitable spacecraft. To approach the intangible experience of space travel, students were challenged to consider activities and environments that were far removed from their everyday experiences. Unlike some traditional user centered research methods that might leverage interviews, observations or other direct engagement with research participants, this course asked students to develop their own empathic and immersive research methods. These methods were then leveraged to develop journey stories as a launching point for the actual design concepts. Coupling these two problem framing strategies of empathic immersive research and storytelling exposed both opportunities and some limitations.

Keywords: Space travel, design fiction, storytelling, empathetic research


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