Fools and Fiction

Earlier this month was that day of the year again, where every firm that thinks of itself as creative does some fun April fools’ project for publicity or to briefly increase their stock value…

Interestingly, many of these projects can also be seen as a form of design fiction. The products often stay in the realm of the possible or plausible in order to fool people  — even though through their exaggerated presentations they hardly fool anyone. However, this new tradition of corporate April fools’ projects is opening a space that allows a bit more imagination into the daily practice of these companies. The employers doing these projects still have to distance themselves by depicting the ideas as completely ridiculous, but it is a space where they can work completely imaginatively. And might be able to tap into a creative potential that is repressed most of the time.

Sometimes, the boundary between the April fools’ speculations and real research is becoming blurred. IDEO.org created a Guide to Cat-Centered Design, which even fooled Anne Galloway of the more-than-human lab shortly into thinking IDEO was starting to take part in the field of design for non-humans. It’s not like IDEO is taking the idea seriously, but still, they engaged with a fair amount of empathy with the needs of an animal and created a pretty comprehensive guide. I’m intrigued by the potential of exposing the public to speculative ideas and have them engage in a lighthearted way, which is not likely with academic niche projects.

Jay McDaniel had an interesting idea concerning humor and novel ideas, which fits perfectly in this context:

“One function of laughter in human life is to relinquish the familiar in openness to the New. Indeed when we laugh at and with Reggie Watts in his Ted talk, delighting in his creative nonsense, we are, for the moment, responding to the lure toward comedy. A space opens up in our heart so that we can become more open-minded and open-hearted.“

I’m not sure if this applies to the design fiction of April fools’ because the projects always have this cynical undertone. It’s not like Louis C.K. ruminating about why he hates cell phones, where we laugh about his rhetoric and unique way of telling a story, but don’t instantly dismiss his message. Maybe the April fools’ projects work better as critical design by commenting on the current state of society. This year there was a whole bunch of jokes doing just this, addressing the prevailing selfie obsession: There was an Honda HR-V Selfie Edition, Selfie Shoes by Miz Mooz and a Wooden Selfie Stick by Motorola.

If companies would recognize the potential of this April fools’ design practice to expose the public to more imaginative ideas, it could be an interesting tool to facilitate public discussion about our possible futures. But as long as the projects remain so uninspired, this will probably not happen.

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