Thesis Concept

“Designers ignore - at our own and others' peril-the extent to which any act of design is an act both of prefiguring a future social milieu but also the erasure of multiple possible alternatives. Design, for Fry, both designs and keeps on designing.” (Clarke 2011)


What Tony Fry calls, Defuturing is a guiding principle for my thesis. I want to build upon my explorations into screen-less design that promotes connectivity as well as explore the potential impact which climate change may have on our lives. By imagining a series of little objects or wearables that contend with the climate extremes over fifty to one hundred years in the future. Much like the image below, I want to explore a futuristic design fiction, which combines critical design, storytelling, and physical computing to contemplate the way we might mitigate climate change over time. The fantasy of an artist in 1900 (The Public Domain Review 2014), imagining a world under water, may become a reality in the year 2050. Islands like the Maldives are planning to evacuate thousands of citizens as the rising sea is covering their homes and California is facing the worst drought in decades. How might design be employed to call attention to and help plan for these new challenges?


I am motivated by explorations in materials, technology and story. Right now I am working on material and technology prototypes, but I will begin writing a future looking narrative to inform my design.  I would like my project to examine speculative narrative with concretized, physical objects that exist as relics of a possible future. I would like to explore synesthesia, or the transforming of one sense, such as temperature or touch into another, such as visuals or music. I would like to create sensory prototypes that reflect information and experience without a screen.

Precedents and Domains


I am studying Climate Change because I want to find out how climate change will affect us in 50 years in order to Design new clothes and accessories to accommodate those changes. I am focusing my inquiry into the desert regions of California, because that is where I am from. I have seen first hand, the effects and experienced the temperature extremes common to that area. I want to find out how best to live in balance with the extremities of temperature in order to design wearables that enhance the human body’s ability to mediate that environment.

The U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) in 2013 released a set of future climate change scenarios developed by multiple agencies in consultation with an NCA working group whose members include both university-based and Federal research scientists. These scenarios project the possible changes in temperature, climate, lifestyle, water supply, rainfall in each section of the U.S.  The Southwest report cautions about extreme weather conditions and predicts an increase in temperature between five and ten degrees between the years 2041 - 2070 and parts of California may experience more than 150 days per year where the temperature is over 95F. This kind of heat combined with droughts and flooding in seasons with rain and a dwindling groundwater supply could completely change where and how people live. (Scenarios for Climate Assessment and Adaptation 2013, 42)

I am studying Dystopian Futures because I want to find out how to craft a narrative about the future in order to predict and invent design fictions that can address that narrative. One influence on my thinking is JG Ballard’s novel, The Drowned World. The Drowned World explores earth after a series of solar flares have increased the intensity of the sun’s heat and radiation, where most of the previously habitable areas flooded, tropical jungle or swamps. The story follows the biologist Dr Robert Kerans and his struggles against the devolutionary impulses of the environment. The changing climate gives all the characters strange dreams, which haunt their waking life. I’m inspired by this projection of the future as people become more in tune and connected to the landscape around them. As nature changes the climate in dramatic ways we  may be forced to examine our own connectivity and place within the larger ecosystem.

Wearable designs such as Kobikant’s “The Crying Dress”, Chiu Chih's “survival kit for the ever-changing planet”, and Diffus’s “Climate Dress” all address the issue of climate change through wearable technology.

Diffus’s Climate Dress is laced with hundreds of tiny LEDs that respond to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Powered by an Arduino Lilypad microprocessor and a carbon dioxide detector, the haute-tech frock uses conductive embroidery to transmit information to the hand-stitched lights, resulting in patterns that range from slow pulses to rapid flashes depending on the concentration of the greenhouse gas. (Ecouterre 2014)

Climate dress uses CO2, one of the principal causes of climate change and ozone erosion, to create visual patterns on a garment; this dress confronts us with our own environmental destruction in a beautiful display what creates a dark paradox.


My first paper prototype combines paper engineering, soft circuits and a new idea. When thinking about my project I imagine the future in 50 years, when climate change has progressed to create temperature extremes and air pollution issues. I want to investigate the way in which we might adapt our clothing and fashion items to address these climate and environmental shifts.

Hand held fans are traditional in many cultures where people have had to live in warm climates. They provide man made cooling and comfort when it is very warm out. I wanted to use this object as a template for a new kind of fashion and comfort accessory. I imagine a fan that would turn on when you unfold it and sense the particulates in the air and change a series of LEDs to indicate the relative air quality near the user.  As the air gets worse, the fan's led pattern will be more beautiful, brighter, more vibrant. I imagine the fan will look amazing in the very polluted central valley of California and look very simple and plain in the clean sea air of Honolulu, Hawaii.  

My current prototype is a proof of concept of a switch which turns an LED on when the fan is held in the hand. It was constructed with one LED, conductive thread, copper tape, a removable 3V battery, wood and paper.

Questions and Concerns

I am not sure how to connect the narrative of a future audience to the present day prototypes I am creating. I am also worried about making the future target audience clear, while making sure the audience in the present who contemplates and interacts with the designs I create is included in my thinking about the designs. In some way I am designing for two very different audiences. One is a very particular, projected future person living in California in the year 2070 and the other is the current MFADT community and the broader technology/design community in 2015. I am investigating the following questions:

  • Who is likely to wear new tech that responds to temperature and toxicity shifts?

  • What will the temperatures be like on the planet in 50-100 years?

  • How might we design wearables that provide comfort given the projected extremes of temperature within already dry regions of California?

  • What are the projected temperature changes in fifty years?


Ballard, J. G. Drowned World. Doubleday, 1962.

Clarke, Alison J. "Chapter Two." Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century. Wien: Springer, 2011. 36. Print.

"Climate Dress by Diffus." Ecouterre Climate Dress by Diffus Comments. Accessed September 17, 2014.

"The Crying Dress." KOBAKANT. Accessed September 17, 2014.

"France in the Year 2000." The Public Domain Review. Accessed August 20, 2014.

"Regional Climate Trends and Scenarios for the U.S. National Climate Assessment. Part 5. Climate of the Southwest U.S." Home. Accessed September 17, 2014.

"Chiu Chih's Survival Kit for the Ever-changing Planet - Designboom | Architecture & Design Magazine." Designboom Architecture Design Magazine Chiu Chihs Survival Kit for the Everchanging Planet Comments. Accessed September 17, 2014.