Infomercials as a bridge to the real

Critical and speculative design and design fiction has often been positioned in opposition to “consumer friendly” design.

These are not designs for mass market.
These are not designs destined to be bestsellers.
These are not designs that meet obvious consumer needs and desires.

There’s a freedom to positioning design in this way: it’s carte blanche to think about objects and experiences that needn’t be tied to local consumer habits, preferences, suitable price points, material costs, distribution costs, accessibility, compatibility, and so on and so forth.

A key refrain repeatedly echoed by critical / speculative / design fiction thinkers is that these designed things need to have traversable conceptual bridges to the “here and now”.

By encountering familiar things, we have grounds on which to make informed reflections and critiques. We can make comparisons to what we know.

For these forms of design, then, it’s important that they feel like they could be real.

In the era of late-capitalism, what is more persuasive as a marker of reality than the ability to buy something?

Those of us who grew up with broadcast television are familiar with the infomercial, a long commercial masquerading as a television program. They follow a predictable format: the identification of a problem (for some or no part of the population), the accompanying presentation of a miraculous product solution, endorsements from celebrities / scientists / actors dressed as scientists, and a remarkable time limited offer that simply cannot be ignored.

Infomercials were tacky.

So tacky that they could only be real.

This is why we’re going to make infomercials for our Speculative Play “products”: because they’re a bridge to the real.


— Rilla Khaled