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Speculative Design (VA30)

The role of designers in imagining alternative futures for a world in crisis has never been more important. Speculative Design is an artistic approach that emphasizes new ideas and solutions for the present that involve thinking through the future, putting design questions like “what if?” and “for whom?” ahead of market and industry imperatives.  The Speculative Design Major prepares students for creative arts-based design practices fueled by critical speculative thinking and consideration of people, beings, and ideas usually marginalized by design. Situated in a visual arts department, we engage in research-based art practice, interdisciplinary writing, and design for social change. The major bridges computing in the arts, film and photography, digital media, studio art, public culture and community-based practice, and history, criticism, and theory. We encourage students to engage in the transformation of communities, ecologies, technology, and geopolitics through design. Debate about design values, possibilities, and outcomes is encouraged in a curriculum that offers a mix of studio, laboratory, lecture, and seminar classes. Each student in the major builds a portfolio that reflects aesthetic, social, and critical design thinking. Through project-based learning, we prepare aspiring design artists, graphic designers, urban designers, and design critics and scholars to imagine possible futures for our diverse and more than human world.

Major Curriculum Sheet:

Please note, the department is implementing changes to the curriculum, be sure to select the appropriate curriculum sheet below. Contact an academic advisor if you are not sure which version of the curriculum you should follow.

For Students Declared Fall 2021 and Later

For Students Declared Fall 2016 to Spring 2021

Students with the major declared prior to Fall 2016 need to contact an academic advisor for the appropriate curriculum sheet.

Speculative Design Faculty Info

Memo Akten works with emerging technologies as both an artistic medium, and also a subject matter. In his classes he seeks to provide students with a historical, conceptual and critical background, as well as the practical and technical development skills to conceive, develop and produce works in these domains. In particular, the topics he covers include Artificial Intelligence / machine learning/ deep learning; virtual / augmented / mixed reality; procedural / generative / computational media.

Amy Alexander teaches artist-inventor-programmers with an eye toward helping them on their way to inventing the media of the future.  She programs in Python, Max/MSP/Jitter, Processing, and more, focusing on developing strategies for critical approaches to machine learning and computer vision in cinematic art practice. Her courses intersect the Visual Arts majors in Interdisciplinary Computing Major and Speculative Design.

Lisa Cartwright's courses in the Speculative Design major are mostly in design history and theory, sometimes with a focus on art and media’s relationship to science and technology. She also teaches about feminism, critical theory, identity,  and the politics of cultural difference.  Visual Culture is her large GE class that introduces practices of looking in social and political context across art, media, design, and the built environment. Her courses intersect the Visual Arts majors in Media and Speculative Design.

Jordan Crandall’s teaching focuses on narrative fiction that is engaged with technoscientific research, functions in a speculative capacity, and pursues innovative combinations of genre and form — argumentation and allegory, social criticism and satire, philosophical dialogue and adventure-fantasy, for example. His work combines media art, speculative fiction, performance art, and media theory.

For Teddy Cruz, Speculative Design means new conceptual and creative processes that blur the boundaries between established artistic fields, retooling ourselves to tackle the urgencies of a changing and increasingly unjust world. Teddy teaches topics including public culture, public space, art and the city; design of urban ecologies, cross-border urbanizations, and architectural design practices.

For Ricardo Dominguez, Speculative Design means learning from indigenous futurism, Farm Worker futurism, Afro-futurism and design justice communities who are developing practices that center on people who are normally marginalized by design. It also means using collaborative processes and creative practices to address the challenges that minority communities face on a planetary scale now.  His courses include our master studio for seniors and a lecture class on The Undead.

Alena Williams teaches courses in the Speculative Design Major that focus on the aesthetic, social, and political implications of technology in visual representation. She focuses on the exploration of avant-garde art and design practices of the early twentieth century, the nascent beginnings of computer art in the late twentieth century, and contemporary practices and theories of art, media, technology, and the environment. Her courses intersect the Visual Arts majors in Art History, Media, and Speculative Design.

Pinar Yoldas's work develops within biological sciences and digital technologies through architectural installations, kinetic sculpture, sound, video and drawing with a focus on post-humanism, eco-nihilism, anthropocene and feminist technoscience. She holds a Ph.D. from Duke University where she was affiliated with Duke Institute of Brain Sciences and Media Arts and Sciences. She holds a Bachelors of Architecture from Middle East Technical University, a Master of Arts from Bilgi University, a Master of Science from Istanbul Technical University and a Master of Fine Arts from University of California, Los Angeles.

What skills will this program teach students?

  • Design research, concept, and production skills including 2D and 3D computer rendering and modeling, prototype and object construction oriented to current social and environmental concerns
  • Conceptual and rhetorical strategies for creative and critical thinking about design, design values, and design possibilities and outcomes
  • Understanding and responding to human and nonhuman contexts
  • Mobilizing public interests through design strategies

What is this program preparing students to do after graduation?

  • Work in design professions such as architecture, graphic design, web design, environmental design
  • arts-based design and/or media practice
  • design teaching
  • preparation for higher education in any of the above fields with the goal of professional development and/or teaching in a college or university

What equipment, software and tools are utilized in this program?

  • Computers
  • 3D printers
  • photo and video equipment
  • milling and manufacture equipment
  • laser engravers and cutters
  • A variety of 2D and 3D design programs and software

What distinguishes this program from those that are similar?

  • Distinguished from Cognitive Science by emphases on (1) arts-based design training; (2) critical and speculative approaches to design aesthetics and principles; (3) design’s social, historical, and philosophical frameworks; and (4) creating ideas as well as things.
  • Distinguished from ICAM by emphases on (1) design and the design fields; and (2) a range of media and object-making options in addition to computing

Additional information you should know about this program!

Speculative design is an approach devoted to understanding that design may be used to ask “what if” questions—to open debate and discussion about what the planet needs and what we want for our future worlds. Design may be used to activate change and to mobilize possible futures rather than to respond to trends and satisfy consumer demands or dominant tastes.

See sample student projects!

Learn about the final projects from the senior class of 2019:

MEX-USA & Catoptromancy



Speculative Design Career Workshop #1 from UCSD Visual Arts on Vimeo.

May 23rd, 2020, with designers Erika Barbosa & Gabi Schaffzin.

Speculative Design Career Workshop #2 from UCSD Visual Arts on Vimeo.

May 30th, 2020, with alumni Kelsey Shoenberg and Tommy Sharkey.