What science fiction has taught me as a graphic designer


Certain things I believe fit in nicely with the design world and have definitely helped to shape me. A healthy interest in modernism is first and a close second is science fiction. Specifically reading science fiction. Yes, science fiction films will often give you a spectacular vision of the world they are set in but they are someone else’s vision – reading opens your imagination. As an aside I’m going to say I think people should read full stop, I feel nervous around people who say they don’t read books.

But why specifically science fiction? Well, for me it’s the genre that I enjoy most hence this post, but here are a few reasons to strengthen that.

It’s about people
Ok all books, give or take, are about people but stick with me. Science fiction takes the reader further away from their everyday, but the greatest works are inherently about people. Authors create their most incredible fantastic vision but that’s all secondary if the reader can’t connect with the protagonist. For me the more interesting science fiction deals with human emotions and realistic reactions to situations. The most celebrated works of science fiction question what it really means to be human by exploring psychological and philosophical theories.

The very same goes for design. It doesn’t matter how fantastic a poster/brochure/website etc looks, if it doesn’t connect with people then it’s not going to work.

“If you want to design a chair then you need to know how people sit, if you’re designing something that people interact with then you need to know how they think”

The need to manage and understand expectations is a necessary requirement, as is a knowledge of people’s response to the slightest of details, a shade of colour, font or stock choice can make a world of difference to how your design is received.

I feel that science fiction is connected to this more than other literary genres because it pushes the boundaries of your imagination but remains ‘human’.


Any idea is plausible, so long as it’s executed correctly
What most designers dream of – outlandish ideas can work. How about humans living on the surface of Neptune transmogrifying to survive the harsh elements outside their lead lined shelters? I admit, this does put itself somewhat in the pure fantasy realm of science fiction. But the novel ‘City’ by Clifford D. Simak doesn’t start like that. It begins in a reasonably normal scenario, then with his beauty of storytelling Simak leads us to this point by developing piece by piece and drawing us into his world. You believe it because you’ve understood from the start and become so engrossed by this tale told with such conviction that you’re prepared to believe anything.

It isn’t just storytelling that’s the key here, it’s also the strong foundation and clarity of the idea alongside courage in execution. All a necessity for that next campaign.


Developing an interest in the [unknown] future.
I don’t understand how you can be a designer and not have an interest in the future. How many of us have sat daydreaming looking at the incredible work of Syd Mead or the retro futuristic worlds of NASA’s concept art? How can you design without being excited about new technologies or how predicting how much longevity your work will have? The debate over whether science fiction authors have been predicting or leading technology is an interesting one and whichever side you sit on there’s no denying that a lot of it is here now. Genetic transforming devices that allow us to live on the surface of Neptune I think we’ll have to wait a little longer for.

Graphic designers should be excited by changing technology and seeing what they can do to use it for the better.

To return to my first point though the future as a setting isn’t essential. To me the greatest science fiction novels are about people and their reactions to the society that has been created. It is how they deal with these new or failing technologies or situations and more often than not about how at the end of it all human needs and wants are always the same. As we design more and more for the digital world and create virtual experiences, the more we need to be aware of these fundamentals.


There’s many more reasons for me but I’ll stick with these three here. There’s also a wealth of literary influence for everyone beyond science fiction so to repeat my earlier comment. Don’t stop reading.

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