Spimes and speculative design: Sustainable product futures today

Michael Stead


This paper unpacks Sterling’s concept of spimes and outlines how it can be developed as a lens through which to speculate and reflect upon the future of more preferable and sustainable technological products. The term spimes denotes a class of near future, sustainable, manufactured objects, and unlike the disposable products, which permeate our society today, a spime would be designed so that it can be managed sustainably throughout its entire lifecycle. This would have the goal of making the implicit consequences of product obsolescence and unsustainable disposal explicit to potential users. With the current rhetoric associated with the so-called Internet of Things promoting existing production and consumption models, the time is right to explore Sterling’s concept in greater depth. In doing so, this paper examines the meaning of the term spimes, distinguishes the concept from today’s Internet-connected products and posits design criteria for potential near future spime objects. The paper concludes with an initial evaluation of a speculative design fiction created by the author – the Toaster for Life – which seeks to embody several of the spime design criteria in order to facilitate audiences in considering the unsustainable people-product relationships which define present day behaviour, and also aid the author in reflecting upon the design fiction process itself.

Keywords: spimes, sustainable product design, internet of things, speculative design, design fiction.

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