(Here, "article" refers to a physical object. The article finds itself quite at home on a pedestal in a gallery exhibition.)

An unfortunate thing I see about critical design (particularly design fiction) is that, once a project is complete, the result is often a single (or a couple, or a few, etc.) article(s) to put on display. In those cases where the article has to be experienced in person to get its message, it seems to me that design fiction's mission of social critique gets left undone: with so few articles, so few people will be able to experience that article in person, and so few people will get the message.

Take Sputniko!'s Menstruation Machine as an example. I've only read about it, but I trust the reports that it accurately simulates the physical discomforts of menstruation, and that it can provide men with a previously unachieved understanding of the pain that so many women go through each month. But, to my knowledge, only one of these machines exists. And the only person who can make more exist is Sputniko!. She didn't publish schematics, instructions, etc. that would allow others to build more, and reverse engineering runs legal risks. The value of the machine comes entirely from using it: no amount of reading about its use, watching its use, etc. will leave you with a better understanding of menstruation than before. So, unless one of these conditions changes, all of the value of Sputniko!'s design is imprisoned within its one and only implementation, wherever it is, as it makes its slow passage from one wearer to the next. And that's a shame, because one would hope that men's empathy for women's pain would spread throughout the male population. The menstruation machine design is a bottomless well for this empathy, but right now we're left with one very small bucket for us all to take turns with.

To summarize my concern: many design fiction objects are articles made with gallery viewing in mind; if a design's destination is the gallery, the gallery walls will insulate the world from its impact. If the implementation of your design must be physical, then publicize the design so anybody can have their own whatever-it-is-you-designed. Don't string yourself up by a velvet rope.

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