United Micro Kingdoms: A Design Fiction (2013), Critical Design FAQ (2007)

Part of the Arts, Research, Innovation and Society book series (ARIS)


The United Micro Kingdoms (UmK) was a design experiment commissioned by the Design Museum, London, UK, from 1st May-31st August 2013.

Collections like the Wellcome Trust, Pitt Rivers, and London Museum hold everyday objects from past or distant societies. When we see a strange shoe or ritualistic object we wonder what kind of society must have produced it, how it was organised; what values, beliefs and dreams motivated its citizens; if it was wealthy or poor; democratic, feudal or totalitarian. We become conceptual window shoppers, trying things out in our minds, imagining how we would interact with them, use them, wear them, and how they would affect our interactions with others.

It requires a lot of imaginative effort from the viewer, but it leaves room for individual interpretation. If rather than looking back in time, we presented people with hypothetical products from alternative versions of our own society, or a near future, would people begin to relate to them in the same way—a sort of speculative material culture, fictional archeology or imaginary anthropology?


Speculative design Design fiction Speculative anthropology Research ‘through’ Design 

Supplementary material

UMK Project References

The Communo-Nuclearists

  1. A online discussion about the feasibility of a nuclear powered train:
  2. Some information about SSTARs (small, sealed, transportable, autonomous reactors):,_sealed,_transportable,_autonomous_reactor
  3. A lecture on the use of thorium in nuclear reactors which would be cleaner, safer, cheaper:
  4. For other fictional train worlds see Christopher Priest’s Inverted World (1974),, and China Miélville’s Railsea (2012),

The Bioliberals

  1. A research paper about an integrated biohydrogen refinery, inspiration for the Biocar system:
  2. Wood-powered cars from the early twentieth century.
  3. A video about a technology currently being developed at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute in New Zealand that uses jelly-like artificial muscles as motors in robots:

The Digitarians

  1. For more about how the design of cars might change due to ‘robocars’, see Brad Templeton, “New Design Factors for Robot Cars”:

The Anarcho-Evolutionists

  1. Video of human-powered Helicopter:
  2. A paper about anarchism as a theory of organisation:


  1. Sci-Fi Writer Bruce Sterling explains the concept of Design Fiction:
  2. Imagining Technology, a Nesta Working Paper by Jon Turney:
  3. Sternberg Press’ Solution Series of books re-imagining existing countries:
  4. The political compass enables you to see where your views lie:
  5. For other fictional England, see: Rupert Thomson, Divided Kingdom (2006)
  6. Will Self, The Book of Dave (2006), and Julian Barnes, England England [1988] (2005),_England

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Royal College of ArtLondonUK
  2. 2.The University of Applied ArtsViennaAustria

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