Speculative Card Deck

Shannon Marie Robinson University of Pennsylvania, Fisher Fine Arts Library
Mackenzie Salisbury School of the Art Institute of Chicago, John M. Flaxman Library

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Since the mid-twentieth century, numerous art and design movements have been dedicated to asking questions and finding meanings differently. The Situationists International’s dérive or drift, according to Guy Debord is a “technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects” (Souzis 2015). This SI’s dérive was central in the creation of the annual bibliodérive event at the John M. Flaxman Library at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Salisbury & Ferreira 2017). The bibliodérive is the application of the dérive reapplied to the realm of research, libraries and archives. It includes a collection of generative, open-ended actions, taken to destabilize research practices geared towards an expected product or outcome, the gathering of information to merely support extant ideas and thought structures. It is a disruption in the traditional use value assigned to the library, the archive, to information storage and even to the very concept of research itself. Participants select a card from a deck of generative, open-ended actions, or situations that disrupt the traditional use value assigned to the library and even to the very concept of research itself.

In the field of design, critical design challenges conventionality by posing troublesome problems in order to encourage reflection and consider alternative futures. Work that falls under this category are reactions against consumerism, capitalism, and unheeded scientific and technological development. Practices such as speculative design, design fiction, parody or exaggeration, and para-functionality are employed to create works that confront legal, cultural, and social norms. These objects and stories act as prompts for discussion and debate about hypothetical, but perhaps possible, realities. However, a commonly cited problem with employing critical design as a practice is that there is no methodology. We have ample examples, but no guidelines for making our own critical design projects. Therefore, in order to demonstrate how we might use this method of research through design, we can explore works created under the broad umbrella of critical design, then develop arts-informed prototypes and ask carefully crafted questions to think critically about the current and future states of librarianship (Robinson 2019).


Robinson, S. 2019. “Critical Design in Librarianship: Visual and Narrative Exploration for Critical Praxis,” The Library Quarterly 89, no. 4: 348-361. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/704965

Salisbury, M. & Ferreira, N. 2017. “Drifting Through Research: How the Bibliodérive Inspired New Approaches to Information Literacy at Flaxman Library.” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 36, no. 1: 108-121. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/691375

Souzis, A.E. 2015. “Momentary Ambiances: Psychogeography in Action.” Cultural Geographies 22, no. 1: 193-201. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26168633