Wired NextFest and Near Future Design: 8 hours of workshop and the exploration of possible futures

Art is Open Source and ISIA Design Florence will be in Milan at Wired’s NextFest on May 17 for an immersive 8-hours workshop on Near Future Design, and for a performative conversation with Bruce Sterling on the opportunity of materialising possible futures right now, using Design Fiction.

It will also be the chance to launch the first book on Near Future Design published in Italy by our students at ISIA Design Florence, with an introduction by Bruce Sterling. (you can download the book here:  http://www.artisopensource.net/NFD-NextFest2014.pdf )


Near Future Design is a series of practices and methodologies through which we can explore possible futures in participatory ways, highlighting current transformations in human societies, in technologies and in their relations and mutual influences. Through this, we can create Future Maps which describe these possible futures, and use Design Fiction to implement pre-totypes, early prototypes built through actual objects and services, but also through the use of transmedia narratives: the manifestations of these objects and services of our possible future, across different, coordinated media, to make them credible and likely.

As we have highlighted multiple times, in the era of knowledge, information and communication, Near Future Design helps in the construction of the languages, visions and of the imaginaries which will enable us to actually create our futures, hence giving rise to our motto: “The Future does not exist! It’s a Performance!” A performance for all of us, to create our futures with every imaginative action in our daily lives, and for organisations, companies, governments and more, who wish to stimulate people into critically and collaboratively thinking about their preferable, desirable futures, and to actively participate in their construction.

The Workshop at Wired’s NextFest

On May 17th 2014, at 10am, at Wired’s NextFest, in the Aula Magna, Museo di Storia Naturale, (in the “Giardini Indro Montanelli” park, Corso Venezia, 55, Milano, near the Metro station “Palestro“) we will hold an immersive 8-hour workshop on Near Future Design.

We will choose a scenario, create a Future Map, and design our “New Normal”, the future scenario in which our future product/service/action/behaviour will be perceived as being normal, common. We will do it through Transmedia Storytelling: we will enact a coordinated, systematized strategy online, in the streets, on social networks, in shops and, in general, ubiquitously, across digital and physical media, which will make our Design Fiction come alive.

Here is the Workshop’s page on Wired: http://nextfest.wired.it/events/near-future-design-lab-designing-new-normal/

Here is the link to register to the workshop: http://www.smappo.com/event/536c87dc4a6fb_near-future-design-lab-designing-the-new-normal.html

The Talk

On May 17th 2014, at 7pm, at Wired’s NextFest, in the Red Dome, (in the “Giardini Indro Montanelli” park, Corso Venezia, 55, Milano, near the Metro station “Palestro“) we will hold a talk with Bruce SterlingJasmina Tešanović, Oriana Persico and Salvatore Iaconesi to engage in a performative conversation on Near Future Design and Design Fiction: imagining the objects (and societies) of the future(s).

Learn more about the Talk on Near Future Design here: http://nextfest.wired.it/events/near-future-design-immaginare-gli-oggetti-e-la-societa-del-futuro/


The Book

During the talk we will also introduce the first book on Near Future Design published in Italy, with ISIA Design in Florence, featuring the incredible Near Future Designs by our 2013 students.

Learn more about the projects here: Near Future Design at ISIA Florence

Download the Book here: http://www.artisopensource.net/NFD-NextFest2014.pdf

The book is also distributed via QRCode on the May 2014 edition of Wired Italy, in the article below:

Near Future Design on Wired

Near Future Design on Wired

Transmedia Design

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eaPK7EIHwc]

Fake and real. Simulacra and simulation.

Go and organize a fake hold up. Be sure to check that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no life is in danger (otherwise you risk committing an offence). Demand ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion possible. In brief, stay close to the “truth”, so as to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won’t succeed: the web of art)ficial signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements (a police officer will really shoot on sight; a bank customer will faint and die of a heart attack; they will really turn the phoney ransom over to you). In brief, you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality: that’s exactly how the established order is, well before institutions and justice come into play.

This quote from Baudrillard’sSimulacra and Simulation” allows us to understand very precisely simulation’s role in human society and perception.

In the media environment in which we are constantly immersed, people constantly interpret what they experience using signs, signals and clues which are real, fake, simulated, relevant, unrelated…

Going back to Baudrillard:

Thus all hold ups, hijacks and the like are now as it were simulation hold ups, in the sense that they are inscribed in advance in the decoding and orchestration rituals of the media, anticipated in their mode of presentation and possible consequences.

This observation describes what is called Hyperrealism. “More than real “. More than real because, to an extent, the “real” depends from what media show about it, from how they show it.

If I think of a holdup: although I have never really experienced one, I know how it goes, how it unfolds, how it develops. Because I have already seen it, millions of times, in movies, television, youtube videos, images. I know what to expect, what happens.

a Bank Robbery

a Bank Robbery

If I close my eyes, and think “bank robbery”, I will see images, hear sounds, imagine emotions, fears, excitement, the adrenaline rushes of all the participants involved: the bank robber, the police man, the hostage, the clerk.

I don’t need to actually be in a bank hold up because, through media of multiple types, I have been there a million times.

In our contemporary world, things become even more complex.

Invisible cities, by Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia

Invisible cities, by Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia

In each instant, we are constantly immersed in a multitude of flows of information and communication: the things we see, the signs and signals, the displays which we’re surrounded from, the advertisements, the things we see with the corners of our field of vision, people, their gestures, dress-codes and the ways in which we interpret them, sounds. And our smartphones.

Think about arriving in a city for the first time. You’ve never been there before. Do it.

which city is this

which city is this?

Only a few years ago, when this happened, you really did not know much about the city: maybe you had a couple of addresses (of your hotel and a restaurant which a friend advised you to visit), you could have seen a couple of postcards or pictures, you could have read a guide… not much.

Now, everything has changed.

When you arrive in a city for the first time in your life, you have already seen it: on Google Maps, or even Streetview. You have seen pictures, read reviews, gathered opinions and experiences on TripAdvisor, asked around on Facebook, and maybe even found a few friends to meet there. You might even be couch surfing in someone’s home. Maybe you already know that a certain neighbourhood in the city is dangerous, or interesting, or full of artists, or stores.

Let’s push it: maybe you went to that city because of something you read/saw online, in the first place. Something online made you change our behaviour, or take a certain decision. If you had read something different, maybe you would have gone to a different city.

Again: you could imagine that city, have feelings for it, even without having actually been there. Simulated. And, thus, real.

That city, thus, is not only made from buildings, streets, shops, squares, houses, parks and other physical objects.

It is built from a variety of different media. Some of them very physical, like concrete, wood, glass, asphalt. Some of them immaterial, like digital information, images, videos, text, emotions, experiences, data.

All these meda entangle with each other and with our perception, forming the way in which we perceive reality.

augmented city

augmented city

The landscape is now composed by trees, buildings and digital information.

We can use the “traditional” senses to perceive all of them: sight, hearing, tactility, smell, taste.

Other, new, senses add up to the “traditional” ones, or modified senses, which we learned to use in more recent times. We do not have 5 (or 6) senses, but a higher number of them.

For example the sense of proprioception, which is among the senses which has undergone massive transformation in recent times: the feeling of being in a certain place. Where are we when we are non Skype, on Facebook, or while we look at Google Earth?  We are in a different, other, place, which is not where our physical body is, not at our friend’s house, not on the screen, but in-between, suspended, Other.

It is necessary, in our contemporary world, to understand how to deal with this and similar facts, with this dimension.

This is fundamental for Design.

a chair

a chair

Let’s imagine designing a chair.

When I design a chair, I’m not designing an object. I’m creating a story.

A story which is the result of the entanglement multiple elements, including the chair’s shapes, materials, structural properties.

lots of different chairs

lots of different chairs

But also of a series of other elements. What do I mean when I say or imagine a “chair”? What does someone with a different culture or background mean by it? What do I expect from a chair? What do I like, hate, fear, desire from it? Which chairs have I experienced, seen, wanted, worked with in my life? …

It is an intricate story, built from formal elements, cultural ones, experiential ones, affective ones, emotional ones, and so on. Regarding me, and also all the other people which this chair is for, or who will see the chair in the store and recognise it as a chair, feel desire, attraction, repulsion, fear, love, seduction, and other emotions, feelings and meanings for it.

This is, as we were saying, even more complex in the era of ubiquitous information, in which search engines (like the image above, which is obtained by performing an image search for chairs), social networks, websites, augmented realities and more add multiple other layers to this, generated by people, companies, organisations and more.

This is not a new thing.

It has always been there: objects (and products, services, ideas, narratives…) have been stories which people interpret using their own cultures, contexts, cues and backgrounds since the beginning of mankind.

Let’s think of an incipit:

I was alone, at sea

I was alone, at sea

“I was alone, at sea.”

If you close your eyes, and try to visualise this incipit, what is happening in it, what do you imagine?

Different people imagine different things.

Some will think of men, women. Some will thing about homes, rafts, yachts. Some will think about sadness, or meditative states, or fear, danger, or happiness and love.

What does this mean?

It means that we create the story ourselves, in our minds.

It means that a writer (or designer, or…) never has complete control of the story, of how different people perceive it, imagine it, experience it.

It means that we build the story ourselves in our minds by harvesting a series of clues which are disseminated across a variety of media. Clues which are relevant, irrelevant, collateral, coming from what the writer wrote (or the designer designed, or developer developed, or interface designer designed…) and filtered, changed, transformed according to what we know about the world, the things we have seen and experienced. Or from what we desire, expect, envision, prefer.

Or even shaped by what we have seen online, in the streets of our city, on a billboard, or with the tail of our eye somewhere, or by something we have overheard on the bus, casually listening to what other people were saying.

All this clues, the ones we use to create the story in our heads, are disseminated across a variety of media.

Henry Jenkins defines Transmedia as:

Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

In relation to design, we can use this definition as a starting point, to imagine Design as an act of World Building. Of creating Worlds instead of Objects.

What IF

What IF

If we do this, we would probably try to give answers to a series of “What if?” type questions.

What would be in the world if the object (product/service/application/artwork…) existed?

We know that cars exist not only for the existence of automobiles as physical objects.

We know that cars exist for a number of different reasons, possibly even more important that “cars” (as object) themselves (thing about, for example, if I don’t own a car: its other manifestations could be more important for me than the car itself in knowing about cars’ existence in the world).

Cars exist and we know it, also because we know that repair shops exist, insurance policies, parking tickets, parking lots, car advertisements, gas stations. There are people who publish pictures of their car and with their cars on social networks. There are accidents. There are people who desire certain cars. People who talk on the phone telling their friends that yesterday they ran out of gas and they had to leave the car in the middle of nowhere and walk home. There are prizes in which you win cars. There are cars lovers websites. And cars haters websites, for multiple reasons. There are car factories, and people who work in them. The same people who are on strike when the car factory in which they work shuts down because the production of cars has moved to China, or to some place else. There is the guy who invented the hydrogen car of the future. And many more manifestations of cars.

We know that cars exist because there are all of these things. And all these things exist because there are cars.

What would happen if we took away “cars” (as physical objects) and left all their other manifestations in place? With all probability, we would still think that cars exist.

In general, there are a number of transmedia manifestations of the “car” phenomenon. Which is not an “object”, but a Transmedia Narrative, a Simulacrum.

And, thus, let’s go back to the Simulacrum:



Designers (and artists, politicians, lawyers, and more and more professions) are transforming themselves, wether they realise it or not, into Transmedia Storytellers: professionals who are able to enact world-building processes by designing a Simulacrum through its coordinated manifestations across a variety of different media.

The objective of this type of actions, is twofold: to intervene on “reality” and to “loose control of the story, in controlled ways”.

First: to intervene on “reality”. On consensual reality, on the things and scenarios which we have learned to recognise as real, socially, culturally, psychologically, cognitively and more. To create a transmedia path in which the object (or product, service, law, concept, artwork…) becomes present in the world not only through its physical/digital presence, but also through the presence of its transmedia manifestations.

Not designing objects, but designing worlds.

This permits a powerful transition: to shift the perception of what is possible. By creating a World, instead of an object, we can provide the clues which allow people to believe in the possibility for this World (and for the object/service/artwork/law…) to exist.

And, second, to loose control of the story, in controlled ways.

This is, possibly, among the main opportunity for design in the Era of Knowledge, Information and Communication. The rise of Open Source, peer-to-peer production models, participatory and mutual economies and many more elements constitute evidence for this.

As described, we can use Transmedia Storytelling and World Building techniques to induce a state of Hyperreality. We can create Simulacra.

When this happens – when Hyperreality happens, when we design for Hyperreality – we do not create copies of reality, or their expansions or extensions. We create a new reality, a different one.

This allows us – as described by Deleuze – to establish a privileged position, which allows us to observe the phenomena of our world, and to open new spaces for their critical discussion.

By creating Hyperreality, we create languages and imaginaries, through the shift in perception of possibility: because we learn that something Other is possible, we acquire new language and new pieces of imagination.

And we can (and will) use them to express ourselves.

The Design becomes, thus, a platform for other people’s expression. It becomes a participatory performance.

This is of fundamental value, because through this modality people will not only able to express around their perception of possibility, but also and more importantly on the level of preferability, and of desirability. Expression not only on possible futures, but also of preferable, desirable ones.

From our point of view, this is an exceptional new role for Design and Designers.


Note: this post is the transcription of our contribution to the event on Transmedia Storytelling which was held at the MAXXI Museum in Rome.

The event is the result of the Master in Public & Exhibit Design we hold in La Sapienza University in Rome.

This year we collaborated with artist Maria Cristina Finucci on her Garbage Patch State project, by creating a complex Transmedia Narrative. Here below is the publication of the results of our work:


Transmedia Storytelling and the transformation of imagination, at MAXXI Museum in Rome

Join us at MAXXI B.A.S.E. (the research center of the MAXXI Museum in Rome) on April 29th 2014, at 6:00pm, in the Sala Graziella Lonardi Buontempo (via Guido Reni 4A, Rome) for a conversation on Transmedia Narratives, Design Fiction and the ways in which the idea of World Building can radically transform our perception of reality, and the effects of this practice on Design in the era of Communication, Information and Knowledge.


The event is organised together with the Master of Public & Exhibit Design at “La Sapienza” University in Rome, and the Department of Education of the MAXXI National Museum for the Arts of the XXI century.

Transmedia Narratives at MAXXI: download the official press release (Italian)

The conversation will be introduced by Margherita Guccione, the Director of MAXXI Architecture.

Then Cecilia Cecchini (Professor at the Faculty of Architecture of “La Sapienza” University in Rome, and Director of the Master in Exhibit & Public Design) will introduce the theme, as it has been used in the Master to construct a non-conventional communication approach to create “a Simulacrum for the Garbage Patch State”, based on Cristina Finucci‘s artwork The Grabage Patch State.

At this point the conversation will begin, with Salvatore Iaconesi (Art is Open Source, professor, artist, designer, hacker), Oriana Persico (Art is Open Source, professor, artist, communication scientist), Andrea Natella (Kook Artgency, journalist, writer and non-conventional communication expert) and Corrado Peperoni (“La Sapienza University of Rome, expert in cross-media communication), who will explore the theme, moving across Transmedia Narratives, Design Fiction, World Building, Simulacra, Language, Communication and Perception, using the videos and images from world-wide known projects to dig into the possibilities, opportunities and challenges opened up by all these practices.

Conference Invitation

Conference Invitation



Transmedia Narratives, simulacra, simulation, fake and design fiction


Organize a fake holdup. Verify that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no human life will be in danger (or one lapses into the criminal.) Demand a ransom, and make it so that the operation creates as much commotion as possible — in short, remain close to the “truth,” in order to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulacrum. You won’t be able to do it: the network of artificial signs will become inextricably mixed up with real elements (a policeman really will fire on sight; a client of the bank will faint and die of a heart attack; one will actually pay you the phony ransom). [p. 20]

This quote, taken from Jean Baudrillard’s “The Precession of Simulacra”, gives a very precise idea of the role that simulation can play in human societies and perception.

If, as suggested by Baudrillard, we were to simulate as closely as possible a fake holdup, we just would not be able to do it, because the people and, in general, the “machine”, the process through which people constantly interpret the reality they have around them, would not be able to distinguish the signals of what is real and fake/simulated.

“This is how all the holdups, airplane hijackings, etc. are now in some sense simulation holdups in that they are already inscribed in the decoding and orchestration rituals of the  media, anticipated in their presentation and their possible consequences. In short, where  they function as a group of signs dedicated exclusively to their recurrence as signs, and  no longer at all to their “real” end.”

We, as human beings, interpret what we perceive to be real by gathering a series of signals, of clues, from the context which surrounds us: gestures, patterns, things we recognize as meaningful in a certain way, objects, places and the context they suggest.

We, thus, use this series of clues coming from a variety of media (vision, sound, information expressed and communicated in different ways…) to form in our mind a description of what is real and what isn’t.

In this sense, the concept of Hyperrealism can help understand even further the ways in which we can imagine to use simulation to give credibility to a certain scenario, so that it is indistinguishable from truth.



In William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”,  a terrorist sect called The Panther Moderns takes advantage of the fuzzy boundary between the simulacra and the real to create chaos at the Sense/Net Corporation:

Nine Moderns, scattered along two hundred miles of the Sprawl, had simultaneously dialed MAX EMERG from pay phones.Nine different police departments and public security agencies were absorbing the information that an obscure subsect of militant Christian fundamentalists had just taken credit for having introduced clinical levels of an outlawed psychoactive agent known as Blue Nine into the ventilation system of the Sense/Net Pyramid. Blue Nine had been shown to produce acute paranoia and homicidal psychosis in eight-five percent of experimental subjects.

In the narrative, the Panther Moderns combine multiple media and modalities to stimulate as many perceptive modalities as possible to make the people in the Sense/Net building believe that a fundamentalists have infected the building with a powerful hallucinogenic drug, thus causing violence and horror.

Images, sounds, physical presence and video are only some of the techniques and media they use to achieve this:

  • 9 phone emergency calls trigger an emergency response by the police forces, who actually go to the building
  • showing video footage inside Sense/Net that triggers seizures in a certain percentage of employees
  • introducing images of contamination in the CCTV circuit
  • diffusing in the sound system of the building audio of a news segment dealing with a dangerous human growth hormone

By creating panic among the Sense/Net employees, The Panther Moderns simulate the effects of introducing Blue Nine into the ventilation system to the security forces

At the same time, the presence of the security forces reaffirms the employees’ belief that there are biological agents in the ventilation system.

It only required nine phone calls and five minutes of video feed.

Again, the characters are placed in a situation in which they fail to distinguish reality from simulation: all the signals and hints from the surrounding environment suggest a version of reality which, technically, is not true, but which, in perception, is a real as they can perceive it.

Transmedia Narratives

a transmedia story represents the integration of entertainment experiences across a range of different media platforms

Henry Jenkins, 2007


Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

So, for example, in The Matrix franchise, key bits of information are conveyed through three live action films, a series of animated shorts, two collections of comic book stories, and several video games. There is no one single source or ur-text where one can turn to gain all of the information needed to comprehend the Matrix universe.

In 2007 the band Nine Inch Nails orchestrated a very interesting Tansmedia Narrative: some songs from their Year Zero album were thought to have been leaked as they were found on a lost flash drive in a hotel room, while the band was on tour. On that flash drive there were songs and recorded phone calls, which later turned out to be parts of a previously made-up online experience for Nine Inch Nails fans. From the recorded phone call mp3 fans decoded a URL of a website that gave them further clues to decipher.

From Transmedia Lab:

“In 2007, the band Nine Inch Nails (NIN) created an Alternative Reality Game (ARG) for the launch of their new album “Year Zero”, thanks to the agency 42 Entertainment.

This treasure hunt took place in an alternate reality, clues were given through texts on NIN T-shirts, singles of the new album left on USB keys, everything hidden in the toilets of concert venues, on websites or through secret phone numbers. All these elements helped players move ahead in the dark story of Year Zero: a world ravaged by an infinite war and an environmental catastrophe.

The goal of the project was to immerse fans in an experienced linked to the universe of the album.

The leader of the band, Trent Reznor, qualified this experience as a “new type of entertainment”. According to him, the combined effect of entertainmentword of mouth and engagement of the audience, made this ARG the perfect tool to promote this album. For more information on their transmedia experience see the case study of the agency 42 Entertainement here.”

Characteristics of Transmedia Storytelling Elements

From what we have seen so far we can say that Transmedia storytelling involves orchestrating multiple media and communication modalities to produce a Simulacrum, a simulation of a scenario or context which is able to immerse people in an overall experience, a “world” in which the Simulacrum is real.

Hence, it is of particular interest trying to understand the ways in which we can build the various elements which make a Transmedia Narrative.

Most elements in the following sections come from various posts on Henry Jenkins’ blog.


Spreadability vs Drillability

Spreadable media encourages horizontal ripples, accumulating eyeballs without necessarily encouraging more long-term engagement.

Drillable media typically engage far fewer people, but occupy more of their time and energies in a vertical descent into a text’s complexities.

In designing a Transmedia Narrative we might become interested in achieving a specific balance between spreadable and drillable media, and to distribute these two characteristics accordingly.

We might, for example, use more spreadable media experiences to suggest sharing on social networks, thus widening our audiences.

On the other side, we might use more drillable media to suggest immersion in a specific part of the overall experience, creating more lasting engagement and involvement.

On top of that, we can imagine creating links (more on that later) to suggest people to go back and forth between the two modalities, to capture them through spreadable media experiences and to make them go below the surface using more drillable ones.


Continuity vs. Multiplicity

Some transmedia franchises foster an ongoing coherence to a canon in order to ensure maximum plausibility among all extensions.

Others routinely use alternative versions of characters or parallel universe versions of their stories to reward mastery over the source material.

Both modalities are really useful.

Continuity suggests the possibility to describe a world which is coherent.

Marvel Comics represent a very successful example of continuity: the heroes of the Marvel Universe live in a coherent reality and many efforts are put in place to ensure that this happens. Each character possibly influences the development of their peers, in a whole, continuous, consequential reality that is crafted in order to ensure the opportunity to make explicit connections between one plotline to the other, possibly suggesting consumers to buy more comics to see stories unfold from different perspectives.

Spiderman and The Hulk

Spiderman and The Hulk

In Marvel’s continuity, one comic might see the Spider Man fight a certain villain and, in the end, receive the help of the Hulk to defeat him. While another comic might focus on the Hulk’s struggle to locate the same villain, from an entirely different point of view, to find him in the end while he is fighting the Spider Man.

The other modality, Multiplicity, is also very useful, to suggest the possibility of mastering the capability and the complexities of the characters involved in the narratives.

From the point of view of the Transmedia Storyteller, Multiplicity represents the opportunity to generate parallel narratives: “Wat if …?” universes; parallel or alternate realities and timelines.

These can leverage existing characters and settings and expand them through the power of multiplication. For example, through the “What if ….?” mechanism deeper insights can be created for existing characters, by exploring the opportunities that could have been brought on by making different choices at the times of the difficult decisions they made during the plots.

On the other side, Multiplicity is also a very powerful way to suggest engagement. For example the idea of fan-fiction and mash-ups which are found all over the publishing industry comes directly from this possibility: to suggest, through various schemes, consumers to become performers, and to create themselves the alternative stories.



Transmedia extensions, often not central to the core narrative, that give a richer description of the world in which the narrative plays out.

Both real-world and digital experiences can be used for this purpose, and it is often the case in which people are pushed to move back and forth from one domain to the other.

This modality often leads to the fan behavior of capturing and cataloguing many disparate elements.

Mentioning this modality, Janet Murray argues that stories will have to work for two or three kinds of viewers in parallel:

“the actively engaged real-time viewer who must find satisfaction in each single episode and the more reflective long-term audience who look for coherent patterns in the story as a whole (…) [and] the navigational viewer who takes pleasure in following the connections between different parts of the story and in discovering multiple arrangements of the same material.”

There are two main ways in which Worldbuinding is performed:

  • Negative Capabilities
  • Migratory Cues

Each is often combined with the other, to obtain “collaborating” push-pull effects that are able to help users traverse the stories through their transmedia elements.

About Negative Capabilities Geoffrey Long says:

When applied to storytelling, negative capability is the art of building strategic gaps into a narrative to evoke a delicious sense of “uncertainty, mystery or doubt” in the audience.

Simple references to people, places or events external to the current narrative provide hints to the history of the characters and the larger world in which the story takes place.

This empowers the audience to fill in the gaps in their own imaginations while leaving them curious to find out more.

In the TV serial “Columbo(“Il Tenente Colombo” in italian) the detective’s wife is never shown on screen throughout the many seasons. Nonetheless she is constantly mentioned throughout the episodes, and becomes a main character in its own right. The fact that se is never shown on screen, even on a single picture,  allows each member of the audience to create in their own mind a mental representation for her, using imagination to be more deeply engaged and involved in the world of the detective’s life, imagining his lifestyle, daily routine and habits, inferring them from the many clues disseminated throughout the episodes.

This fact would give a Transmedia Storyteller many hooks to enact a Migratory Cue.

For example, once the detective’s wife “absent” character was established, a website of her recipes and tips for housekeeping could have been launched and would probably have become a success.

Migratory Cue, thus, is the stimulus to change media, to follow one of the “hyperlinks” exposed by the transmedia narrative, and to engage in a different chunk of the world which it refers to and actively manages to build.

The letter in Matrix is a sample of a Migratory Cue – when used at the beginning of the second Matrix movie it exists as a hint to look for more information in Animatrix and in Enter the Matrix.

Yet the story functions even without audience members having experienced either the anime or the video game, as they can imagine their own answer to the question of where exactly that letter came from.

They retain the option to go and track it down, and their understanding (and enjoyment) of the story would be increased by their doing so.

Understand: any reference to external people, places or events as utilizing negative capability to craft potential migratory cues, and become actualized as migratory cues when those extensions become available.



Seriality is an element which has been mentioned extensively in the previous sections.

Transmedia storytelling has taken the notion of breaking up a narrative arc into multiple discrete chunks or installments within a single medium, and instead has spread those desparate ideas and story chunks across multiple, different, disseminated media segments.

We might understand how serials work by falling back on a classic film studies distinction between story and plot.

The story refers to our mental construction of what happened which can be formed only after we have absorbed all of the available chunks of information.

The plot refers to the sequence through which those chunks of information have been made available to us.

A serial creates meaningful and compelling story chunks and then disperses the full story across multiple installments.

We can think of transmedia storytelling as a hyperbolic version of the serial, where the chunks of meaningful engaging story information have been dispersed not simply across multiple segments within the same medium, but rather across multiple media systems.



The notion of different subjectivities participating to forming the overall narrative has, too, already been mentioned in the previous sections. For example while making the example of Marvel Comics and their continuity, in which the same story is viewed from different points of view.

Transmedia narratives often explore the central narrative through new eyes, such as secondary characters or third parties.

The diversity of perspective often leads fans to more greatly consider who is speaking and who they are speaking for.

In mainstream media productions (for example in the case of TV serials) different subjectivities are often pursued using backstories, mobisodes and webisodes.



We can define this modality as the ability of transmedia extensions to lead to fan produced performances that can become part of the transmedia narrative itself.

Some performances are invited by the creator while others are not.

Fans actively search for sites of potential performance.

In the notion of Performance, as enacted by Transmedia Storytelling, two definitions are of particular relevance:

  • Cultural Attractors: draw together a community of people who share common interests.
  • Cultural Activators: give that community something to do.

It is by combining these two that performative dimensions usually take place.

For example: by combining spreadable media, to gather people, and the combination of negative capabilities/migratory cues, people can be suggested to transition from “passive” to “active” conditions – represented by the platforms which are used to build the cultural attractors/activators – to engage the performative state.

Fan fiction, mash-ups, memes, collaborative encyclopedias about TV serials, flash mobs and more, are all examples of the performative modality.


Simulacra, once again

the Simulacra

the Simulacra

Thus, from what we have seen in the previous sections, we can imagine our initial view of the Simulacra as taking the form of a Transmedia Narrative, in the shape above.

The object of simulation, the dashed circle in the image above, is the concept of the world we wish to describe.

The object of our simulation does not exist, it is fake (the holdup, in Baudrillard’s example).

Through the simulation we wish to make it believable, by producing its manifestations in the world (the fake holdup in Baudrillard’s example).

From what we have seen, if we do it well enough, taking special care to preserve the credibility of the chunks of the transmedia narrative, and by following the principles according to which they can be created (as seen in the previous sections), we can imagine achieving a condition in which it is hard (if not impossible) for people to distinguish the fake from the real.

We might, at this point, continue our investigation, by examining the actual possibility to create new-real from fake.

Which is something that is incredibly fascinating, that has been extensively discussed (for example herehere, here, here, and in many, many more places) and that we commonly wo in our practice, as artists, scientists, philosophers, communication experts, designers, makers etc.

Fake is Real.

[NOTE: this is an excerpt from our first lesson at the 2013 Master of Exhibit & Public Design at “La Sapienza” University of Rome where we teach the ways in which it is possible to design new forms of engaging, interactive, performative communication]