Use design fiction as a tool to raise teenagers’ awareness on the consequences of different behaviours on social media.
An interactive narrative, in the form of a website, that tells the story of three teenagers and their way to deal with current topics like cyberbullying, online identity and online communities.
As part of the ongoing research on the fairly recent topic of design fiction, my thesis suggests its possible application to raise social awareness among Generation Z, the youngest generation, with the use of storytelling and a high involvement of the audience in the project. The technology this generation has grown with, especially social media, is exposing them to many risks, that could be avoided with a better awareness towards the problem.
To test the premises, during this thesis an interactive narrative project has been developed. The project, FutureMe, is addressed to teenagers, with the purpose of raising their awareness towards the consequences of different behaviours on social media. The story has been realized on the social media Instagram and on a mobile website: it shows a near future situation in which three characters have to deal with current issues connected with their online and offline identity. Developed on three different narrative lines, the story and the ending can change according to the reader’s decisions, in order to remark the effects that online choices can have in real life. The positive results obtained from the project’s testing confirmed the effectiveness of using narrative- based design fiction artefacts to deal with topics of social awareness.
The research starts from the concept of design fiction, a practice that aims to suggest a new way to prompt discussion about possible futures by introducing fiction into design practice. The first question my thesis addresses is if it is possible to use design fiction to increase social awareness.
The field in which social awareness was looked for is Generation Z and their peculiar relationship with technology and especially social media. The second research question this thesis addresses is if storytelling can be an effective way to communicate with Generation Z.
To study Generation Z’s relationship with storytelling, given the lack of available data (especially for an Italian target), I conducted a survey on a sample of over 240 italian teenagers. From this survey some interesting points emerged: their appreciation for interesting content, formative stories that deal with current problems, a large acceptance for storytelling done on social media and a large variety of narrative models.
The project revolves around the themes of identity, especially Gen Z struggle to manage both their online and offline identities, and choices, to reflect through the story what consequences their online choices can have on their life.
These themes are set in a possible future scenario, 10 years from now, in which technology and social interaction are supposed to represent in a symbolical and stylized way the current situation. In this scenario appears a fictional app called FutureMe that can predict an user’s future by analyzing all the data submitted online.
Inside this setting there are three main characters, based on what emerged from the research on the target and, therefore, also the personas for this project.
They all represent different issues: Amber is a victim of cyberbullism; Nick, as it turns out during the story, is secretly her cyberbully; Cass represents the community side and how it aligns to the situation.
Their FutureMe result reflect the relationship between their online and offline lives: Amber gets an interrupted future with hints to her future suicide; Nick has a negative future because of the impact of his secret account in his real life; Cass has a positive future, for her good balance between the two identities.
Drawings by Federica Romagnoli.
The story starts from Amber’s discover (through FutureMe) of her interrupted future. From this point, the story develops as a branching narrative, where the reader has the possibility to make choices and change the course of the events.
Each one of the characters have a storyline, in which they will face their conflict. Each storyline has two possible endings: a negative one, in which the character doesn’t solve the conflict and ends up fulfilling the initial prediction, and a positive one, in which there is an understanding of the situation and some actions to improve it.
The project has been designed for smartphones. It has an entry point on Instagram, since it’s the most used platform among Gen Z, and then all the story is told through a website, a media chosen for its flexibility in portraying different contents.
Taking inspiration from conversational storytelling, the moments of choices are realized through chatbots, to break the fourth wall and involve the reader into the character’s situations.
With a link in bio, from the Instagram page it’s possible to have access to the actual story on the website, where every scene is a page, at the end of which the chatbot redirects to the next scene, until the story reaches the final page.
FutureMe’s palette works around the three primary colours, each one associated with a character and chosen accorinding to their role and personality: blue for Amber, red for Cass and yellow for Nick.
During the story, the colours’ brightness varies according to the mood of the events: at first very bright, they turn darker and move to black when the situation becomes more critical, while they get bright again if the character’s mood improves.
The prototyping phase followed three steps: first, a wireframe to write the story; then an high-fedelity mockup to define colours and graphic elements; third, the building of the final demo on a website, used later for the test.
The story is narrated with plain text, used for characters’ introspection, and fragments of social media (posts, chats, videos), used for social interaction.
The test was done with a sample of 7 Italian teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18, with an online survey composed by close and open questions, in order to test the engagement of the project, the effectiveness of the story and the overall impact it had on them.
The general feedback has been very positive, and the target appreciated the portrayed issues and their relevance for teenagers; they also appreciated storytelling as a method to provoke also personal reflections, which was the final goal of the project.
Going back to the initial questions, it’s possible to say that FutureMe constitutes an example of how design fiction can actually be useful to design practice to reach a specific target and contribute through a story to raise awareness towards specific problems. The positive reaction obtained with the test and the target’s understanding and empathize with the problems show also the effectiveness of storytelling in communicating with Gen Z.
The project consists in an entry point (an Instagram page) that introduces the main website, on which the story is told.
The reader can change the course of the events by interacting with the characters with chatbots at the end of every page, to direct their decisions and explore their consequences with them.
All the story has been realized and it’s available online by every smartphone.