Trina: A Design Fiction

Trina blends speculative software and literary figuring to consider the perils and potentials of near-future interpretative practices.

Project Website:
Research Leads: Anne Burdick, PI
Status: Completed September 2021
Date started: 2010

Trina is a 60-frame graphic story that merges critical design and speculative fiction in a transmedia work originally conceived as a 20-minute live performance that combined a reading + a slide show + electronic sound (think: PechaKucha meets La Jetée). The story is a feminist reconfiguration of language, bodies, and writing technologies, co-authored by Anne Burdick and Janet Sarbanes (Army of One, The Protester Has Been Released).

As a mode of research, the project required the creation of imaginary software through the material experimentation and theoretical investigation of Research through Design (RtD). RtD is a methodology in which the activity of designing is posited as a mode of inquiry that results in new knowledge. The Trina story provided a design situation centered around a digital tool founded on key humanities concepts. 

In Trina’s collaged photo-graphics, text, image, and environment coalesce. We read/watch/listen as Trina traverses the gendered politics of typewriters and guns, Left Bank literary expats, and the personnel files of E. Remington & Sons, interrupted by perfunctory sessions with an AI therapist. The graphic story is told entirely through the interactions between Trina and her speculative software prototypes, designed in response to the research question that launched the project: “What might result when digital tools are designed from the ground up, based on the core humanities concepts of subjectivity, ambiguity, contingency, and situatedness? What new models of knowledge might they give rise to?”

Trina: A Design Fiction was originally performed live with electronic sound accompaniment by sound artist Casey Anderson. A short film version with Anderson’s sound, along with a print-based “graphic script” can be seen on A web-based version, with sound design and programming by Erik Loyer was published in 2021 in The Digital Review.

Project Team: Anne Burdick, PI; Janet Sarbanes, contributing author; Casey Anderson, sound design; Erik Loyer, sound design and web programming

Research outputs to date:
Project —
Burdick A, Sarbanes J, Trina: A Design Fiction, The Digital Review, Special issue on Critical Making and Critical Design, 12 Sep 2021
Various multi-media performances 2012-2020
Publications —
Burdick A, “Researching Writing Technologies through the Speculative Prototype Design of Trina,” The Electronic Book Review, Special issue on Critical Making and Critical Design, 12 Sep 2021
Burdick A, “Designing Futures From the Inside,” Journal of Futures Studies 23(3):75-92, Tamkang University, Mar 2019 
Burdick A, “Scenes of Writing,” Proceedings of DRS 2018: Catalyst, 73-82, 25 Jun 2018, Design Research Society
Burdick A, “Meta!Meta!Meta! A Speculative Design Brief for the Digital Humanities,” Visible Language, special issue on Critical Making: Design and the Digital Humanities, December 2015, pp.12–33.