The internet of things doesn't have any users

I’m catching up on a week of madness and found7 steps to a green product and Bruce Sterling’s Anatomy of a spime diagram that Matt Jones commented on.

Funnily enough both speak about similar things. The Metropolis article highlights a methodology when designing a product: the right materials, clean and green production, etc. Bruce’s diagram highlights technologies used for a “spime”: tracking, fabbing, etc…

Both of these relate to technologies and production techniques. Neither of them includes the user!

In an age of the ubiquitous “user-centered design”, it seems a mistake to put a user’s behavior aside especially when talking about sustainability. Most of the sustainability issues we will have to deal with relate directly to our behavior and our choices: the number of places we fly to, the %age of household waste we recycle, where we shop at etc…

None of these issues relate to either of these systems and maybe a next step in the thinking around the Internet of things is the integration of that crucial parameter.

Let me put it this way: even if a chair has been fabbed, tagged and can be easily and instantly replaced by the same model, in this day and age, noone wants to keep the same chair for their entire lives.

Consumerism is a broader behavior that technology alone cannot resolve or change.

Do you live in a house or a home?

(or random thoughts about the Internet of Things)

Is our idea of home at odds with the idea of ubicomp?

Are we ready to be a “user” all the time?

You don’t need to “interact” with a chair or should the technology be smart enough to know when to intervene or not?

Should we be learning to let go of a notion of control that makes an interaction become “work” (ie switching something on/off)

We see technology become smaller and smaller, are we ready for it to be bulky and physical again, or does that go against a notion of progress associated with miniaturisation?

Are we ready to accept some agency on the part of our technology?

When does intelligence become spooky?

Are we ready to give up privacy for better experiences?

On the psychological use of technology

“There is a sense in which this minimal gestural system is essential, for without it all this abstract power would become meaningless.
Man has to be reassured about his power by some sense of participation, albeit a merely formal one.
So the gestural system of control must be deemed indispensable- not to make the system work technically- for more advanced technology could (and no doubt will) make it unnecessary. but rather, to make that system work psychologically”

The system of Objects is definitely a great read for all designers, especially when you consider it was written in 1968!

There’s something here of a commentary about future-casting. This well respected activity often associates itself with what I call the “convergence wet-dream”. In the future, everything should flow, every part of our life, objects, services, information is intricately linked, responsive and autonomous, tending to our every need on a sub atomic level of understanding. No more work, all play: homo ludens.

But of course everything so far leads us to think that will not be the case. Inconsistent systems, platforms that don’t speak to one another, variations in systems across countries, etc…

Beyond technology however, the biggest roadblock to this dream is man himself, because of this need for gestural control, this physical “ok” linked to our understanding of the world around us. Is that bad? I don’t think it is. It will make sure the future keeps being “human”, with everything that entails.

(Made me think of this, if you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens next)

Bluebook praise

Garrick Jones brought to my attention that the Bluebook project by Manolis Kelaidis, (a project I had spotted at last year’s RCA show) got the only known standing ovation at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change. Well done! It’s about time these folks started to expand their thinking beyond the screen.

There’s the usual “However, it looks like that mass-production could take some time so the next stage is likely to be a short-run, specific-application implementation of the technology” but maybe that’s a good project for Tinker.it.

Kindred spirits: Pecha Kucha in Montreal.

I had the pleasure of meeting very briefly Boris Anthony at Xtech in Paris. He’s an interaction designer working and living in Montreal and these days is organising the local edition of Pecha Kucha. I think he feels, like me that there must be more to design that what we are made to believe or to see.

I hope I get a chance to speak to him more about this soon. In anycase I’ll be there, presenting the Good Night Lamp project which is slowly but surely, being put together. Hope to see you there!

Religion2.0

I’m sitting here in Schipol airport, majorly delayed, so I thought I’d do something constructive and write about a few projects from Sacral design a great exhibition put together at the Designmai festival in Berlin. I think it’s interesting to look at a body of work that addresses the presence / absence of belief in our everyday connected lives especially after Godtube made it to the Guardian.

The Way of the cross by Jens Wunderling is a project that enables the actor to relive parts of the last days of Christ according to the Bible.

“the traditional way of the cross which normally appears in the form of 14 images in a church or 14 stations along a pilgrims’ path is transformed into a sound installation. Its core element is a large wooden cross which is carried along a path marked by 14 prtable stations.

At each Station, the cross comes to life and from inside the wood news articles, read by a computer voice, become audible.”

The other project, which isn’t documented on the site for some reason, adressed the idea of anonymously connecting with your fellow believers. Using Bluetooth networks, the little trinkets , symbolically shaped like fish, will vibrate if they find other holders of the fish within a 15 meter radius. It’s interesting to see this project replace church going with the connectedness of urban space.

There’s something to be said for the systems we are designing now that create a sense of community in urban space now that we are culturally estranged from the use of traditional architectural communal places like a piazza, a library, a church.

A Day in the life of smart things: 2030

Tom Klinkowstein will be exhibiting a visual projection of what it will feel like in a connected world in 2030, a project he worked on with Irene Pereyra:

“The project, a large digital “diagrammatic narrative”, portrays a day in a designer’s life in the year 2030 and her relationship to the objects and environments around her (now infused with powerful communication, sensing and artificial intelligence capabilities). The project is tentatively scheduled to premiere at the Singapore International Design Festival in November 2007.”

After his well known piece about the life of a designer from 1990 to 2090, I can’t wait to see this one.

Responsible design of connected objects.

NordiCHI is coming up next week in Oslo and although I won’t make it to the conference (too expensive for my post-graduation budget at the moment ) I will make it to the Blogject workshop organized once more by Timo, Julian and Nicholas, after a first successful workshop at LIFT in Geneva last spring.

We’re supposed to put together 5 minute pitches in the form of 3 slides and a rant about what we do, what our position is and conclusions, but Timo has also asked me to do a longer 15 minutes presentation of my ideas in the afternoon. I’m really excited about presenting to my peers and getting a conversation going about the stuff that’s been eating away at me and lead to my thesis project. Now all i have to do is make it digestible for others : )

My position paper for the workshop was the following:

“This position paper will attempt to illustrate how the new paradigm of the “internet of things” will support a shift in thinking in users and professionals towards more responsible and sustainable practices and behaviors, using “Stint”, a service designed around a collectivity of connected objects.

If we dig a little further into the current trend of the “experience economy” and PSS (UNEP) i.e. a product service society, we are encouraged to address sustainability by encouraging people to seek value from what they have access to and not what they own. On the opposite end of the spectrum however, mass customization and rapid prototyping are also on the rise as business practices follow the user-generated trend. Easy access to material goods, however personalized they might be, might lead to what one might call “moral hazard” (Reid J. Lifset, 2005) as our thirst for new and exciting products and material-based experiences have increased tenfold (J.Chapman, 2005). The semantics of objects is lost and disposal is easier because ownership is no longer valuable. This is where connected objects might play an important part.

“The internet of things” seeks to illustrate the value of connectivity and ubiquitous computing by tagging and keeping track of our surrounding everyday objects. This will become relevant in the objects we will design in the future. This means that a layer of retrievable, virtual and linkable meaning can be associated to any given object and as designers we might start to consider objects as part of an eco-system, a collective, a society of objects. This might in turn address how we design such objects and the interactions we have with them. What are a user’s expectations of a connected object and it’s capabilities? Would the use of an object change when it is semantic understood as belonging to a family? In the case of “Stint”, that question was addressed and offered one of many solutions.

Stint is a music sharing service made of physical tokens that link to people’s music. The way that a person collects and interacts with those tokens is communicated to a widget that also talks to the main music application online. Each physical object links to someone’s musical donations. A typical user would therefore collect all these tokens as representations and physical links to the music that each person would send them, in real time. To have access to that music as it reaches each token the user has to push each one. This physical connection with the object itself allows the system to record and track what content is accessed, but also allows the object to take an active part in the system. As time goes by each stint will get used and show who are the people whose collection that person has interacted most with. Inversely she will be able to identify if her friends are listening to her music by looking at their objects or their virtual and connected counterparts.

In this case study, the connected objects were treated in such a way as to physically show and display the use which matched the data being collected. The design approach goes far beyond what is traditionally considered product design (ergonomics, aesthetics, industrial processes) but starts to scratch the surface of new ways in which practitioners could use technology to infuse life and meaning into objects that make people want to build relationships with them that are more meaningful and rich than what is currently available. A new set of behaviors and semantics will change people’s understanding of the material world and eventually change their consumption habits as each object’s history becomes as precious as the object itself.

In conclusion we can expect to see a change in the practice of product design as connected objects become more popular. The interconnectedness of physical elements is bound to play a part in how we will design the behaviors and interactions they will have with each other , with their users and between users.

References:

Chapman, Jonathan. Emotionally Durable Design – Objects, Experiences & Empathy, Earthscan ed., London, 2005.

Manzini, Ezio. Jégou, Francois. Sustainable everyday, scenarios of urban life, Edizioni Ambiente, Italy, 2003.

“UNEP and Product Service Systems.” UNEP. Jan 2005. United Nations Environmental program. .”