Research

IoT Objects for Non-
Stereotypical Homes

co-design | design research
Team
Heidi Biggs, Cayla Key, Nouela Johnston,
Ioan Butiu, Aubree Ball, & Jeremy Viny
Advisor/ Team Lead
Audrey Desjardin

Designing “Internet of Things” Objects for Non-Stereotypical Homes

This research project explored different avenues for designing Internet of Things objects. By focusing on their situated use in non-stereotypical homes (anything other than a single-family, North American, detached house) our team created a research method for designing connected objects that have more interesting, creative, and/or specific functions.

How can designing for different type of dwellings lead to new IoT artifacts?

What is IoT?

Internet of Things objects refer to any object that is connected to internet infrastructure. Examples of these include Nests, Amazon Echos, Ring doorbell cameras, etc. We researched and listed out the qualities of these objects were beyond only their functions.

Non-Stereotypical Homes

We explored what qualities that non-stereotypical homes have. For instance, people who live in RV parks might have a good sense of community with their neighbors and vans or tents (depending on the situation) might have more of a sense of freedom from being tied down to one spot.

Sketching Objects

Each week we would show up to our meetings with different sketches of objects that focused on the qualities of the non-stereotypical homes. Some of these qualities were combined with the IoT examples, but most were in contrast to them. Creativity and silliness were valued over objects that might have potential market value or had a straightforward function. We soon discovered themes emerging and categorized the objects into groups such as Data as Memory, Reactionary, Habits, and Objects with Agency.

Pilot Workshop

We gathered friends and acquaintances who owned IoT devices to join a workshop where we presented a select few of these sketches. They were given booklets detailing twelve of the objects and their functions before the workshop. They wrote down their thoughts and reactions to possibly living with the object in post-it notes in the booklets and were prepared to share them with the group. There was an open discussion and then we asked the participants to put their post-it notes about each object on correlating posters in the room.


Our participants reactions to these objects ranged from admitting that they would be annoyed or freaked out by some to enjoying those that seemed to have pointless functions. This pilot workshop was a turning point for the research study. Through this, we realized that many of the participants (and the researchers) had limited experiences living in non-stereotypical dwellings. While many had spent a few nights in a tent or hotel, none of us had spent an extended amount of time in these spaces. Because of this, the fantasy IoT objects we had designed had less impact on the participants because they could only imagine the effect it would have on their lives once they imagined themselves in a non-stereotypical home. We decided to focus on creating fantasy IoT objects that were situated in a new set of participants’ homes that were non-stereotypical in context. Because our research team did not have the experience with non-stereotypical homes (beyond apartments) that we were looking for, we wanted our participants to use their first-hand knowledge of their living situations to design these objects with us.



The findings from the pilot workshop brought us to a new question:

How can co-designing for specific non-stereotypical homes lead to new kinds of IoT artifacts?

Before we found participants that lived in non-stereotypical homes, we wanted to test our method of co-design with booklets on other friends. We had our new participants take us on tours of their homes and we talked about their routines, favorite parts of their homes, dislikes, and other details about their surrounding neighborhood. We then made booklets that featured pictures of their homes with six designs for IoT objects that were based off details of their homes and routines. We left spaces in the booklets for participants to draw their own ideas for IoT objects in their homes. We then met with them a week later to discuss their reactions and new drawings. The second round of booklets informed our last and final round in several ways. First, participants felt more invested in the process because it was their own homes and experiences that were now part of the design process. Second, participants seemed to feel more comfortable coming up with their own ideas away from the researchers and on their own time. Third, the post-booklet meetings were full of much richer conversations about speculating what dwelling with these objects might mean for their lives.

For the third round of booklets, we found participants that lived in a variety of non-stereotypical ways: some lived in boats, in houses with a ton of people in them, in micro-apartments, etc. The research team split up in groups of two to visit at least two homes and gather initial data.

Home Visits

The home visits were very straightforward: we asked participants how long they had lived in the space, what made it unique, what attracted them to it, the difficulties of living in the space, etc. They took us on a tour and we snapped a variety of pictures, paying attention to specific areas where our participants mentioned details about their space. We took notes and recorded the visit and began to create a picture of what the participants’ relationship was like to their surroundings as well as the specific qualities of their homes.

Designing the Booklets

After analyzing the interviews and photos from the home visit, we would start designing objects based off of the qualities that were pointed out to us. We sketched over photos that we had taken during the home visit and took a week to narrow down to six designs.We chose pictures for participants to draw over based on previous conversations or hunches we were curious about. We made a booklet that was customized for each participant (16 in total) and bound them with yellow thread.

Results

We gave the participants over a week to sit with their booklets and fill them out. We then scheduled a post-booklet meeting to discuss our (and their) designs. The results showed a variety of ways people reacted to seeing their relationships with their spaces and/or objects through our creations. Some people used our designs as springboards to create their own versions (see below: we came up with an idea for a device that keeps people who live in a home with many roommates accountable for their food (and the two fridges they use) and the participant created a device that keeps people accountable about cleaning the dishes).
Others commented on how they would like to see the designs we made implemented in another way. (For instance, a device that was meant to be for solo memory keeping would be used for community memory keeping.)
Overall, this method created a more interesting way to share knowledge through a creative endeavor rather than just interviews—it revealed entire aspects of how participants lived and what their potential relationship would be to a new connected object in their homes.

To experience a deeper dive of this method, please read our paper:

Desjardins, A., Key, C., Biggs, H.R., Aschenbeck, K. (2019).
Bespoke Booklets: A Method for Situated Co-Speculation. In Proc. DIS'19, New York, ACM Press, in press. (acceptance rate: 25%)
Pilot IoT Designs
The concepts leaned toward the ridiculous. Top: a kettle that gossips about its owners with others of its kind (for use in communal places like apartments or RV parks). Bottom Right: a coat hanger that drops the coats of people it doesn't recognize (to be used in a cabin).
Booklets, Round 2
The booklets were tailored to each participant based off of an initial interview and home visit. Some designs from the pilot workshop were re-worked to fit into participants home. Above: The first design of this happy cat object turned colors based on what habits of yours it liked best. Round 2 saw it fitting into an old dumbwaiter (the participant lived in a former hotel) and lit up when the participant forgot something (but it didn't tell them what was forgotten.)
Designs for the Home
Some of the team's designs were based off the participants' relationships to existing objects: Ceramic Secrets came about from the participant's attachment to small items that held memories for her. Objects like Tarot Toilet were based off of the identity of the home. This plays off of the idea of the home having old pipes having experienced a lot, therefore it is able to predict the future. (Never mind technical magic it would take to make an IoT object that would need to appear and disappear on cue).

Designing “Internet of Things” Objects for Non-Stereotypical Homes

This research project explored different avenues for designing Internet of Things objects. By focusing on their situated use in non-stereotypical homes (anything other than a single-family, North American, detached house) our team created a research method for designing connected objects that have more interesting, creative, and/or specific functions.

How can designing for different type of dwellings lead to new IoT artifacts?

What is IoT?

Internet of Things objects refer to any object that is connected to internet infrastructure. Examples of these include Nests, Amazon Echos, Ring doorbell cameras, etc. We researched and listed out the qualities of these objects were beyond only their functions.

Non-Stereotypical Homes

We explored what qualities that non-stereotypical homes have. For instance, people who live in RV parks might have a good sense of community with their neighbors and vans or tents (depending on the situation) might have more of a sense of freedom from being tied down to one spot.

Sketching Objects

Each week we would show up to our meetings with different sketches of objects that focused on the qualities of the non-stereotypical homes. Some of these qualities were combined with the IoT examples, but most were in contrast to them. Creativity and silliness were valued over objects that might have potential market value or had a straightforward function. We soon discovered themes emerging and categorized the objects into groups such as Data as Memory, Reactionary, Habits, and Objects with Agency.

Pilot Workshop

We gathered friends and acquaintances who owned IoT devices to join a workshop where we presented a select few of these sketches. They were given booklets detailing twelve of the objects and their functions before the workshop. They wrote down their thoughts and reactions to possibly living with the object in post-it notes in the booklets and were prepared to share them with the group. There was an open discussion and then we asked the participants to put their post-it notes about each object on correlating posters in the room.

Our participants reactions to these objects ranged from admitting that they would be annoyed or freaked out by some to enjoying those that seemed to have pointless functions. This pilot workshop was a turning point for the research study. Through this, we realized that many of the participants (and the researchers) had limited experiences living in non-stereotypical dwellings. While many had spent a few nights in a tent or hotel, none of us had spent an extended amount of time in these spaces. Because of this, the fantasy IoT objects we had designed had less impact on the participants because they could only imagine the effect it would have on their lives once they imagined themselves in a non-stereotypical home. We decided to focus on creating fantasy IoT objects that were situated in a new set of participants’ homes that were non-stereotypical in context. Because our research team did not have the experience with non-stereotypical homes (beyond apartments) that we were looking for, we wanted our participants to use their first-hand knowledge of their living situations to design these objects with us.

The findings from the pilot workshop brought us to a new question:

How can co-designing for specific non-stereotypical homes lead to new kinds of IoT artifacts?

Before we found participants that lived in non-stereotypical homes, we wanted to test our method of co-design with booklets on other friends. We had our new participants take us on tours of their homes and we talked about their routines, favorite parts of their homes, dislikes, and other details about their surrounding neighborhood. We then made booklets that featured pictures of their homes with six designs for IoT objects that were based off details of their homes and routines. We left spaces in the booklets for participants to draw their own ideas for IoT objects in their homes. We then met with them a week later to discuss their reactions and new drawings. The second round of booklets informed our last and final round in several ways. First, participants felt more invested in the process because it was their own homes and experiences that were now part of the design process. Second, participants seemed to feel more comfortable coming up with their own ideas away from the researchers and on their own time. Third, the post-booklet meetings were full of much richer conversations about speculating what dwelling with these objects might mean for their lives.

For the third round of booklets, we found participants that lived in a variety of non-stereotypical ways: some lived in boats, in houses with a ton of people in them, in micro-apartments, etc. The research team split up in groups of two to visit at least two homes and gather initial data.

Home Visits

The home visits were very straightforward: we asked participants how long they had lived in the space, what made it unique, what attracted them to it, the difficulties of living in the space, etc. They took us on a tour and we snapped a variety of pictures, paying attention to specific areas where our participants mentioned details about their space. We took notes and recorded the visit and began to create a picture of what the participants’ relationship was like to their surroundings as well as the specific qualities of their homes.

Designing the Booklets

After analyzing the interviews and photos from the home visit, we would start designing objects based off of the qualities that were pointed out to us. We sketched over photos that we had taken during the home visit and took a week to narrow down to six designs.We chose pictures for participants to draw over based on previous conversations or hunches we were curious about. We made a booklet that was customized for each participant (16 in total) and bound them with yellow thread.

Results

We gave the participants over a week to sit with their booklets and fill them out. We then scheduled a post-booklet meeting to discuss our (and their) designs. The results showed a variety of ways people reacted to seeing their relationships with their spaces and/or objects through our creations. Some people used our designs as springboards to create their own versions (see left: we came up with an idea for a device that keeps people who live in a home with many roommates accountable for their food (and the two fridges they use) and the participant created a device that keeps people accountable about cleaning the dishes). Others commented on how they would like to see the designs we made implemented in another way. (For instance, a device that was meant to be for solo memory keeping would be used for community memory keeping.)
Overall, this method created a more interesting way to share knowledge through a creative endeavor rather than just interviews—it revealed entire aspects of how participants lived and what their potential relationship would be to a new connected object in their homes.

To experience a deeper dive of this method, please read our paper:

Desjardins, A., Key, C., Biggs, H.R., Aschenbeck, K. (2019).
Bespoke Booklets: A Method for Situated Co-Speculation. In Proc. DIS'19, New York, ACM Press, in press. (acceptance rate: 25%)
Pilot IoT Designs
The concepts leaned toward the ridiculous. Top: a kettle that gossips about its owners with others of its kind (for use in communal places like apartments or RV parks). Right: a coat hanger that drops the coats of people it doesn't recognize (to be used in a cabin).
Booklets, Round 2
The booklets were tailored to each participant based off of an initial interview and home visit. Some designs from the pilot workshop were re-worked to fit into participants home. Above: The first design of this happy cat object turned colors based on what habits of yours it liked best. Round 2 saw it fitting into an old dumbwaiter (the participant lived in a former hotel) and lit up when the participant forgot something (but it didn't tell them what was forgotten.)
Designs for the Home
Some of the team's designs were based off the participants' relationships to existing objects: Ceramic Secrets came about from the participant's attachment to small items that held memories for her. Objects like Tarot Toilet were based off of the identity of the home. This plays off of the idea of the home having old pipes having experienced a lot, therefore it is able to predict the future. (Never mind technical magic it would take to make an IoT object that would need to appear and disappear on cue).